Despite the Rosy Reports, Very Few People Go to the Movies Frequently Nowadays

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Are you a frequent moviegoer? That’s the term the Motion Picture Association of America gives to someone who sees at least one movie per month in the theater. And the association’s report says that across the board for all age demographics, there was an increase in frequent moviegoers last year.

A Los Angeles Times story concerning the MPAA’s 2012 data pointed out that there was an especially sharp rise in older frequent moviegoers: 5.8 million Americans ages 40 to 49 went to the movies at least once per month in 2012, compared to 3.3 million the year before. The 50-59 frequent moviegoer bracket rose from 3.1 million to 3.3 million, and the 60+ group increased from 4.1 million to 4.6 million.

In fact, every age group saw an increase in frequent moviegoers in 2012. These “super fans” are extremely important to the movie business, too: Though they constituted only 13% of the population, they accounted for 57% of all movie tickets sold last year. And they helped make for a strong 2012 at the movies, with a year-over-year increase in total revenues and number of tickets sold.

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“It was a great year for movies,” MPAA chairman and CEO Christopher Dodd said at a news conference, per the Hollywood Reporter.

Compared to 2011 it was, anyway. But if you go back and view the data from a few years prior, there is still plenty of cause for concern about who is—and isn’t—going to the movies lately.

“More than two-thirds of the U.S./Canada population aged 2+ (68%) – or 225 million people – went to a movie at the cinema at least once in 2012 (“moviegoer”), comparable to the proportions in prior years,” the MPAA’s 2012 report states. On the flip side, 32% of North American consumers did not see a single movie at the theater last year.

Compare that to 2002 to 2006, when the rate of non-moviegoers hovered around 25%. What’s more, from 2002 to 2006, around 25% of the population could fit into the “frequent moviegoer” category of people who hit the theaters at least once per month. So while the 13% frequent moviegoer figure for 2012 was up slightly from 2011, it actually represents a huge decrease in the category compared to a few years before that. Per capita attendance is down as well, from around 5.0 for the years 2000 to 2006, to 4.1 in 2012.

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So while the movie business seems to have had a pretty good 2012, everything is relative. The truth is that, more so than ever, a very small population of diehard moviegoers accounts for a huge portion of theater admissions sold. And in an age of Netflix, Redbox, smartphones, and home entertainment systems with surround sound and 300-channel pay TV packages, it’s not surprising that more and more people continue to avoid movie theaters altogether.