Universal Pictures' Fast & Furious lived up to its speedy moniker, racing its way to $72.5 million in domestic ticket sales over the weekend. Unlike its protagonists, however, this film's no brooding loner; it's the leader of a whole roaring pack of entertainment opportunities blowing the doors off the current recession.
This Diesel-fueled flick isn't the only film supercharging the box office these days. 2009 ticket sales at the local multiplex are clocking in 15% higher year over year, with attendance soaring nearly 13% in the same period. As receipts outpacing audience growth might suggest, exhibitors are inching their ticket prices slightly higher -- and they're getting away with it.
Lights, camera, action
Big-screen blockbusters aren't the only apparent beneficiaries of our current tough times. Beyond the local multiplex, other companies also seem to be making the most of the country's appetite for diversions:
(NASDAQ:NFLX)announced last week that it's raising subscription fees -- again -- for members who want to include high-definition Blu-ray discs in their rental queues.
- Satellite radio giant Sirius XM
(NASDAQ:SIRI)bumped up the rate on its secondary accounts by 29% last month, and began charging for Web streaming.
These higher prices aren't necessarily keeping fans away. Netflix tacked on another 600,000 film buffs to its rolls through the first six weeks of 2009. Sirius XM may run into a little growth turbulence this year, but it has managed to grow its net subscriber base in every single quarter through the end of 2008.
Sure, we don't have a good read on how subscriptions are running at either company following their recent hikes. However, the box office tallies are current, proving that exhibitors who have beefed up their offerings with IMAX
As times get tough, it's only natural for a larger part of our discretionary income to go toward entertainment. Who couldn't use a feel-good escape from our everyday worries?
Fade to black
Still, while this trend may be favorable, it's not smiling kindly on everyone:
- If movie ticket sales are on a record-setting pace, why is Blockbuster
(NYSE:BBI)trading for less than $1 a share? When the multiplex is hot today, it typically means that the local Blockbuster will be hopping in a few months.
- If Netflix is rocking because consumers are staying in to consume value-priced entertainment, why are media giants such as CBS
(NYSE:CBS)and FOX parent News Corp. (NYSE:NWS)trading in the single digits? The ad market is crummy, but shouldn't these companies be making up for that shortfall in their sheer volume of viewers?
- If subscribers are flocking to Sirius XM for commercial-free music, shouldn't that motivate record labels to move a wider range of product? Try telling that to Warner Music Group
(NYSE:WMG); its shares haven't traded in the double digits since 2007.
Let the credits roll
Despite these incongruities, don't assume that the depressed players above are about to skyrocket. Clearly, not every entertainment provider is equal here. Blockbuster has been posting respectable metrics -- especially when it comes to video games -- but the company does have burdensome debt levels to tackle. CBS and News Corp. have interests in terrestrial radio and print publishing, which aren't expected to hold up as well as their TV divisions. Warner is coming off back-to-back profitable quarters, but analysts see red ink at the label over the next two years.
Still, the industry's hardly a minefield. Struggling companies may face sinking shares, but Wall Street's got plenty of love for their audience-attracting rivals. This sector's more recession-proof than the worrywarts feared, making it an attractive hunting ground for Fools in search of fast and furious investing ideas.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a Netflix shareholder -- and subscriber -- since 2002. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy lives its life one quarter-mile at a time.