Netflix isn't killing movie theatres, and could even be helping them: study

"The message here is that there's not a war between streaming and theatrical," says theatre association

"The message here is that there's not a war between streaming and theatrical," says theatre association

A new study shows that the more people stream, the more likely they are to see movies in theatres, too. Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

As Netflix became a streaming juggernaut, many prophesied that it would be the death knell for movie theatres. After all, people would have access to thousands of movies and TV shows, and for a fraction of the cost of seeing movies in theatres. Why wouldn't they just stay home?

But a new study commissioned by the National Association of Theatre Owners — the Washington-based industry association for owners of movie theatres — says that Netflix and other big streaming sites may actually be helping, not hindering, movie houses. 

Conducted by EY's Quantitative Economics and Statistics Group, the new study surveyed 2,500 people in November, 80 per cent of whom had seen at least one film in theatres over the past year. They also looked at the respondents' streaming habits, as well as their age and demographics.

What they found defied conventional wisdom, or at least convention fears: the more people streamed, the more likely they were to also see films in theatres.

For example, respondents who went to theatres nine times or more over the past year consumed at least 10 hours of streaming a week, whereas those who only went to multiplexes once or twice a year streamed just seven hours of online films and TV.

The new study "The Relationship Between Movie Theater Attendance and Streaming Behavior" shows that Netflix and other streaming services may not be hurting movie houses. (National Association of Theatre Owners)

Of the people who didn't see any movies in theatres over the past year, nearly half also said they didn't stream any online content — and just 18 per cent said they streamed eight hours or more per week.

"The message here is that there's not a war between streaming and theatrical," Phil Contrino, director of media and research at NATO, told Variety. "People who love content are watching it across platforms and all platforms have place in consumers' minds."

The study shows that teens are still flocking to theatres while watching streamed flicks, with respondents aged 13-17 going to theatres on average 7.3 times a year, and streaming 9.2 hours a week — the highest level of any group.

Seniors over 72 tied the 13-17 crowd for their theatre-going, averaging 7.3 times a year, but streamed less — 7.5 hours a week.

The age bracket least likely to go to theatres was respondents aged 18-37, who visited theatres just six times a year, but streamed 8.6 hours of content a week, which marked the third highest level.

Of the time people spent streaming, 40 per cent was dedicated to movies, 45 per cent to TV series, and 15 per cent to "other" — sports, comedy specials, etc. The percentages remained relatively similar among both theatregoers and those who were more likely to skip the movie house.

In terms of income, the higher earners (average $65,700 USD) went to more movies in theatres and streamed less, whereas those with the lower incomes ($42,800 USD) went to movies less and streamed less. Those who had the highest movie attendance and streaming were in the middle, earning on average $58,400.

The study also found that people who don't go to movie theatres are also less likely to stream at home. (National Theatre Owners Association)

The numbers were relatively steady across race, gender, marital status and number of children.

This year was a banner year at the box office, with films including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Deadpool 2 sending attendance records toward new highs.

However, studies have shown that cable subscriptions continue to sink — one estimated that 33 million Americans would cut the proverbial cord in 2018 — so while Netflix does not appear to be disrupting theatres, it seems that cable companies are bearing the brunt for streaming's sweeping success.


Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email