Were going to

Another survey found that 48 percent of Americans “were going to” theaters less often than they were five years ago.
I don’t understand why they used “were going to” (past continuous tense) in this sentence.
Can I just use simple past?

The simple past would sound awkward here, and might even be incorrect. If the period of analysis were completely over with, you COULD say, “Americans went to the movies less often than they did five years ago.”

This sounds like one of those “future of the past” things.

The survey is talking about what Americans are currently, continuously doing, ie “they are (currently, late, etc.) going to movies less often.” However, the article is saying how Americans “said” (past tense) they were doing it.

Worded another way, but with the same meaning is “These Americans said they are currently going to the movies less often than they used to.”

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This is an example of the Reported Speech with the Sequence of Tenses.
It the Verb in the first part of the sentence was in the Present Simple you could use the Present Continuous:
We find that 48% of Amercans are going to theatres less often nowadays than they were 5 years ago.
But if the verb in the first part is in the Past Simple we have to change the Verb in the second part of the sentence from the Present Continuous Tense into the Past Continuous Tense:
Another survey FOUND that 48% of Americans WERE GOING to theatres that time less often…

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Crystal clear! Thanks a lot!