Making Movie Tickets While the Sun Shines

For the past two months newspaper headlines have been blaring about layoffs, collapsing companies, imploding financial bubbles and people at the end of their rope. But as in any crisis, some industries profit. The global economic downturn has been good for Hollywood, for example, and even better for film distributors and movie-theater owners in Israel.

"In the past few months there has been a huge resurgence in ticket sales at the theaters," says Danny Kafri, head of Israel's cinema industry association. According to the group's figures, around 2.5 million movie tickets were sold in Israel from October to December, up from 2 million a year earlier. So 25 percent more people went to the movies.

The figures for this year are even more impressive. In January 730,000 tickets were sold, an increase of 40 percent over a year earlier. February's numbers are not in yet, but Kafri says the trend is continuing.

If the current trend continues in Israel, the industry here will enjoy its biggest revenue rise in 20 years.

"Sharp increases like this usually have something to do with the type of movies being screened at a particular time, but there were no major blockbusters during those months to account for the increase," says Kafri.

Israel, in fact, has been doing better than the United States. Late last month, the New York Times reported that U.S. ticket sales were up 17.5 percent so far this year, with attendance up 16 percent.

Moshe Greidinger, CEO of Israel Theaters, which operates the Rav Chen and Yes Planet movie-theater chains, says both a good selection of movies and the economic crisis are leading to higher ticket sales.

"Especially during an economic crisis, affordable good entertainment options thrive," says Greidinger. "Many people are giving up expensive entertainment such as pleasure trips and vacations, but still want to go out and have fun. A night at the movies can cost about NIS 100 for a couple, so this type of entertainment is doing well just now."

Movies also offer audiences escapism, a commodity particularly prized during tough economic times.

"Movies offer an alternative to our daily troubles. For a couple of hours people can be totally cut off from reality. This is something that television and the Internet cannot offer," says Dorit Yishai, distribution manager for Globus Group. "This is mass entertainment that's cheap and available, that appeals to different types of audiences. When the economy is down, when it's harder to go out and have fun with the whole family, the movie theater becomes the perfect solution."

Yishai says there have been similar fluctuations in ticket sales in the United States during economic crises, and in Israel during the financial crunch in the 1980s. She agrees with Greidinger that the quality and quantity of movies being screened in Israel takes some of the credit for the recent success.

"All the genres of movies are showing these days - action, comedy, drama, horror and children's movies, which appeal to many audiences," says Yishai.

Another factor is the opening of megaplexes all over Israel. Kafri says these new multiple-theater centers, which are leading in ticket sales, have changed the business here and are attracting new viewers thanks to the different experience they offer.