One place the recession isn't showing: at the box office

Kansas City StarMarch 29, 2009 

Seventy-five years ago Americans sought refuge from economic turmoil in the comforting dark of movie theaters. There they could briefly forget their troubles in a world of celluloid villains and heroes, of glamorous people who sang and danced their way through the day.

Things haven’t changed much.

"Going to the movies is the new vacation," said Paul Degaraberian of Media by Numbers, a Los Angeles firm that tracks business trends in the entertainment industry.

While everything else in our economy has been tanking, the movie industry is on a roll. Ticket sales for the first quarter of 2009 are up 14 percent.

"This is exactly what happened after the collapse of 1929 and 1930," Degaraberian said. "Escapist movies were really paying off, and they were running theaters around the clock. Seventy million people a week were going to the movies."

Movie attendance today is nowhere near that high because modern Americans enjoy more varied diversions — television, video games and the Internet, for starters.

But Degaraberian sees in our economic woes a perfect storm benefiting the Hollywood film industry.

The bulk of moviegoers are teens and young adults with few financial responsibilities. For them a bad economy is no reason to forgo their traditional Friday night at the megaplex.

This means that the movies' core audience hasn't been harmed by the bad news out of Wall Street.

As for older audiences, Degaraberian points out that Americans fearful of losing their jobs are putting vacations on hold. But they still feel they deserve a treat now and then — and a night at the movies provides an affordable diversion.


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