Recession-hit Americans flocking to movies

Wed Dec 3, 2008 5:54pm EST
 
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By Sue Zeidler

NEW YORK (Reuters) - True to form and in keeping with past recessions, Americans are flocking to the movies, the chief executive of the largest U.S. theater chain said on Wednesday.

"We're approximately two-thirds of the way through the quarter, and we are having a very good fourth quarter this year compared to last year as an industry," Regal Entertainment Group's CEO Mike Campbell told Reuters.

Movie theaters are seeing double-digit growth in box office revenue and high single-digit growth in attendance so far this quarter on the appeal of films like "Twilight," "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," and "Bolt," according to Campbell.

He said the movie industry has done well during all the recessions in the past 50 years. "It is still the most affordable out of home entertainment option," he said.

Regal owns 549 theaters operating 6,754 screens and competes with Sumner Redstone's privately held National Amusements.

National Amusements is facing a debt squeeze, and analysts have said it would make sense for Redstone to sell the chain to raise money. They value the chain at about $500 million to $700 million.

Asked if Regal would want to buy National Amusements, Campbell said their domestic theater assets would be a good fit with its business, and his company would look at the assets if they went up for sale.

But he added that Regal would have to tap capital markets to finance a deal, and limited access to credit in the current environment would make any acquisition difficult.

(Additional reporting by Jui Chakravorty Das and Gina Keating, editing by Tiffany Wu)

 
<p>People buy tickets at a counter in a multiplex movie theatre in Mumbai November 22, 2008. REUTERS/Arko Datta</p>