UPDATE, 2:30 PM: “You had a lot of weekends (including Thanksgiving) when the box office was dominated by kids’ pictures” which lowered the average ticket price, CEO Amy Miles told analysts in a conference call. When she talks to execs “the theme from the studios was, ‘maybe we can do a better job with scheduling’.” In addition to the drop in number of tickets sold in Q4, Regal patrons were less likely to pay extra for a 3D or Imax showing: Premium tickets accounted for 17% of the revenues for the quarter vs 24% in 2010 when audiences turned out for Fox’s Avatar and Disney’s Alice In Wonderland. But Miles says she’s optimistic about the releases due in 2012. Regal’s sales are already up 19% in the year’s first 6 1/2 weeks vs the same period last year. Films she singled out included Disney’s John Carter, Universal’s Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games, Marvel’s The Avengers, and Warner Bros’ Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. She says that customers like Regal’s expanded food menus, which it will introduce at additional locations this year. And she likes the early performance of film distribution venture Open Road, which is half-owned by Regal. She expects the company’s first two films, Killer Elite and The Grey, to become profitable as they go through different distribution channels.

PREVIOUS 1:15 PM: The movie exhibition chain offered data to support bulls and bears alike in Q4. It generated net income of $4M, down 70.6% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $613.9M, down 7.1%. The revenue figure is sure to disappoint analysts who expected $627.3M. But the profit figure, at 3 cents a share slightly beat the 2 cents that had been forecast. The results included a $13.9M impairment charge on the stock that Regal owns in RealD. The main problem in the quarter was a decline in attendance which dropped 7.6% to 47.7M. The average ticket cost $8.68, -2.3% — but that was offset by a 5.4% increase in the average concessions payment to $3.34 per patron. Despite the soft results, Regal declared a quarterly cash dividend of 21 cents a share and says it intends to keep paying a dividend “for the foreseeable future.” CEO Amy Miles says that Regal’s “ability to control variable costs in a challenging box office environment” helped to boost its margins. “We are also encouraged by the early 2012 box office results and the line-up of films slated for the upcoming summer season,” she said.

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