Friday, November 18, 2011

Evolve or Die: Movie Theaters

I was thinking the other day as I often do about the movie theater experience. As a man in my thirties and a ex-employee of a movie theater chain, I often wonder will the theater business as we know it be around 20 years from now. With the evolution of technology and the degrading experience of going to the theater mixed in with the cost and inconvenience, are people really going to keep putting up with things as they stand? Can you remember the last time you went to a movie and was not blinded by the bright white light of a cell phone screen? I am not sure I can. Cell phones use to have a small indiglo screen that was a little annoying, but now they are small beacons of light that can be seen from anywhere in the theater. Add this little annoyance with a complete lack of respect for other people and you have the current movie theater experience. For some reason, people think that they are the only people in the theater and constantly talk. The last movie I saw in the theater was "The Thing", during which there were about 6 teenagers who sat in the back talking the entire time. In addition to the talking one of them had a cell phone and decided to answer it multiple times during the movie. Between people talking, cell phones, popcorn bags, and babies I think the most destructive aspects of the current movie theater experience is the customer.

Going to the movies use to be a good escape for a family on the weekends. I cant say I ever remember the movie going experience being cheap, but it seemed affordable. Now going to a movie you almost need to take out a personal loan. For example lets say you have a family of 4 (2 adults 2 children), at my previous theater an adult ticket was about $10.00 and a children's ticket would be about $7.00. This means on the tickets alone you are dropping $34.00, this of course this does not cover the additional 3d charge ($3.50/ticket x 4 =$14.00), so quickly you can easily drop $48.00 on tickets alone (Not including IMAX). But it would not be a movie going experience without snacks. So lets say you want to get 2 kids packs ($5.00/pack x 2 =$10.00) and a large popcorn and drink for the adults (Combo runs roughly $12.00) this will bring your total for snacks close to $22.00 not even including candy. So now your grand total for the evening is $70.00+. With this quick rough sketch of prices who can even afford to go to the theater more then once a month?

In my older age I am quickly learning that instant gratification is not the best answer for movies. With movies being churned out like beef through a grinder I am finding it harder to feel a need to watch every movie that comes out. In addition there is a severe lack of quality in the films that are coming out, we currently live in the reboot/remastered/remake/sequel era. And lets not forget that movies are being pressed onto DVD before it even leaves the theater. Now if you miss the big premier in the theater you only have to wait a couple months before you can view the same movie for a fraction of the price (redbox, netflix, itunes, etc). Also home theater technology has finally caught up with Movie theaters. Now I can finally see movies at home in a very similar quality. As recently as 5 years ago you were not presented with options like you are today. Bigger and better TVs, quicker theater to DVD turn around, and Instant streaming, all of these factors are potential silver bullets in the chamber of the gun that can kill all theater chains.

So are movie theaters dying a slow painful death with no chance of recovery? I dont think so. I believe theaters have a chance at a resurgence (not that they have suffered a huge loss), but I think a couple things have to change before this happens. You are already seeing a couple theaters try some new techniques, for example second run theaters, art houses, bar theaters, adult only theaters (usually after a certain time), theater/restaurants (cine-arts/amc diner theaters), etc. These experiences are new and different and may cost more or less but offer something you cant get at home, a true escape.

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