By Nathan Slaughter
That's the amount grossed by James Cameron's "Avatar" since its release in late 2009. That makes "Avatar" the highest-grossing film of all time, earning nearly $1 billion more than the No. 2 film, "Titanic."
But "Avatar" isn't alone in recent films making a big splash.
In fact, three of the top six grossing films of all time have been released in the past 13 months. What's causing these skyrocketing sales figures?
Certainly inflating ticket prices have a lot to do with it, but a quick look into "Avatar's" success shows an even bigger force at play... 3-D technology.
Avatar made a splash since it was made specifically for 3-D presentation. That led to 81% of its U.S. sales coming from the pricier tickets to 3-D viewings.
Clearly, consumers are enamored with immersive 3-D visuals. In fact, 3-D movies' share of domestic ticket sales climbed from 2% in 2008 to 11% in 2009. That's a five-fold surge in one year. This year should see an even greater share go toward 3-D.
This trend isn't going away -- nor is it limited to your local multiplex.
You've seen advertisements for stunning 3-D televisions. You may even be an early adopter that already has one.
According to market research firm iSuppli, approximately 4.2 million 3-D equipped televisions will be shipped globally this year. That's more niche than mainstream. But I think 2011 will be the year when this nascent technology undergoes rapid development and gains widespread acceptance.
There are currently two main roadblocks: cumbersome glasses and lack of content. But both of those impediments are disappearing.
Samsung, Sharp, and most recently Toshiba have all introduced high-tech sets that don't require glasses. At the same time, a dizzying array of new 3-D DVDs and Blu-ray movies from major studios such as Disney (NYSE: DIS) are hitting retailers' shelves. (A quick search on Amazon.com turns up 7,000 results.)
Meanwhile, IMAX and Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA) are developing one of the first cable channels that will be broadcast exclusively in 3-D. And DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) is already offering premium 3-D programming packages, including a dedicated ESPN channel -- something sure to thrill any sports fan.
As these developments take root, 3-D television demand will pick up over the holidays and never look back. I'm expecting sales to quadruple to 15 million units next year and then double again to 30 million units by 2013. With a projected annual growth rate of 80%, 3-D will account for more than half of all sets by 2015 -- just as high definition [HD] supplanted standard definition.
And that's just the beginning of this wave. Expect to see 3-D desktops, printers, picture frames, digital cameras, and gaming consoles. In fact, Nintendo has already unveiled a 3-D version of its popular DS handheld system (also without glasses).
I don't have the space to delve too deeply into the growth forecasts and market projections today. But this is a topic that I'll be watching in the future. For now, be on the lookout for companies that will cash in on the upgrade to 3-D architecture, such as RealD (NYSE: RLD) and 3-D Systems (Nasdaq: TDSC).
-- Nathan Slaughter
P.S. -- Using the same principles that helped trounce the S&P 500 for seven years, one of our top investing gurus, Nathan Slaughter, hand-picked all 10 of the stocks featured in his latest exclusive report, The Top 10 Stocks for 2011. These 10 stocks are not only poised to deliver above-average returns throughout the 2011 calendar year, but also in the years that follow...
Nathan Slaughter's previous experience includes tenures at AXA/Equitable Advisors and Morgan Keegan. In addition, he's earned Series 6, 7, 63, & 65 certifications. Read more...