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3D movies push up ticket prices to all-time high

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Movie theaters and studios have increasingly turned to techno wizardry innovations to lure viewers into the theater by offering them the one thing they can't recreate in their living room, even with a high-def flat-screen TV.

Blame the 3D goggles.

Average movie theater ticket prices hit an all-time not adjusted for inflation high of $7.96, reports the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO).

That number is essentially the sum of all ticket revenue divided by all tickets sold among the chains surveyed, NATO spokesperson Patrick Corcoran said. It includes lower cost admissions, like discounted tickets for matinee, children, and seniors, as well as bulk rates like the 10-packs of movie tickets for $72, or $7.20 a ticket, recently sold by Costco. At the higher end, the average also includes figures like one adult ticket to "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - An IMAX 3D Experience" at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 in Manhattan selling for $21.

Combating market intrusion by Netflix, streaming video on demand, BitTorrent, and other home-viewing options, movie theaters and studios have increasingly turned to techno-wizardry innovations to lure consumers once again into darkened cinemas by offering them the one thing they can't recreate in their living room, even with a high-def flat-screen TV.

"It's not so much a rise in prices as it reflects how people are going to see the  movies," said Corcoran. "More adults are going to the movies... there's more 3D and IMAX in the marketplace and they charge more."

The release of films like "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "Skyfall" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" helped pump up prices in 2012. All were available in IMAX, while Twilight and Hobbit were also available in 3D and IMAX 3D. "The Hobbit" was also shown in some theaters in a "High Frame Rate" format, shot at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24. Tickets for these special formats usually carry an average $3 markup.

The $7.96 average ticket price is up three cents from 2011 and the .4 percent growth rate is the 18th year of annual increases. However, the ticket price only just recently edged over into "all-time high" status. The bulk of the increases came in 2008, 2009, and 2010 at 4.4 percent, 4.5 percent and 5.2 percent respectively. In those years it became more common to offer 3D and IMAX versions of films.

But the trend has jumped the 3D shark. In May 2013, moviegoers will be treated to a 3D version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's literary classic, "The Great Gatsby." The  film will no doubt feature 3D polo balls hurtling at viewer's faces, 3D flapper kicks, and 3D green lights beckoning from beyond the edge of a 3D dock.

In Fitzgerald's novel, the green light was a symbol of the alluring and unattainable American dream. For theaters and studios, the dream of turning back the trend of home-viewing over going to the nickelodeon will remain similarly out of grasp.