Cinema ticket prices drop, but West End theatre costs keep rising

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A cinema audienceImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Cinemas in some towns and cities cut their prices in 2018 to compete with rival chains

Cinema price wars and the golden age of TV have meant the average cost of going to see a film in the UK has dropped for the first time in 17 years.

The average ticket price dropped from £7.49 in 2017 to £7.22 last year thanks to what the UK Cinema Association described as "tactical discounting".

But figures from the theatre industry showed West End prices are continuing to go in the other direction.

There, the average ticket cost £49.25 in 2018 - up from £46.71 in 2017.

That has been driven by the success of hit shows like Hamilton, and means the cost of a West End ticket has gone up by 30% since 2012.

Image source, Matthew Murphy
Image caption,
Tickets to see Hamilton in the West End range from £20 to £250

Both the theatre and cinema industries have released figures showing rising attendances, with 177 million cinema tickets sold - the highest for 48 years - and 34 million theatre tickets purchased.

Last year, 10 movies made more than £30m at the UK box office, compared with six the previous year.

The biggest hits of 2018 were Avengers: Infinity War, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Incredibles 2, Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody.

The average price drop is partly down to the popularity of deals like Cineworld Unlimited and Meerkat Movies, as well as the fact cinemas have to tempt viewers away from their TV sets, according to Screen International's senior reporter Tom Grater.

Image source, Marvel/Disney
Image caption,
Avengers: Infinity War was the top film of 2018 at the UK box office

Cinemas also cut prices in some towns and cities where multiplexes are competing with each other and with booming boutique chains like Picturehouse, Everyman and Curzon.

Grater said: "They have rapidly expanded in the last few years, so traditional exhibitors like Odeon and Cineworld have to figure out how to deal with that competition because in towns where previously there might have only been one multiplex, there might also be a swanky new indie cinema as well.

"But I think the key concern is more them competing against things like Netflix and the fact you can get really quality entertainment at home these days, so they need to slightly reshape their models."

But prices aren't dropping across the board - Odeon came in for criticism for charging up to £40 at its refurbished flagship venue in Leicester Square.

In theatres, 15.5 million tickets were sold in the West End and a further 18.8 million were sold elsewhere around the country, according to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre.

SOLT president Kenny Wax said: "Increasingly, people seem to want to invest in high quality cultural experiences, and the West End is benefiting from this trend."

The rise in the average price was "largely driven by a small number of hugely popular hit shows", he said.

He added that the cost of staging a live show and running a theatre were considerably higher than those for a cinema, and pointed to a survey by The Stage that showed that the average bottom price ticket was down 10% on the previous year.

Outside the West End, the average ticket price in 2018 rose to £27.10 - up 8% compared with 2017.

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