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What Canadian households spend on culture goods and services

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Erika Dugas
Culture Statistics Program

Average household expenditures on culture products increased at a slower pace than overall expenditures
Rental of cablevision and satellite TV services accounted for the largest spending category of culture goods and services
Music and movies – are they holding their ground?
Reading materials
Substantial gains in spending on live performing arts
Visual arts
Heritage institutions
Photography: expenditures on services tumble
Spending by household type: couples with children in the lead
Culture products declining as proportion of total family spending

Canadian households continue to spend the largest portion of their income on four main categories ─ personal taxes, food, shelter and transportation. But how popular is going to the movies, renting a DVD or buying a newspaper? Where do households spend their money when it comes to culture goods and services, and have these household expenditures changed over time?

Competition is fierce for discretionary dollars. Once the basic necessities of food, shelter and transportation have been taken care of, and personal taxes have been paid, households face decisions about how to spend their remaining income. While we cannot determine why households make the choices that they do, we can explore spending on different types of culture goods or services. Do people choose to go to the latest movie, buy a new bestselling novel or popular CD, or just stay home and watch TV? Previous studies on household expenditures have shown differences in spending by household type, income and age.1 This article examines average spending on culture products over a five year period and reviews this consumption by household types.

Average household expenditures on culture products increased at a slower pace than overall expenditures

Average household expenditures on culture goods and services increased only 12.4% between 1999 and 2004, compared to a 20.8% rise in overall average household spending (excluding personal taxes). Nonetheless, this was comparable to the inflation rate of 12.8% as measured by the all-items Consumer Price Index.

Canadian households spent an average of $1,450 on culture goods and services in 2004, compared to $1,290 in 1999 (Table 1). The proportion of overall expenditures this represented, however, decreased. While culture spending constituted 3.1% of average household expenditures in 1999, it represented only 2.9% in 2004. After controlling for inflation, average expenditures on culture products remained basically unchanged (Table 2).

Rental of cablevision and satellite TV services accounted for the largest spending category of culture goods and services

Cablevision and satellite TV services continued to consume the largest chunk of the household budget on culture goods and services, as it has for many years. In fact, their share rose from 25.7% to 31.9%, as households spent an average of $462 on such services in 2004 in contrast to $332 in 1999 (Table 1).

Consumers like to have the option of planning their own viewing, so technologies or networks that provide customized delivery and choices have been growing in popularity. The increase in the number of households reporting satellite TV dishes, and the rise in the number of digital television subscribers, suggests such consumer preferences.

The use of satellite dishes grew substantially,2 reaching 23% in 2004 from only 8% in 1999. Furthermore, both satellite TV and digital cable television services experienced strong growth in the number of subscribers.3 While there were about 967,000 subscribers to satellite4 TV services in 2000, over 2.3 million subscribers were reported in 2004. Likewise the number of subscribers to digital cable television services jumped from 387,000 in 2000 to over 1.8 million in 2004.

Music and movies – are they holding their ground?

While average spending on pre-recorded DVDs, CDs, and audio and video cassettes dropped 7.2%5 (Table 1), this category still accounted for the second highest share of spending on culture goods and services, accounting for 8% or $116 per household in 2004. While the decline in average spending may reflect a decrease in overall spending on recordings, sales of DVDs actually increased according to industry sources.

The Survey of Sound Recording shows that sales of recordings in 2003 plunged 20.5% below the peak experienced in 1998, dropping from $891.6 million to $708.7 million. On the other hand, record labels sold music-themed DVDs and videos in record numbers, with sales more than doubling between 2000 and 2003.6 Similar findings were noted by the Canadian Recording Industry Association and also by international sources. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry(IFPI) confirmed this world-wide trend, noting that recorded music sales continued its downward descent in 2004 while there was a global rise in DVD music video sales.7

The Survey of Household Spending further illustrates the explosive growth in DVD players. Almost seven out of ten households (68%) reported having a DVD player in 2004, compared to only one in five households in 2001, the earliest year for which data are available. At the same time, revenue from the wholesaling of DVDs and videocassettes showed a 45% increase between 1999/00 and 2004/05,8 which may be partly attributable to the increase in the popularity of watching movies at home. According to the Film, Video and Audio-visual Distribution Survey, DVDs accounted for 77% of the video wholesaling market in 2004/05.

Average expenditures on rentals of DVDs and videocassettes and videogames, however, fell between 1999 and 2004. While this drop may seem contrary to the gain in revenue from wholesaling, it may be that consumers are purchasing DVDs rather than renting them. In fact, fewer households reported rental expenditures in 2004 (52.8%) than in 1999 (61.5%).

Average expenditures on movie admissions ranked third of all spending on culture goods and services. Spending on cinema visits jumped 25.8% to $112 in 2004, up from $89 in 1999 (Table 1). Nonetheless, the number of households reporting such expenditures remained almost unchanged (61.7% versus 61.0%). After adjusting for inflation, the percentage increase in spending on movie admissions was 12% (Table 2).

The Motion Picture Theatre Survey indicates that while the number of paid admissions increased only 1% between 1999/00 (119.3 million) and 2004/05 (120.3 million), box office receipts increased 29.0% to $844.7 million. It is not surprising to learn, then, that the average ticket price for admission rose from $5.78 to $7.47 over this period.9

Reading materials

Between 1999 and 2004, spending on textbooks and other types of books, such as fiction, non-fiction and scholarly publications, rose while average expenditures on newspapers and magazines fell. Textbooks accounted for the largest share of spending on reading materials, followed by other books and newspapers. Magazines represented only a 4.2% share of average spending on culture goods and services. Expenditures on other printed matter, such as maps and sheet music, remained basically unchanged.

In 2004, the average expenditure per household for textbooks was $111, closely followed by spending on other books at $106. Even so, the percentage of households reporting expenditures on other books (49.7%) was two and a half times greater than those reporting spending on textbooks (19.6%).

The Book Publishing Survey illustrates how sales from textbook titles have increased over the years, at a slightly higher rate than sales for books in general.10 In 2000/01, the latest year for which these categories of data are available, sales of textbooks earned $539.2 million, representing an 18.7% increase between 1996/97 and 2000/01. Book publishers and exclusive agents recorded an increase of 18.1% in sales for books in general over that same time period, reporting $1.8 billion in sales revenue.

Canadians households spent less on newspapers and magazines. The percentage of households which reported spending on newspapers slipped over 10 percentage points, from 67.3% to 56.8%. Household spending on newspapers was an average of $99 in 2004, down from $108 in 1999. Even so, spending on newspapers ranked sixth in terms of overall spending on culture goods and services.

Could it be that Canadians are reading more of their news on the Internet? The 2003 Household Internet Use Survey found that the percentage of households using the Web to view the news increased between 2000 (first year data are available) and 2003. About a third of households used the Internet to view the news in 2003, compared to only 20.4% in 2000.11 Moreover, almost 25% of households used the Internet in 2003 to find sports related information, such as the latest scores and news on their favourite teams, information often traditionally supplied by the sports section of a newspaper. By 2005, just under two-thirds of Canadians who used the Internet at home stated they used it to view the news or sports. The newspaper industry also experienced strong growth in community newspapers,12 which are mainly distributed to local residents for free, and rely heavily on advertising revenues.

Spending on magazines and periodicals fell slightly between 1999 and 2004, from an average of $62 to $61 per household. With readers having an increasingly diverse range of magazines and periodicals to choose from, there is considerable competition in the fight for the consumer dollar. The Periodical Publishing Survey notes that publishers have generally pumped out more periodicals and pulled in greater revenues over the years. Nonetheless, advertising revenues accounted for a growing proportion of total revenue, while the share from subscription sales declined.13

While average household spending on newspapers and magazines has decreased, one must note that consumption of these products, in terms of readership, may be greater than reflected by expenditure data alone. Newspapers and magazines can be read for free at libraries, borrowed from friends and relatives or viewed on the Internet. In fact, one study commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage14 found the subscription rate for online magazines, newsletters and newspapers to be as high as 25%. While the study did not ask if the subscription was free or not, it did find the sharing of subscriptions with others to be widespread, involving about half of subscribers.

Substantial gains in spending on live performing arts

Live performing arts increased their share of average expenditures on culture goods and services between 1999 and 2004. Spending on the live performing arts accounted for 6.1% of the total average household expenditure on culture products, inching up from a 5.2% share in 1999. The average annual expenditure on live performing arts was $89 in 2004, an increase of 32.8% over 1999 (Table 1). After accounting for inflation in admission prices, the increase is 17.1% (Table 2). Not only did households spend more, on average, but slightly more households reported expenditures on live performing arts.15

The Survey of Performing Arts indicates that not-for-profit performing arts companies attracted an audience of 14.2 million in 2004, an increase of 7.6% between 2001 and 2004. Theatre companies attracted over half of the total attendance of the not-for-profit sector.16

Visual arts

Visual arts, including works such as paintings, drawings, carvings, vases and antiques, represented about 4.2% of average expenditures on culture products in 2004. Overall, an average annual expenditure of $61 per household was reported in 2004, with an average of $43 spent on art, carvings and vases. However, only 10% of households reported this type of spending, and fewer than 2% reported expenditures on antiques. Without a doubt, buying art or antiques is an activity pursued by a select few households, who spend proportionally larger amounts when buying such works.

Heritage institutions

The average amount spent on going to museums or other related institutions, such as historic sites, zoos, galleries, craft shows and fairs rose about 24% between 1999 and 2004. Even so, admissions accounted for only 2.8% of total average expenditures on culture goods and services, an average of $41 per household in 2004 (Table 2). About a third of households reported these expenditures, almost on par with the percentage reporting such spending in 1999.

The Survey of Heritage Institutions showed that there were about 35.0 million visits to heritage institutions in 2004,17 an increase of 14.8% in attendance and that admissions revenue rose 37.5% over 1999. Because many museums and historic sites have free admission some or all of the time, however, families can visit institutions without cost. This allows them to curtail their spending but still benefit from the variety of museums, galleries, historic sites and numerous other heritage institutions across the country.

Photography: expenditures on services tumble

In examining photography expenditures, caution must be exercised because of changes to the categories of photography goods and services between the 1999 survey and the 2004 survey. In 1999, expenditures on film were included in the film and processing category. In 2004, film expenses were moved to the non-digital camera equipment category.

Perhaps more importantly, with the proliferation of digital cameras, expenditures on both film and film processing have plummeted over the years.18 Therefore, the decline in average expenditures on photographic processing and services between 1999 and 2004 is more likely due to increased use of digital cameras than to the placement of photographic film in a different category.

Spending by household type: couples with children in the lead

Couple households with children had significantly higher average spending in five of the 12 selected categories of culture goods and services listed in Table 3. These multi-person households were in the lead for spending on textbooks; pre-recorded audio and video, such as CDs, DVDs and cassette tapes; books, photographic services and admissions to museums and other venues. This finding reflects previous findings on household spending. The article "My money, my choice: exploring consumer spending on entertainment services," 19 notes that, in 2001, couples with children accounted for the largest share of the entertainment market.

Although households with children reported higher average spending than most other households at movie theatres and on the rental of video tapes, DVDs and videogames their expenditures were similar to those of lone parent households. Households with children took the lead again on average spending for both magazines and live performing arts, with significantly higher expenditures than one person, lone parent or senior couple households. Meanwhile, average expenditures on cable and satellite rental services showed no significant differences between couple households, but were significantly higher than in non-couple households.

Senior couples, where both individuals were aged 65 and over, reported the highest average expenditures on newspapers in 2004. Average spending totalled $157 per household, with 77.5% of the households reporting such expenditures. Average spending on newspapers represented the second highest category of expenditures on culture goods and services in these households, next to cablevision and satellite services. However, caution must be exercised when interpreting average spending. While some households may show higher average spending, if such households represent only a small portion of the population, the impact of the spending20 will be limited. Nonetheless, as the population ages, if high average spending on newspapers continues for couples 65 and older, it may well boost the market represented by that demographic.

Culture products declining as proportion of total household spending

In 2004, the largest increases in average expenditures on culture products were on cablevision and satellite services,21 followed by live performing arts, textbooks, admissions to movie theatres and books. Changes in average expenditures on photographic services, mostly the influence of less spending on film, had the largest negative impact on average spending on culture products. Pre-recorded CDs, DVDs and downloads of audio and video, newspapers and rental of videotapes and DVDs were also categories with substantial decreases in average spending.22 Households with children had significantly higher average spending on a number of culture goods and services, and senior couples had the highest average spending on newspapers.

Overall, average spending on culture products remained basically unchanged between 1999 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation. Even so, culture products represented a smaller percentage of total household expenditures in 2004 than in 1999. According to the 2004 Survey of Household Spending, households spent more on mortgages, energy, health care, and communications services and electronics (such as cell phones and high speed Internet). The increased demand for these goods and services may have directed household spending away from culture products.

This analysis has examined average spending on culture products over a five year period and briefly reviewed such consumption by predetermined household types. Further investigation is warranted to gain a better understanding of the demand for culture goods and services. Analysis of additional demographic variables, such as number and age of persons in a household, household income, education levels and geographic location, could provide more insight into the selections made by households in their consumption of culture goods and services.


Data source: The data for this article come from the 1999 and 2004 Survey of Household Spending (SHS). This is an annual cross-sectional survey. In 1997, 1998, 1999 and every second year thereafter (starting with 2001), data are collected for the territories; for the other years, data are collected for the 10 provinces only. Thus, while 1999 data included the territories, the 2004 data did not. Total expenditure excludes personal taxes.

The SHS published tables contain detailed information concerning household spending on all goods and services, including food, shelter, transportation, recreation and other items. Detailed information is also available for a number of categories such as household income, family type and geographical area.

Culture goods and services: The Canadian Framework for Culture Statistics defines the goods and services that are included in culture statistics. Consumer spending data on the following culture goods and services are included:

Visual arts

  • Works of art, carvings and vases
  • Antiques

Performing arts

  • Admissions to live performing arts

Written media

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines and periodicals
  • Books and pamphlets (excluding school textbooks)
  • Maps, sheet music and other printed material
  • Textbooks

Film, video and music

  • Admissions to movie theatres
  • Prerecorded DVDs, CDs, video and audio cassette tapes and video disks
  • Rental of videotapes and video disks


  • Film and processing
  • Photographers’ and other photographic services


  • Rental of cablevision and satellite services


  • Admissions to museums and other activities and venues


  • Services related to reading materials (duplicating, library fees and fines)


  • Collector’s items (stamps, coins)

Household types: The household types included in this article were:  (1) one-person households, (2) couple households without children, (3) couple households with children, and (4) lone parent households. Excluded from analysis were households with additional people outside the nuclear family, such as other family members or unrelated individuals, except in the case of senior couples. In this analysis, all senior couple households (where both individuals were aged 65 or over) were included.

2004 Constant dollars: To facilitate historical comparisons, expenditures presented in some tables were converted to 2004 dollars to account for the effects of inflation. All household expenditures were adjusted using the All-items Consumer Price Index (CPI). While the prices of all goods and services may not have changed at the same pace as the All-items index, the use of the All-items index simplifies analysis, preserves rank-order and the budget percentage of spending categories.23


1. Cromie, M. and Handelman, R., "Consumption and Participation in Culture," Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 87-004-XPB.

2. Statistics Canada, The Daily, November 21, 2003, "Television viewing, Fall 2002." Source: BBC Canada.

3. Statistics Canada, "Cable and other program distribution industry, financial and operating statistics."

4. Includes other wireless television.

5. Downloads of audio and video were included in the 2004 survey.

6. Although theses sales only accounted for 4.5% of total revenue, they are one example of the increasing popularity of DVDs. Statistics Canada, The Daily, October 26, 2005, "Sound Recording, 2003."

7. International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, "The Recording Industry World Sales, 2005."

8. Statistics Canada, The Daily, August 28, 2006, "Film, video and audio-visual distribution, 2004/05."

9. Statistics Canada, The Daily, July 14, 2006, "Movie theatres and drive-ins, 2004/05." All data include drive-ins. Also see "Movie theatres and drive-ins: data tables," Catalogue no. 87F0009XIE.

10. Statistics Canada, The Daily, June 26, 2003, "Book publishers and exclusive agents, 2000/01." Also see standard data tabulations.

11. Statistics Canada, Household Internet Use Survey.

12. Statistics Canada, The Daily, December 8, 2005, "Newspaper publishers, 2004."

13. Statistics Canada, The Daily, June 8, 2005, "Periodical publishing, 2003."

14. Canadian Heritage, "Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure: 2005 National Survey," pp. 103-105, 123-124. The same is true for other reading materials. The study noted that 32% of readers got the books they read from a library. Furthermore, the study noted that heavy readers obtained their books much more frequently at public libraries and in second-hand bookstores than did other types of readers.

15. Guo, Y. and Little D. "Consumer demand for entertainment services outside the home," Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 63F0002XIE, No. 50. This article notes that the availability of performing arts performances may well have an impact on spending.

16. Statistics Canada, The Daily, July 25, 2006, "Performing Arts Survey", 2004.   

17. Statistics Canada, The Daily, July 26, 2006, "Heritage institutions 2004." Excludes nature parks and archives.

18. See "Feature: Camera shy," Druggist and Chemist , May 20, 2006. Also see "Kodak film sales decline further".

19. Statistics Canada, "My money, my choice: Exploring consumer spending on entertainment services," Focus on Culture, Vol. 14, No. 3, Catalogue no. 87-004-XIB.

20. For example, the total spending on newspapers (as opposed to the average expenditure) was highest among non-senior couples.

21. Although antiques and admissions to museums and other venues had higher percentage increases over the years, the absolute numbers were substantially smaller.

22. Since couple households with children are typically larger and have higher average household incomes than lone parent households, senior households and one person households, this partially explains the higher average spending of these households on culture goods and services.

23. Snider, Bradley "Constant dollar adjustment of expenditure data from the Survey of Household Spending," Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 62F0026MIE, No. 005