A trip to the flicks: watching cinema admission prices in the CPI

This article looks at how cinema admission prices have changed over the past six decades.

Introduction

The first commercial screening of a motion picture in New Zealand was on 7 November 1896 in High Street, Christchurch (Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2009). By 1950, there were 600 cinemas in New Zealand (Department of Statistics, 1975). Many of these theatres were independently owned small suburban or country theatres.

The number of cinemas subsequently decreased to 140 in 1991. Screen numbers began to increase again in the early 1990s, growing by over 60 percent from 1995 to 2010. Now, there are movie theatres in most cities and towns across the country, with a total of 411 cinema screens nationwide in 2010 (Motion Picture Distributors' Association of NZ, 2011).

Cinema admission prices were added to the consumers price index (CPI) basket in 1949. In 1950, a ‘trip to the flicks’ would have cost about 2 shillings and 10 pence. In today’s terms (at the March 2011 quarter, after allowing for general inflation), this is equivalent to about $9.05. This figure is lower than the March 2011 quarter average 2D cinema admission price of $15.43 for an adult on a Saturday evening.

Over the years, alternatives for visual entertainment have emerged. Television, for example, had its first public transmission in 1960 (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011) in Auckland. Television transmission was extended to the rest of the country over the following two years. This was followed by the emergence of subscriber television services in 1990, which have since expanded in geographical coverage and the range of programmes and channels on offer.

Screen and admission numbers

Table 1 shows that the number of cinemas in New Zealand peaked in the year to March 1950, with 600 cinemas. Cinema numbers declined slowly during the 1950s, and more rapidly during the 1960s after the arrival of television. By 1975 there were 203 cinemas, down about 65 percent from the peak in 1950.

Admission numbers peaked in the year to March 1961, with over 40 million admissions. However, admission numbers dropped to 15 million in the year to March 1975.

Table 1

Total New Zealand cinema admissions and cinema numbers
Selected years, 1939–1975  
Year to March Admissions (millions) Cinemas
1939     29.8 576
1940 31.2 574
1945 35.4 551
1948 34.1 570
1950 36.4 600
1952 36.3 589
1954 37.4 582
1957 37.6 578
1959 38.2 547
1961 40.6 545
1963 37.6 491
1965 26.0 397
1967 19.6 312
1969 14.3 227
1971 13.1 210
1973 11.9 208
1975 15.0 203
Source: Statistics New Zealand

According to the Motion Picture Distributors' Association, there were 140 cinema screens in New Zealand in 1991. This increased steadily to reach 411 in 2010. Since 2008, 3D/digital screens have made up an increasing proportion of cinema screens in New Zealand. Table 2 shows the growth in the number of cinema admissions and screens since 1991.

Multiplex cinemas entered the industry in the early 1990s. Much of the growth in admission numbers occurred from 1992 to 1994, when attendance figures doubled from 6.6 million to 13.3 million.

Cinema admission numbers reached a high of 18.4 million in 2003. Since 2005, annual admission figures have held fairly steady at around 15.4 million.

Table 2

Total New Zealand cinema admissions and screen numbers, 1991–2010
Year    Admissions (millions) 2D screens 3D screens IMAX  Total screens
1991 6.1 140 0 0 140
1992 6.6 175 0 0 175
1993 9.7 211 0 0 211
1994 13.3 228 0 0 228
1995 14.1 255 0 0 255
1996 14.3 270 0 0 270
1997 16.1 285 0 0 285
1998 16.3 290 0 0 290
1999 16.8 315 0 0 315
2000 14.9 316 0 1 317
2001 16.6 324 0 1 325
2002 17.8 322 0 1 323
2003 18.4 336 0 1 337
2004 17.2 342 0 1 343
2005 15.5 368 0 1 369
2006 15.3 377 0 1 378
2007 15.4 402 0 1 403
2008 15.4 403 11 1 415
2009 15.3 389 20 1 410
2010 15.3 324 86 1 411
Source: Motion Picture Distributors' Association of NZ

Admission prices

Table 3 shows 2D cinema admission average prices for selected years from 1950 to 2011, both in the actual prices at the time, and in 'today's' terms, after allowing for general CPI inflation from the year in question to the March 2011 quarter. As shown in table 3, the lowest admission price in March 2011 quarter terms was in 1963. The average cinema admission price was about 3 shillings and 2 pence, which is equivalent to about $6.15 in the March 2011 quarter.

Over the following decade, prices increased more rapidly than the CPI. In 1973, the average cost of cinema admission had more than doubled, to reach $0.84, which is about $9.40 in March 2011 quarter terms.

The average cinema admission price in 1983 was $3.27 (or about $10.00 in today’s dollars), increasing further to $8.76 a decade later in 1993 (or about $13.25 in today’s terms).

The average cinema admission price of $15.43 for the March 2011 quarter is the highest in both ‘nominal’ terms and in ‘real’ terms after allowing for general inflation.

Table 3

Average 2D cinema admission prices, for adult
Selected years, 1950–2011
Year Price at the time in shillings (s), pence (d), dollars ($)    In today's (March 2011 quarter) dollars ($)
1950 2s 10d 9.06
1953 3s 4d 8.53
1958 3s 0d 6.48
1963 3s 2d 6.14
1968 0.46 7.33
1973 0.84 9.38
1978 1.76 10.30
1983 3.27 9.99
1988 6.54 11.70
1993(1) 8.76 13.24
1998 9.77 13.42
2003 12.14 15.17
2008 13.99 15.08
2011(2) 15.43 15.43
1. December 1993 quarter
2. March 2011 quarter
Source: Statistics New Zealand

Figure 1 shows changes in cinema admission prices from 1993 to 2011. Cinema admission prices have increased more rapidly than the CPI from the mid-1990s onwards. From the December 1993 quarter to the March 2011 quarter, cinema admission prices increased at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent compared with 2.4 percent for the CPI.

These price movements are not affected by the introduction of higher admission prices to 3D movies. As shown in table 2, the number of 3D/digital screens has grown rapidly, increasing from 11 screens in 2008 to 86 screens in 2010.

Figure 1

Graph, CPI and cinema admission prices, Dec 1993  to March 2011, base: December 1993 quarter (=1000).

References

Department of Statistics (1975). Official Yearbook 1975. Wellington: Department of Statistics.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage (updated 16 June 2011). Television in New Zealand. Available from www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/tv-history

Motion Picture Distributors' Association of NZ (2011). www.mpda.org.nz. Figures supplied by the Film and Video Labelling Body.

Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (updated 23 April 2009). Cinema. From An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, edited by AH McLintock, originally published in 1966. Available from www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/cinema/1

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