U.S. Box Office Fell 80 Percent in 2020 as Streaming Boomed

AMC Theatres
Noam Galai/WireImage

Digital subscribers hit the 1 billion mark globally for the first time as moviegoing collapsed last year amid the pandemic, the annual report of the Motion Picture Association shows.

Every year, the Motion Picture Association — the top lobbying organization for Hollywood studios — compiles a detailed report analyzing the performance of the global box office.

It was a thankless task in 2020, a year that saw moviegoing devastated because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in theater closures across the U.S. and globe. On the other hand, digital viewing boomed.

For the first time, subscribers of online services crossed 1 billion to top out at 1.1 billion, a 26 percent gain over 2019 (that included 306.8 billion subscriptions in the U.S., a 32 percent spike). All told, the global mobile/home entertainment market generated revenue of $68.8 billion in 2020, a 23 percent jump over 2019 (that excludes cable subscriptions).

According to the MPA, the U.S. box office fell to $2.2 billion in 2020, an unprecedented 80 percent decline, while global box office revenue tumbled to $12 billion, a 72 percent dip (the recovery of China and other Asian markets helped slow the devastation overseas). Movies entering production also plummeted by 46 percent.

For the first time ever, China ($3 billion) passed up North America to rank as the world's largest box office market. North America was No. 2, followed by Japan ($1.3 billion).

The overall entertainment business was saved by strength of streaming and premium video on demand. Total global theatrical and digital/mobile entertainment came in at $80.8 billion, an 18 percent decline, offset by a 31 percent digital viewing increase. Total theatrical and digital/mobile in the U.S. was $32.2 billion, compared to $36.1 billion in 2019.

"The past year was challenging for the global economy, and for virtually every aspect of our daily lives: the staggering loss of life, the toll on our front-line workers, the devastating and widespread loss of jobs and businesses, and the almost complete shutdown of many industries," MPA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin said in his letter introducing the 60 page-plus report.

"Our workforce was not immune: Jobs were lost, productions were either curtailed or shut down, and movie theaters shuttered around the globe," Rivkin continued. "But, during an otherwise punishing year for theatrical exhibition and our industry at large, home and curated entertainment boomed. The good news wasn’t just confined to homes, laptops and other personal devices. As recent stories have shown, audiences never lost their appetite to enjoy the theatrical experience, and drive-in theaters enjoyed their highest returns in decades."

The report was released as Hollywood and exhibitors bank on a box office recovery as U.S. cinemas reopen across key markets, including Los Angeles and New York. By Friday, AMC Entertainment, the U.S. theater chain, says 98 percent of its circuit will be open.

According to the MPA survey, the most viewed movies in the home included Frozen II (which hit theaters in late 2019), while most viewed streaming series was Ozark.

During the pandemic period of 2020, 55 percent of adults said their viewing of an online subscription service increased, while 46 reported that their viewing of pay TV increased.

Also, more than 86 percent of children and more than 55 percent of adults watch content on a mobile device. Daily viewing on such devices is more prevalent among the 18-24 age groups and the 25-39 age groups, as well as among Hispanics and Blacks.