Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #985: Can Theatres Survive?

Despite a recent uptick in movie-going over the past year things still aren't all sunshine and unicorns for the movie business. Middle age movie going is dropping and the young people who do go to movies usually spend their time using social network apps on their phones talking about everything and nothing at the same time. Meanwhile, the major studios continue to slash their own costs, chiefly by tossing producers out of their cushy in-house deals and into the wilderness, while giving the precious green light to fewer and fewer projects, with the trend being for having bigger and bigger budgets per project.

When those big budget projects are released they're usually given a 2,000-3,000+ screen saturation release, which means that if they tank, then theatre owners are stuck with empty seats, and thin odds of getting something to replace it with any due speed.

This isn't good for the theatres. Especially the loss of the mature-adult audience, since they're the only people likely to have any real amounts of disposable income for the next 20+ years. Here are the reasons why the older people aren't going to the movies...

1. THE MOVIES: This is not just the fault of the big dumb movies being targeted to teenagers and kids, the so called "mature" and "intelligent" fare bears some of the blame. Most films geared towards adults aren't really marketed to adults in the general populace, but to awards voters. The average adult moviegoers sees all the campaigning and think that's it's really not worth all the...

2. INCONVENIENCE & EXPENSE:  Back during the Golden Age of movies most people lived within walking distance of their local movie theatre, and you could buy tickets and snacks for two for less than the cost of a can of soda today.

Now things are totally different. Most people live in suburban communities. They need to burn expensive gas driving to the nearest multiplex, pay for parking, buy tickets, buy snacks, and find a seat where the glare from the phone-screens of the texting teenagers won't disturb them and then have to sit through not just previews, which can be entertaining in their own right, but goddamn commercials before they can see the damn movie.

Why bother when you can stay home and enjoy...

3. COMFORT, CONVENIENCE, & PRICE: Face it, big screen TVs, and modern sound systems can match theatres very well these days, and they come with the extra bonus that they can be set to levels you're comfortable with, you're sitting on your own comfy couch in your pyjamas, and the popcorn and sodas didn't involve getting a mortgage to pay for them.

Then you can watch movies on specialty cable channels, buy or rent DVDs and/or Blu-Rays, or use a streaming video service like Netflix or Amazon, both of whom are developing their own original content. All can be obtained with just a fraction of the cost, and none of the hassle of going to a movie theatre.

Can theatres turn around these trends and somehow save going to the movies as a social experience?

I honestly don't know.


  1. Their future might be in renting out their space for streamed live performances marketed to niche audiences- the live Met broadcasts are the model. Could also include Broadway or off-Broadway musicals or plays, dance concerts, Vegas shows, or even sports events (skating competitions, tennis, whatever)- wherever there is a mass number of eyeballs for something that is geographically and temporally (i.e., live performances) restricted. New revenue streams which are then split by distributor and exhibitor/performers. Everyone can win (the Met simulcasts have been packed since they started). But I read somewhere that the movie studios put a lot of pressure in the past, in a preemptive strike, for NATO members not to diversify in this way. Yes, despite the Paramount decision. Failing that, which is their best way to survive, I don't see the downward spiral reversing.

  2. Sandy Petersen30/1/13 3:53 pm

    The math is easy enough to calculate. My friends all ask me what I thought of The Hobbit. I have not been inspired enough to see it, though I'm sure I'll like it. In a few months I will doubtless buy it on DVD for less than a trip to the movie house for me & my wife.

    And I'm a Luddite. My son wouldn't buy it - he will just get it on Netflix for even less.

    If I want a nice date with my wife, it is not that much more expensive to go out to eat. Then we can come home and watch Danger Man or something else from my collection.

    As I am a huge movie nut, in my 50s, I would be a prized customer. But I saw 1 movie all last year in the theater, and I was sorry I had gone to that one.

  3. I'm with Sandy. Being of a similar age (40's), the movies simply don't offer my wife & me an incentive to go to the trouble of actually attending a showing when, a few months later, we can Netflix it or buy it from Amazon. We saw "Cabin in the Woods" last year at the theater...and that was it.

    When we were dating (in the '80s) we hit a movie every weekend. These days, the desire to deal with the hassle just isn't there.

  4. Blast Hardcheese31/1/13 11:01 am

    I think they'll need to go bigger, and try to give an experience you can't get at home. The only real 'theater' experience I would pay money for anymore is IMAX. That's the only reason I saw Mission Impossible 4 when it was in theaters (and the Burj Dubai sequence in IMAX will make you sweat). 3D makes my eyes ache, so forget that.

  5. i find that paying 60 for a xbox game to be a better value for my entertainment dollar than paying that for a movie ticket and concessions.

    just getting to the theatre these days is a pain in the ass.

  6. Don't know if you'll see this old comment (since I took my sweet time getting to this post) but the way I see it, theaters can survive if they offer full immersion experiences. What do I mean?

    This goes beyond 3d.

    As pointed out in #3 of this cracked article, Disney has already worked on the ability to produce smells on command. Theaters could put that into their rooms so that you not only watched a movie, but smelled what the characters should be at the same time...

    Likewise if they also created more flexible climate controls in the theaters that would also lead to immersion. Imagine if the theater grew hotter as say the characters approached lava. Or grew colder if they were in the arctic.

    Just imagine John Carpenter's The Thing with all this added on.

    There's probably even more work to be done to really immerse the audience, but that's all I can think of at the moment. Experience with quality stories.