I’ve been throwing up regular bits of evidence for the last few weeks now that, when taken together, provide a pretty big clue that something is going to have to change in the movie theatre industry, or the whole concept is doomed to failure. Let’s take a quick rundown of the salient points:
1. DVD sales are in several cases outselling theatrical sales. Most notable example: Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro.
2. Prices continue to skyrocket on every facet of theatregoing–admissions, concessions, material to CONTAIN concessions, even reaching the theatre itself.
3. Home theatre technology is simultaneously going up in quality and down in price, allowing the theatre experience to be more and more convincingly replicated at home.
4. Several studios hang their entire profit-and-loss margins on DVD sales–case in point, Lions Gate, whose overall profit was down on the year but whose DVD sales climbed to huge new levels proving conclusively that the loss-leader was theatrical film.
The case is mounting, and the more the evidence shows, the worse it looks for the theatres. It’s getting to be harder and harder for cash-strapped families and people in general to justify cranking up the car at four dollars a gallon, driving to the cineplex or multiplex or even just theatre to watch a movie at eight bucks a ticket and buying a Coke to go with it at something like EIGHT bucks a gallon.
And so, I shopped my concept around, that the theatres are a dying business model, to some industry figures to see what they thought. And when they didn’t give a rat’s ass whether I lived or died as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t respond to email OR phone call even though I gave the bastards TWO WEEKS to respond (yeah, this sucker’s been in the works two whole weeks, can you believe it?) I turned to the webcartoonists.
Is the theatre, as it sits, doomed? Their answers will surprise you.
McAlpin is somewhat optimistic of the theatre’s chances, but throughout his remarks one central theme emerged–the theatre MUST change in order to survive.
I think the movie theater as a whole is very… bloated right now: Too-huge budgets for movies with too-expensive actors playing in too-big multiplexes owned by too-huge chains selling too-expensive tickets. Some belt-tightening is definitely in order, as well as a bit of adaptation.
He gives several possible options for the theatres to explore, including exclusive content as sponsored by groups like Fathom Events, whom you’ll remember as being behind the Glenn Beck fiasco I recently discussed. Also included in McAlpin’s vision of the cineplex is digital projection (recently a theme in his comic), smaller-run movies, and the acceptance of vastly reduced profit. Indeed, most of McAlpin’s remarks center around this common theme:
In other words, to butcher “Field of Dreams”: if you screen good movies, concerts, whatever — audiences do come.
Joe Dunn, meanwhile, is banking on the mob to make the movies continue to be special. Indeed, he doesn’t deny, even embraces, the switch to home theatres.
I have a Netflix account, I stop by Hulu at least 3 times a week to watch TV and movies…Technology is going to change the way we watch movies, it’s going to change the way movies are distributed. “Direct to DVD” doesn’t carry the same sting as it used to.
But Dunn believes, at the root of it all, that it’s the highly nebulous concept of a CINEMA EXPERIENCE that makes the cinema worth experiencing.
I still believe though that there will always be a place for the movie theater. As comfortable as you may be with your own digital projector, your own reasonably priced microwave pop corn on your own couch in your own underwear, it’ll never come close to capturing a true movie experience.
Theaters are definitely going to take a hit over the next decade, but laughter, fear, emotion and fun are all contagious and people will miss the crowds watching Iron Man 6 at home alone.
Indeed, there are many possibilities for the theatre to consider. Some theatres are offering alcohol as part of their concessions roster, along with an increasingly varied array of snacks to supplement the eternal standbys of popcorn and jujubes. Some theatres offer gourmet dining. And some theatres are even making it possible for moms and dads to catch a movie WITHOUT calling in a baby sitter first! That’s right–on-premises childcare service. Theatres are finding themselves becoming less about movies, and more about becoming EXPERIENCES. And this is enough to justify firing up the car at four bucks a gallon.
In summation, yes, the theatre as it sits now is absolutely doomed. Unless changes are made, the runaway gas prices and food prices and fuel prices will price the limited value of a movie experience right out of reach of more than enough Americans to drain profit right out of the system. But with changes–with more events, with more unusual film choices, with more actual EXPERIENCE in the system, then people will ignore the gas prices in favor of something a bit more memorable than, say, Bloodrayne.