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Year in Review: Studio Winners and Losers

January 4th, 2011

With 2010 over, and most studios having reported their year-end results, we can start to analyze how 2010 stacks up against previous years. This week, we'll look at the major studio's performance compared to one another, and compared to previous years. With ticket prices up significantly in 2010 thanks to the plethora of 3D titles, some of the numbers don't look so great for the industry.

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Warner Bros. was the most successful distributor in 2010, in terms of total box office, thanks to three things: Inception, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), and the sheer number of movies they released. With 33 movies playing in theaters during the year, they put out almost twice as many films as any other distributor (with the exception of IFC Films).

Paramount and Disney showed the value of focusing on a limited set of movies to earn the highest averages among all distributors.

The overall box office for the year was $10.455 billion, according to our calculations, down 1.8% in dollar terms from the $10.646 billion recorded in 2009. With an average ticket price currently estimated at $7.85, total ticket sales were 1.33 billion compared to 1.42 billion in 2009, down 6.3%. (Note that we use the Sunday of New Year's weekend as the last day or the year, in accord with most studio's reporting practices.) While that makes 2010 only the second year with over $10 billion in revenue, it looks as though it could see the fewest tickets sold since 1996, although it will come very close to 2000 and 2008.

In spite of weak ticket sales in total, our next charts show how things aren't so bad for the major studios...



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In raw dollar terms, Warner Bros.' 2010 performance is the second-best of all time for a studio, behind their 2009 year-end total. The studio also comes in third place, thanks to a nearly $1.8 billion year in 2008. Note, however, the number of movies Warner Bros. has released over the last three years. With 30 plus films playing each year, they have plenty of chances to bring in significant revenue. Paramount's 2010 strategy of concentrating on fewer, higher profile pictures puts them in fourth place on the chart, and beats their 2008 performance.



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If we adjust for ticket price, however, a new picture emerges. Warner Bros. 2010 performance slots into 8th place in this chart, some way behind their record year in 2009. Sony's and Disney's golden years from 1996 to 2003 dominate this chart. Their strategy a decade ago was much the same as Warner's now: spread the risk by releasing a lot of films.



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For the final chart, we look at the studios that have achieved the best average ticket sales over the course of a year. The route to the top of this chart is to concentrate resources on fewer releases. While this is in some ways riskier, because you're putting your eggs in fewer baskets, it can pay off handsomely if you get a few hits. That was the case for DreamWorks in 2004, thanks in large part to the performance of Shrek 2, with some help from Shark Tale. In 2010, Paramount was helped by Shrek Forever After, along with Iron Man 2 and How to Train Your Dragon, and ended up in an impressive fifth place all-time. Disney enjoyed a good year too, and ended up in seventh place in the all-time list. Blockbuster animated movies dominate its list too (the year's top grosser, Toy Story 3 chief among them, of course). We'll return to the subject of animated movies in a future column.

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Previous analysis:
- Year in Review: Theatrical Hits and Misses
- Measuring the Studios
- Why You Should Be Making a Romantic Horror Comedy
- Crunch Time for Video Sales
- OpusData Reveals the Top Leading, Supporting and Voice Actors of All Time.