Before the pandemic, theatrical and digital entertainment markets were roughly similar in size. Last year, however, digital revenues were more than three times the global box office, according to a new report from the Motion Picture Association.
The MPA’s annual study of indoor and home entertainment crystallized just how much streaming has come to dominate the media landscape. In 2021, the digital market accounted for 72% of the combined theater and household market. In 2019, digital represented 45.5 billion dollars worldwide; last year it soared to $71.9 billion.
Streaming services led the boom. In 2021, streaming subscriptions grew to 1.3 billion worldwide, a 14% increase from the previous year. In the United States, subscriptions grew at a similar rate to 353.2 million. Pixar movie “Luca” on Disney+ was the most-watched movie of 2021, with more than 10.5 billion minutes streamed, according to Nielsen.
The digital boom came at the same time as the pandemic hit the theater industry. As global box office nearly doubled last year compared to 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the $21.3 billion movie theater market amid sporadic theater closures and delays widespread, was about half of what it was before COVID-19 arrived.
In 2019, the box office accounted for $42.3 billion in sales. With a steady return to theater business across much of the world this year, analysts predict the theatrical recovery could be around 80% of what it usually has. Meanwhile, physical sales (including DVDs and Blu-rays) have been steadily declining for years. Last year, physical media fell to $6.5 billion, about half of what it was in 2018 and a fraction of its all-time high.
But regardless of the media pie split, the combined entertainment market in 2021 was virtually the same as before the pandemic, totaling $99.7 billion. That was actually higher than 2019’s $98.1 billion. Consumer spending — $328.2 billion last year, including cable subscriptions — also matched 2019 numbers.
Yet the MPA data captured many of the changes accelerated by the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, 179 original films were exclusive to streaming services compared to 113 in 2019. Online movie viewing increased in 2021 by 15% compared to a year earlier.
Other facets of filmmaking have stubbornly stayed the same, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In a report released Monday, researchers found that of the 100 highest-grossing movies of 2021, 41% featured female leads or co-leads (compared to 51% of the US population) and 32% of leads belonged to a historically racial excluded or ethnic) compared to 40% of the American population).
While these rates are significantly higher than when USC researchers began tracking in 2007, they suggested that the industry’s belated and gradual shift to more diverse on-screen representation still doesn’t reflect the American public.
“As the industry considers the fallout from the pandemic and the changing movie market, policymakers should be wary that the progress they have made may stagnate or even reverse,” said Stacy. L. Smith, director of the Inclusion Initiative, in a statement.