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2010 by the numbers

We look at eye-popping entertainment stats and what they might tell us.

January 01, 2011|By Nate Jackson and Patrick Kevin Day, Los Angeles Times
  • Cable reality shows such as MTV's "Jersey Shore," left, found a bigger audience than critically acclaimed network fare such as NBC's " 30 Rock," right.
Cable reality shows such as MTV's "Jersey Shore," left,… (AP / NBC )

In the world of pop culture, 2010 was a year of big, eye-catching numbers: More than 100 million people watched the Super Bowl in January, and, by year's end, a video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops, had done more than a billion dollars' worth of business — a higher gross than many would-be Hollywood blockbusters.

But understanding what those numbers tell us about the rapidly changing entertainment environment requires that we make some statistical comparisons that help explain what audiences were watching, listening to and buying last year. The results are both revealing and surprising.

Inescapable (if much derided) cable reality shows such as MTV's "Jersey Shore" found a bigger audience than critically acclaimed network fare such as NBC's " 30 Rock." A hot current act such as Eminem may have dominated current album sales with 3.3 million copies sold in the U.S., but on the road, it was '80s rock group Bon Jovi that commanded the biggest sales.

The push and pull of new and old was exemplified nowhere better than in the hallowed world of reading, where we started the year with just three choices of e-readers and ended it with 19, and Amazon announced it had sold more Kindles than copies of " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

In general, if 2010 showed us anything, it was that the long decline of the old entertainment business models accelerated while the new models, based largely in the digital world and geared toward the maximum convenience and personalization of the users, were on the upswing.

"Video games are on the rise because people keep buying them the way they buy software upgrades," says Richard Laermer, media analyst and author of the book "2011: Trendspotting." Laermer thinks that's one explanation why moviegoing is flat. "A movie sequel is not a software upgrade, and a lot of them bombed this year."

Call of Duty: Black Ops' billion-dollar business makes it now apparent that video games deserve to be taken just as seriously as anything Hollywood puts out. (And tellingly, the highest-grossing movie ever, 2009's "Avatar," felt very much like a video-game experience.)

Everywhere, it seemed, people were upgrading: buying new versions of old video games and old books in new formats. And, just when it seemed the Beatles were truly here, there and everywhere, they popped up again — this time on iTunes, where they commanded huge sales of more than 100,000 albums and 1.42 million tracks downloaded in their first week on the service. (And this is for albums and songs that have been available for more than 40 years.)

"I think that people are getting more of their basic musical experiences for free but are very willing to pay top dollar for a major experience like a Coachella," said Josh Kun, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism whose research focuses on popular music.

In 2010, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a showcase for superstars and underground up-and-comers, attracted a record 225,000 ticket holders to Indio.

So how does one explain the $200-million worldwide haul for Bon Jovi's top-grossing Circle Tour topping the tour receipts of current album chart toppers such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift? Have music-loving teens suddenly embraced tight leather pants and '80s anthem rock? It may be the Garden State band's un-hipness that has become its biggest asset.

"I think a good reason why [ Jon] Bon Jovi's tours are still so massive is precisely because he's not an Internet artist," says Kun. "They've already bought the CDs and they love the old hits and seeing them live is an experience that registers in a more conventional way."

Breaking down 2010 by the numbers, we've come up with a list of entertainment industry comparisons that hopefully tell us something about what just happened to pop culture over the last 365 days and the effect it had on fans, ticket holders, rabid downloaders, bloggers and tweet-aholics across the country.

See the entertainment industry comparisons here.

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