netflix isn't killing movie theaters

The rise of streaming services have changed the game for movie theater owners and Hollywood analysts, many of whom have spent the past several years operating under the belief that if audiences spend more time watching content on Netflix, that’s less time they’re spending seeing movies in theaters. But now a new study is here to drive a dagger through that line of thinking – the study says that people who frequently go to the movies also watch more streaming content.

It turns out Netflix isn’t killing movie theaters after all. Variety reports that a team from Ernst & Young’s Quantitative Economics and Statistics group surveyed 2,500 people last month – 80% of whom have seen at least one movie in theaters in the past year – and concluded that the long-held belief that theaters and streaming are in competition with each other may not be correct after all. According to the study, people who saw nine or more movies at movie theaters in the past year spent an average of eleven hours per week watching streaming content, compared to the seven average hours of streaming content consumed by people who only went to theaters once or twice in a year.

Those numbers blow up the traditional way of thinking about audience viewership habits. It means that movie theaters and sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are not competing for the same limited quantity of audience consumption hours, and instead indicates that people who love watching movies in theaters also spend significant amounts of time watching content on streaming services.

For people who are dialed into movies, TV, and pop culture – for example, the /Film writing staff and all of our regular readers – this behavior probably sounds familiar. We love consuming this stuff and processing it, analyzing it, and talking about it. But these numbers seem to indicate that maybe the general public isn’t quite as casual about their viewing habits as we previously thought.

There’s also been a popular notion that today’s teenagers aren’t going to the movies as often as previous generations because they have more access to better content than ever at home – but this study seems to destroy that idea, too.

Respondents between the ages of 13 to 17 went to a mean of 7.3 movies and consumed 9.2 hours of streaming content, the highest of any age group. There was some softness in consumers between the ages of 18 to 37, however. The average for respondents in this group was six theater visits in the past year, the lowest among any age group. At the same time, they watched 8.6 hours of streaming content a week, the third most of any demographic.

This study was commissioned by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). Theaters are doing pretty well for themselves right now (2018 is on track to set a new record in terms of box office numbers), so it’s not like theater owners needed these results to give them a “win.” But it’s always interesting to see who’s behind studies like these and what they stand to gain.

“The message here is that there’s not a war between streaming and theatrical,” said Phil Contrino, the director of media and research at NATO. “People who love content are watching it across platforms and all platforms have place in consumers’ minds.” Dismantling the common perception of streaming services as the new kids who are coming in and stealing all of the old guard’s audiences – it’s not exactly an attack on Netflix, but it definitely makes NATO look like they’re not as untouchable as they truly are. This study may say that theaters aren’t competing with Netflix, but make no mistake, a war is raging. Eventually, viewers will only have a finite amount of time for entertainment consumption, and movie theaters are desperate to retain as much of that time as they can.

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