Analyst: Box Office Trending Down 71%

Despite optimism on behalf of some national theatrical chains, the 2020 box office continues to be hammered by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic mandating closure of most screens in the United States and worldwide.

New data from Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles contends the box office through the first half of the year is down 71% from the same period in 2019 — a trend that won’t improve anytime soon as studios further delay new releases due to ongoing spikes in COVID-19 infections.

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Indeed, the second-quarter box office flatlined down 99.9% year-over-year to $3.69 million, compared with Wedbush’s most-recent estimate down 99.4% year-over-year, as most domestic theaters remained closed throughout the quarter.

While major chains such AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark are eyeing qualified return to normal with Warner Bros.’ Tenet on Aug. 12, followed by Disney’s Mulan on Aug. 21, senior media analyst Michael Pachter believes consumers will remain reluctant to frequent cineplexes until their is a virus vaccine or downturn in infections.

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“While there are clearly many who are eager to return to some level of normalcy, there are still many more who we think will remain reluctant to attend the movies before there is a vaccine, or if the transmission rate falls significantly before then,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Simply stated, we do not expect attendance levels to begin to normalize until the end of the year at the earliest.”

Regardless, AMC reportedly has staved off possible bankruptcy in a deal The Wall Street Journal reported with a private equity group.

AMC Theatres Delays Re-Opening to July 30

As expected, AMC Theatres has pushed back re-opening 450 theaters in the United States from July 15 to July 30. The nation’s largest exhibitor had planned to jumpstart operations in about two weeks following a government-mandated shutdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But with Disney and Warner Bros. pushing back releases Mulan and Tenet, respectively, due to upticks in COVID-19 infections in California, Florida, Texas and Arizona, AMC decided to hold off.

CEO Adam Aron says the chain has invested tens of millions of dollars in sanitization protocols, including acquiring high-tech air purification systems for theaters.

“We continue to devote extraordinary resources into our plan to operate our theatres with a hyper commitment to the safety and health of our guests and associates,” Aron said in a previous statement.

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Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter doubts moviegoers are in a rush to the cineplex without a vaccine.

“As we face a potential spike in cases nationwide after some seemingly premature re-opening schedules in addition to nationwide protests, we are less sanguine … that enough of the population will risk their health to support the current release slate schedule starting in July,” Pachter wrote.

Analyst: Studios, Exhibitors Will Shrink Theatrical Window

With the success of Universal Pictures’ PVOD release of Trolls Word Tour, and the studio’s plan to distribute future theatrical feature films concurrent with digital retail, Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter contends a compromise between studios and exhibitors resulting in a shorter theatrical window is coming.

With studios reportedly making 80% on a movie’s digital release compared with 50% for theatrical, the incentive to go direct-to-consumer is financially appealing. At the same time, theatrical revenue and home entertainment marketing for major movie franchises such as “Fast & Furious,” “Star Wars,” “Mission: Impossible,” “James Bond” and “Spider-Man,” among others, is immense.

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Universal’s next major PVOD release, The King of Staten Island from director Judd Apatow, is slated for June 12. And Disney is expected to release smaller movies on its Disney+ SVOD platform.

“We very much believe in the value of the theatrical experience,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said on the recent fiscal call. “But we also believe that either because of changing and evolving consumer dynamics or because of certain situations like COVID, we may have to make some changes to that overall strategy.”

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Pachter said he views Disney’s tepid approach to transactional VOD as limited in the long-term. He says Disney’s switch will spark further debate and negotiations on the existing theatrical windows and revenue share agreements.

“What we expect is that the exhibitors will make some small concessions on the windows or revenue share for these smaller films that would otherwise go to PVOD, so that all parties can maximize profitability, but the exhibitors cannot bend on simultaneous releases or they will go out of business,” Pachter wrote in a June 8 note. “The studios do not have any incentive to push the exhibitors out of business, and we believe that a mutually beneficial arrangement can be found before the studios begin releasing new content to theaters later this year or in 2021.”

Pachter: People Aren’t ‘Dying’ to See a Movie in Theaters

NEWS ANALYSIS — Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter remains bearish on the movie theater business, arguing exhibitors’ aggressive plans to re-open screens during a lull in the coronavirus pandemic is wishful thinking.

A return to moviegoing would in turn help studios market retail sales of DVD/Blu-ray Disc and digital titles — despite the fact home entertainment has fared well during the pandemic due to a larger segment of population being housebound.

Specifically, Pachter is talking about Cinemark, which plans to re-open select screens on June 19, with a national re-opening slated for July 10. Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings, which closed all of its theaters on March 18 due to the virus, operates 554 theaters and 6,132 screens in the U.S. and Latin America.

“People may be eager to visit the theaters once they feel safe doing so, but we think it is unlikely crowds will return to any semblance of normal before a vaccine is widely distributed, particularly in urban and suburban markets,” Pachter wrote in a June 3 note.

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Cinemark June 3 reported first-quarter (ended March 31) domestic admissions revenue per screen was down 25.7% from the previous-year period — and up slightly (0.7%) from the domestic industry box office decline of 25.4%. For the full quarter, Cinemark attendance fell 29% to 27.9 million, while the average ticket price increased by 4% year-over-year.

In Cinemark’s Latin American circuit, admissions revenue per screen declined 32.1% in Q1, which included a 16% negative impact from currency translation and a 26% year-over-year decline in attendance per screen.

Pachter contends that with 30% of moviegoers older than 50 (according to the MPAA in 2018), a significant portion of middle-age consumers are not going to be bold enough to return to theaters. In addition, about 40% of moviegoers are under 30 years of age and losing a portion of this demo could result in studios and exhibitors delaying more releases until a vaccine is found.

“As we face a potential spike in cases nationwide after some seemingly premature re-opening schedules in addition to nationwide protests, we are less sanguine than Cinemark management that enough of the population will risk their health to support the current release slate schedule starting in July,” Pachter wrote.

He estimates the domestic industry box office will end 2020 down 97.8% from 2019, with most domestic screens likely remaining closed beyond the end of the quarter.

“Theatrical exhibition is in the middle of a perfect storm,” Pachter wrote. “Theater closures not only deplete cash reserves and sources of liquidity, but may alter consumer behavior indefinitely.”

HBO Max Launches — With More Than 10,000 Hours of Content

WarnerMedia’s much-hyped subscription streaming video service, HBO Max, launches today (May 27) as the most-expensive over-the-top video platform ($14.99) and last to join a crowded SVOD market dominated by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney-owned Hulu and Disney+.

“Today we are proud to introduce Max — a dream that was created and nurtured by an incredible team of talented executives who dedicated the last year-and-a-half to making it a reality for consumers nationwide,” Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, said in a statement.

The service, which will include a less-expensive ad-supported option, bows with more than 10,000 hours of content targeting as wide an audience (kids included) as possible — unlike traditional HBO, HBO Go or HBO Now.

Among the movies featured on the new service: all eight films in the “Harry Potter” franchise.

“There’s got to be more frequent [viewer] engagement,” John Stankey, who will soon succeed Randall Stephenson as AT&T CEO, said during Max’s media unveiling last October.

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That means HBO’s “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones” viewership has to expand to include families seeking libraries of Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Hanna-Barbera content, in addition to re-runs of “Friends,” which WarnerMedia paid $425 million to itself (Warner Bros. Television) for exclusive streaming rights. A big-budget reunion special episode was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic shuttering production.

Backed by a $4.8 billion war chest over the next several years (relatively small compared with Netflix’s reported $17 billion spend this year alone), with plans to secure 50 million subscribers by 2025, Max is setting itself a high bar for achievement — or failure.

Max is also appealing to DC comics fans with pledges to release every “Batman” movie on the platform, in addtion to Aquaman and Wonder Woman, among others. This strategy puts Max at odds with DC Universe, the $8 monthly streaming service that features a slew of original series. Currently only “Doom Patrol” is migrating over to Max.

“The competition is actually more about content than anything else, and whatever’s on Max is not going to be available to Netflix or Disney+,” said Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

Pachter contends that with the HBO brand already available to about 140 million households, it’s just a matter of time before a percentage of them migrate. Max is now available to existing HBO and HBO Now subs at no extra cost.

Pachter said the only question is how many households will keep pay-TV in a global recession due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My guess is that conventional HBO loses a lot of subscribers (probably 5 million) over the next year or so, while Max adds two to three times that many, so net, they probably grow from 140 million to 150 million subs,” he said.

Indeed, HBO Now direct-billed subs, as well as those who are billed through Apple, Google Play, Samsung, Optimum and Verizon Fios Internet get access to Max at no extra cost, with the Now app automatically updating to the Max app on supported devices.

Current HBO subs who are direct-billed through AT&T, AT&T TV, DirecTV, AT&T U-verse TV, Cox, Hulu, Optimum, Spectrum, Suddenlink, Verizon Fios TV and select independent cable, broadband, and telco providers through the NCTC like WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, RCN and MCTV, among others, also have access to Max at no extra cost.

All that is required is downloading the Max app and then electing to access the service on supported devices or via desktop and log in using an existing provider’s username and password.

Notably missing from Max’s debut: distribution via Amazon Fire TV (and Amazon Prime Channels) and Roku — the latter with more than 40 million subs. The platforms have traditionally been key for third-party OTT launches — including HBO Now, which generated much of its 8 million sub base through Amazon and Roku.

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Amazon and Roku typically take a cut of subscription revenue, in addition to keeping control of user data, among other conditions.

“While we don’t typically comment on specific deal terms or negotiations, the fact is that in this instance while we believe that HBO Max would benefit greatly from distribution on Roku at launch, we do not currently have an agreement in place,” a spokesperson for the streaming media device manufacturer told Lightshed Partners’ Richard Greenfield earlier this month.

“These guys are going to divide up the [pay-TV] world … I expect some to count ‘only’ domestic subscribers [in the beginning], so it’s going to be noisy,” Pachter said.

Analyst: Q2 Box Office Down 100%

When sales decline 100%, it can’t get much worse for a business. But that’s the reality facing movie exhibitors. Through May 21 of the second quarter, the box office is trending down 100% year-over-year as the industry remains shut down due to the coronavirus.

Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter expects “very minimal” box office revenue in the current quarter, with most domestic theaters likely remaining closed through June 30.

The first-quarter domestic box office ended down 25.4% $1.79 billion as most theaters didn’t shutter until March. The North American box office in 2020 is trending down 58.1% compared with 2019.

“We do not expect attendance levels to begin to normalize until the end of the year at the earliest,” Pachter wrote in a May 26 note.

The analyst says theaters and studios have some incentive to release new content before a return to normalcy, as a theater would be able to show a single film on all of its screens thereby allowing for social distancing while still providing the studio with the opportunity to drive box office revenue.

Director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (Warner Bros.) is poised to be the first in line to take that risk, although Pachter doubts the international espionage thriller will be able to hold its current release date target of July 17.

“Our estimates are clearly subject to change given the fluidity of the release slate and the mood on social distancing as stay-at-home orders begin lifting across the country,” the analyst wrote.

He thinks it unlikely consumers will return to cinemas with any semblance of normalvy before a vaccine is widely distributed. Additionally, the dearth of newly produced content may negatively impact theatrical attendance in 2021, while streaming services will be competing at the highest levels for content to bolster their offerings in an extremely competitive environment.

There are now 68 films that have been moved or pulled from the release slate, worth an estimated $7.5 billion. Of these films, seven moved to a streaming platform, worth an estimated $358 million in box office dollars. Fifteen have yet to be rescheduled or slated for streaming, worth an additional $652 million in potential box office dollars.

“All 15 are likely to be moved to streaming platforms, in our view,” Pachter wrote. “When taken together, we expect the negative impact to 2020 domestic box office to be $3.1 billion, only partially offset by a positive impact to 2021 domestic box office of $1.5 billion.”

NPD: April Video Game Disc Sales Up 8%

Sales of packaged-media video games for consoles and hand-held devices reportedly topped $251 million in the four-week April retail period, ended May 2, an increase of 8% from $232.4 million during the previous-year period.

The uptick in software sales was largely driven by stay-at-home gamers buying content on the Internet due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic shuttering most retailers, including GameStop.

The two top sellers in April were Nintendo’s March release Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Switch and Square Enix’s new release Final Fantasy VII Remake, exclusively for PlayStation 4. Another popular title, NBA 2K20 from Take-Two Entertainment has reportedly sold more than 12 million units since launching on Sept. 6, 2019 — up 33% from the previous title, NBA 2K19.

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“We believe that robust Internet spending was largely offset by store closures and curbside service across much of the country, with room left over for year-over-year retail growth in April following a breakout March performance,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, wrote in a May 22 note.

Pachter, who disclosed the NPD data, revealed that about 411,000 PS4 consoles were sold in April, exceeding his estimate of 235,000 units. Consumers bought 329,000 Xbox One units, topping the analyst’s 175,000 unit estimate.

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The popular Nintendo Switch device continues to lead the market with 808,000 units sold — double Pachter’s 400,000 unit estimate.

“The Switch’s status as a must-have item among many stay-at-home consumers drove a terrific April figure that would have been meaningfully higher if not for widespread sellouts throughout the month,” Pachter wrote. “The Switch led industry unit sales for the 17th consecutive month.”

Sony and Microsoft plan to launch new-generation PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles, respectively, this fall/winter.

Analyst: No Virus Vaccine, Netflix to Flourish, Theaters Languish

As local and statewide economies slowly re-open businesses in the face of a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans, movie theaters today (April 27) will officially be allowed to open in the state of Georgia.

While Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s order may be wishful thinking, the reality for movie exhibitors is far less rosy with staffing shortages, a dearth of content and a weary consumer, according to media analyst Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

Pachter expects the 2020 box office to end down 47.1% from 2019 to $6 billion, and 2021 to end 59.5% higher than 2020. He expects minimal box office revenue in the current Q2, with ticket sales down a staggering 96.8% compared to the previous-year period.

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“We think some areas may open in June, but we do not expect attendance levels to begin to normalize until there is a vaccine, or the end of the year at the earliest,” Pachter wrote in an April 27 note. “Studios have no incentive to release new movies until all theatres are open and will be reasonably well-attended, which is not likely until there is a vaccine.”

The analyst says there have been 62 movies either moved or pulled from the release slate, worth an estimated $7.2 billion. Of these films, 17 have not yet been assigned a new release date, worth an estimated $830 million. Of those, The Lovebirds, Scoob! and Artemis Fowl have been slated for streaming or VOD debuts.

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“We expect this list to expand in the coming weeks,” Pachter wrote, adding the negative impact to 2020 domestic box office would be about $2.9 billion.

With Netflix adding an impressive 15.8 million subscribers across all geographies in Q1, the SVOD behemoth expects to add another 7.5 million subs in the current Q2 June quarter — or just below combined Q2 sub additions in 2018 and 2019.

“We think that Netflix will continue to thrive in a shelter-in-place environment, and our best guess is that its current and future subscribers will continue to find themselves spending the majority of their time at home for at least the balance of the current quarter,” Pachter wrote. “We can only conclude that Netflix will continue to deliver outsized subscriber additions for the balance of the year.”

Pachter: Movie Theaters Can Profit on 20% Capacity; Industry to Lose $2.25 Billion in 2020

With movie theaters worldwide shuttered due to the coronavirus, domestic exhibitors in the second quarter are expected to lose upwards of 92% of their revenue in the current fiscal quarter compared with the previous-year period, according to Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. The industry is projected to lose $2.25 billion in 2020.

The analyst contends the industry is facing a “perfect storm” of challenges that render it a sitting duck without some kind of government assistance. Buy how essential movie theaters are in a world of digital distribution and streaming remains to be seen.

“Those screens that open as early as June will likely show classic tent-poles at a discount to drive attendance,” Pachter wrote in an April 15 note.

Major summer titles are slated to hit theaters beginning in mid-July. Several films have yet to be rescheduled, and it is not yet clear which will be pushed to later in the year, 2021 or later. It’s also not clear how many titles will move straight to SVOD facing a dearth of content as productions have halted across the industry with stay-at-home orders in place.

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Citing Cinemark’s investor call, Pachter said the chain (and possibly the industry as well) has received positive news from theater landlords willing to “negotiate a deferral of rent under a variety of contract agreements.”

Indeed, media reports say AMC Theatres has already told landlords it cannot pay the rent on its 11,000 screens worldwide. The chain is reportedly in early Chapter 11 discussions.

“This could be a significant positive as the exhibitors’ ability to weather the closures depends to varying degrees on the flexibility of landlords,” Pachter wrote.

The analyst contends that when theaters re-open and social distancing seating is mandated, exhibitors could still be profitable with theater utilization as low as 20% to 30%.

“That’s tertiary positive, at least for Cinemark if not for the group, which bodes well in the case where social distancing is upheld for an extended period,” Pachter wrote.

Analyst: Home Entertainment Consumers to Get Bored With Stale Video Content

The death toll from the coronavirus may be declining, but millions of Americans remain working and spending greater amounts of time in the home due to statewide shelter-in-place regulations.

At the same time production of most streaming and commercial broadcast content has ground to a halt while consumption of existing content has increased, creating a dilemma for streaming services.

“We think it is unlikely that content creation will keep up with consumption for the next several months, and expect many consumers to become dissatisfied with the programming over time, particularly if the shelter-in-place regulations persist for more than several weeks,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities, wrote in an April 6 note.

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This finding underscores in part the current fascination with Netflix’s new original documentary series “Tiger King.”

In a proprietary survey of 1,338 consumers from March 27 to 29, Pachter found more than 93% of respondents reported practicing greater social isolation and distancing, and roughly 68% reported somewhat higher or significantly higher use of streaming services since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

As expected, the survey found that SVOD services benefiting the most in terms of recent subscriber additions appeared to be Disney+, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Overall, the pandemic has made subscribers to both SVOD and pay-TV less likely to cancel — although not driving cable/satellite TV sign-ups either.

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A majority of respondents (54%) continue to have a cable TV or satellite TV subscription, and over three-quarters of cable/satellite subs report having their subscription bundled with their Internet service. Among pay-TV subs, respondents said cable access was the most important feature (41%) of their pay-TV subscription, followed by live news (22%), DVR (18%) and live sports (18%).

“Our survey results suggest outsized streaming subscriber growth in recent weeks, along with more depressed churn [subs not renewing] than would typically be seen during this period,” Pachter wrote.