Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013: A Tough Year For New Theatrical Releases In The Home Entertainment Market Place

We’ve been here before and we will be here again.  Charles Dickens pretty much nailed it in his opening paragraph of his 1859 masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” 

As 2013 draws to a close it is “the worst of times” for new hit theatrical releases.   We are done with the count for the year … and it is not pretty.

First, let us define the market of new theatrical releases that we are talking about.   The ones that count are those films that gross in excess of $25 million at box office.  

To get to that number you need three things.   These are: a large screen-count when the film opens wide, a major dollar commitment for advertising and publicity and enough people (after the opening weekend) to sustain momentum.   Lacking any of these three elements and a theatrical release will fall outside of the $25 million box office level.

With that said, each year we see roughly 100 films achieve this goal.   It is, at the end of the day, a mechanical thing.  There are 52 opening weekends and a finite number of theatrical seats … each week new films open and room must be made to accommodate these new arrivals.  We are not suddenly going to see 150 films gross in excess of $25 million … there are not enough seats and time to accomplish that.

Over the last seven years (and you can go back further if you wish), the “Hollywood” studios and theatre owners (distributors and exhibitors) have averaged 100.9 “hit” films per year.   These are then moved from their theatrical venues to the home entertainment market place … how fast they move and when they are placed on the release schedule can very, but at the end of the day it is a GIGO equation.  Garbage In, Garbage Out.  

No rational business enterprise that has a $25 million grossing film in their inventory — and all of the production and promotional investment associated with it — would not release it into as many revenue producing markets as possible.  It therefore follows that if the output of hit films averages about 101 per year, the number of home entertainment titles matching this criteria should also be in this neighborhood.

This year, 2013, we are looking at a final count of 94 films that meet this standard as Blu-ray and DVD releases.   Last year the final was 103 and in 2012 it was 104.  

Business decisions can come into play — when is it best to release a hit film?   That is a proper question, but a short fall of this magnitude is outside of the realm of street date tinkering.   

For example, traditionally films released theatrically prior to the Labor Day weekend are released to the home entertainment market prior to the end of the year.   This year we have two films that appear to be headed for a 2014 street date — Blue Jasmine ($32.4 million) and The Butler ($115.1 million) that opened during the summer, but will not reach the home entertainment market place during the “normal” release window.   

Even if these two were added to the mix, we’d still come up short.  We’ve been there before and we will be there again … but for now, 2013 is not the best of times.

When you are talking about a short fall of six to seven key theatrical releases it can only be described as significant.  When there are 52 street-date Tuesdays in any given year, a loss at this level will be noticed.   

52-week Moving Average of New Hit Theatrical Releases* on DVD & Blu-ray
Period Covered: 2008 - 2013 (2013 includes schedule releases)

 * Hit Theatrical defined as achieving a domestic box office gross of $25 million.

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