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Box Office Sales Improved in 2021, Streaming Still King with Almost 180 Original Films Exclusively Online

Lauren Forristal

The Motion Picture Association recently released its 2021 THEME (Theatrical and Home Entertainment Market Environment) report. While the report contains a lot of intricate details about the movie business, there were some details that jumped out. Specifically, the report details the impact that the boom in streaming services has had on movies and how theaters have rebounded following the shutdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, 179 original films were exclusive to online streaming in 2021, compared to 113 in 2019 and 93 in 2013. While the move to streaming has been happening for years, there is no doubt that the pandemic expedited that move.

While content creators have ramped up production — with almost 1,000 films that started production in 2021 (more than double what 2020 produced) — streaming is still king as only a small percentage of those films will premiere exclusively in theaters. As most of us know, Disney+ and HBO Max have been sending a number of their high-profile movies straight to streaming, including Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which premiered on Disney+ last week.

Also, the number of original series (including unscripted shows, children’s programs, and daytime dramas) skyrocketed to 1,826, up from 1,646 in 2019 and an increase of 15% compared to 2020, when many series skipped seasons due to COVID-related production delays. This also included nearly 560 scripted original series.

This 13% year-over-year increase is thanks to continuing investments in original content by streaming companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, among others. Nearly three-fourths of all entertainment spending was paid to digital platforms like Disney+, Apple TV+, and Netflix, the MPA said. Back in 2019, less than half of such money went to streamers.

The number of worldwide online video subscriptions increased to 1.3 billion in 2021, a 14% (or 164.1 million) increase compared to 2020. Online video subscription became the second-largest subscription revenue market in 2021, surpassing satellite TV, as a result of a $17.9 billion (or 26%) increase. The number of cable subscriptions dropped by 1% in 2021 to 526.5 million; however, despite the decline, cable still remains the largest subscription market in terms of revenue.

In 2021, the combined global theatrical and home/mobile entertainment markets — excluding pay-TV (cable and satellite) — was $99.7 billion, a 24% increase compared to 2020 and surpassing 2019’s total. When pay-TV subscription revenue is added to the total, the value jumps to $328.2 billion, a 6% increase compared to 2020 and matching 2019’s record high.

Meanwhile, pay television subscription accounted for 70% of the total combined theatrical, home/mobile entertainment, and pay-TV market, with the digital market (22%), theatrical market (6%), and the physical market (2%) making up the remainder.

To the surprise of no one, global box office revenues increased in 2021 from the year prior, when COVID cases had essentially shut down the industry for the majority of the year. Yet even though movie admissions rebounded a bit, they are still barely keeping pace with streaming subscriptions. There was an 81% increase in the global theatrical market due to theaters re-opening and an 18% increase in the digital home/mobile entertainment market compared to 2020.

The Motion Picture Association’s 2021 THEME report represents a recovering entertainment market completely dominated by streaming and VOD. Rivkin noted the industry’s uneven recovery, with theatrical numbers reflecting the audience’s increased reliance on home alternatives.

MPA chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin commented on the report, saying, “Our latest THEME Report underscores how resilient and dynamic our industry is, and I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of our business. We are just getting started in writing the next chapter of our industry as streaming continues to boom, theaters are rebounding, and the overall global market for our entertainment product recovers and breaks records.”


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