With digital forces at the gate, a down year for Hollywood

Published 7:09 am Thursday, January 1, 2015

NEW YORK — Hollywood’s 2014 may well go down as a mere box-office blip, or it could be Act One in a drama of coming digital disruption.

When the year’s final receipts are tallied at the end of Wednesday, the final take is estimated by box-office firm Rentrak to be about $10.4 billion, a 5.2 percent drop from the record $10.9 billion of 2013. In and of itself, such a dip isn’t much for Hollywood to fret about. The industry still cleared $10 billion in revenue, the year was widely viewed as a cyclical in-between to bigger years, and a number of major releases that would have moved the needle were postponed (most notably “Furious 7,” following Paul Walker’s death, and Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”).

But there were also signs that pointed to long-term trouble for the movie business. A Nielsen study found movie attendance for Americans ages 12-24 dropped a worrisome 15 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared to the first nine months in 2013. The overall number of tickets sold — a meaningful statistic since it’s not impacted by rising ticket prices — slid to about 1.26 billion. That means that fewer people went to the movies in 2014 than they have in the last two decades.

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The crunch was felt most by exhibitors in North American, where profits dropped drastically for the country’s top two chains, Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres. To add salt in the wound, the chains were cast as the villains in the fallout of “The Interview” when Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton blamed them for the film’s temporary cancellation.