Movie Theaters Are Just Now Figuring Out That They Need To Be More Responsive To Demand?

from the slow-pokes dept

It's been clear for quite some time that the movie theater industry don't know what business they're in with all the complaining about how they can't compete with the growing competition from home theaters and DVDs. For years, plenty of people have been pointing out that it's actually quite easy for the theaters to compete if they just recognized that they're not selling "movies" but the social experience of going out to the movies. Instead, they've made the experience increasingly bad for theatergoers, so they actually feel even more compelled to stay at home and spend their money on the competition. While some theater owners have started to figure this out, many are still falling behind. Theater owner Marcus Loew once famously said: "We sell tickets to theaters, not movies." Yet those who have followed him in the industry (including the chain that once bore his name) seem to have forgotten that very fact. In fact, it's almost amazing to find out that theaters are just now starting to think about more actively responding to demand by using digital distribution systems that not only allow them to boot out bad movies after just a few showings, but also bring in more independent films for special showings for smaller audiences. Being able to better target more markets is a huge step up -- but it's something that the theaters should have started preparing for a decade ago, rather than today.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    J. Marcus Xavier, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:13pm

    Excellent Point

    It's good to see that finally another part of the Entertainment Distribution Machine is starting to pick up on the good stuff Web2.0 has provided us with. In fact, just ignoring all the good techy-goodness kind of feeling that this fills me with, it's just a SMART business practice. The fact that this is starting to catch on is an early sign that the cartel that has controlled mass distribution channels is beginning to crack. Ideally, the next big one will be a low-budget movie (possibly from the web) that gets caught up in this "digital democracy" and voted up to the top, ala the front page of Digg.

    Or maybe not. Who knows.

    Here's to hoping.

    J. Marcus Xavier
    The Silent Universe Podcast
    Very Small Doses

     

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    Petréa Mitchell, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:14pm

    Or, it could make things worse

    I predict that this will just make theaters even more focused on blockbusters. The article talks about being able to make room for sleeper hits. There aren't going to be any sleeper hits, because movies that might have built up an audience over a week or two via word of mouth are going to get yanked after they have a slow opening weekend.

     

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  3.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:21pm

    Copyleft movies

    And what if the theatres realised they could show copyleft movies without royalty?

    Perhaps they'd make hay while the sun shone.

    Eventually, once they'd shown all the free movies there were to show, they'd realise they could do with more.

    Perhaps then they'd commission the producers of copyleft movies to produce more?

    Perhaps all such enlightened cinemas would then club together to collectively fund new copyleft movies?

    Perhaps.

     

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  4.  
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    brian, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:37pm

    i could personally do without the talking 14 year old girls and cow-like popcorn eaters sitting in back of me. the only time i go to the movies anymore is for my 4 year old son. thats when the "movie experience" is the best. for adults the movie experince is $19 for two tickets, $6 for popcorn, and $5 for a barrell filled with ice and 12oz of soda. $4 at hollywood video and being able to pause for bathroom breaks is more my style...

     

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  5.  
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    Michael Long, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:38pm

    A decade?

    ".. but it's something that the theaters should have started preparing for a decade ago, rather than today."

    Since high-resolution digital projection and delivery systems are now getting to the point where they're affordable and practical, it's hard to see how they could have "prepared" for this ten years ago.

     

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  6.  
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    Ayal Rosenthal, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 3:58pm

    The key to successful theatres will be...

    the ability to incorporate non-movie viewings into the mix using digital ditribution. Real-time concerts, sporting events, and other activities can be exhibited during Sunday through Wednesday, when theatres usually sit empty.

     

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  7.  
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    kellog, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 5:03pm

    Tickets to the theatre and not the movie?

    When I go see a movie, I drive 30 minutes to the BART station, which then travels 45 minutes up the line to my theater of choice. Why travel an hour and 15 minutes to see a movie I could have seen a few blocks away from my house? Because the one I go to serves real food and beer, and has couches instead of thoes painfull theater chairs; all at a reasonable price to-boot. The tickets are cheaper than anywhere else, the beer costs less than going to bar, and the food less than going to a restraunt. All-in-all, I get the experience I want for less than I could have done it going to seperate places.

    Why this hasn't caught on with the bigger chains beats me. I find myself going to see movies I know are crap because I know that the cough seating and a lot of beer will balance it out.

     

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    Sam, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 6:01pm

    I tried to walk in with a slurpie once as I had done many times and was never told not to, I was forcibly grabbed and searched, they threw away my slurpie and candy bar without so much as giving me the option of putting it in my car or finishing it outside.

     

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    Patrick O'Rourke, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 7:02pm

    Movie Theatres

    I must agree with Kellog, and Sam also makes an excellent point. In addition to improving movie selection the large theatre chains haven't figured it out yet. More comforrtable seating, top of the line sound systems and projectors. Make it a pleasure just to go to the theatre itlself and be pampered a bit and not just to watch a movie. Take a lesson from nearly any movie theatre in Thailand.

     

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  10.  
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    Liz, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 7:37pm

    I don't go to movies anymore because of the fact that rude people yap the whole way through, which is fine if they are at home, but I've paid good money to see a movie, not listen to people yap. Therefore, I don't go to movie theaters anymore. People are just too rude. Also, sound system usually isn't very good in movie theater compared to my home.

     

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    tim stevens, Mar 6th, 2007 @ 7:55pm

    cell phones, crying babies and agressive teens

    Thanks to cell phones, the family which insists that Jr be allowed to yell and scream during the show, the belligerent teens who threaten to "come down there and cut you homes" or to "kick my cracker a$$" and a 5 dollar bag of popcorn with the obligatory 4 dollar drink to go with that 10 dollar ticket and the sticky dry soda puddle under my seat and the smell of Cletus and the stench of his 4 day old work shirt is a perfect finish to a movie which is 10 minutes of commercials and opening credits, 7 minutes of closing credits nobody watches but is union mandated leaving maybe 60-70 minutes of social commentary but was billed as an action flick.

    Thanks but no thanks, I'll stick with bit torrent and foreign films which the RIAA/MPAA thugs will not care if I watch.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 1:39am

    Yep, the people that insist on talking through the entire movie really need to shut up.

     

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  13.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 2:52am

    Ushers

    should hush people, preferably with a big stick. Ptting chiken wire or fly screen in the wall sto act as a Faraday Cage might not be a bad idea, although the phone jamming system which was announced in one of my Phsics lectures is even better (namely a man comes and jams your phone into an arbitary bodily orifice).
    With digital distribution, the use of the B movie + intermission w/ cartoons/sketches/shorts as appropriate to the feature followed by the feature film would possibly increase theatre attendance.

    One specific advantage of digital distribution would be that local cinemas could show films which had already had thier day in the majors, but which would still get pople out to see it if shown on the big screen in a good atmosphere for a few nights. Sending out film was expensive, but nowadys, the theatres could download films via cable or ADSL2+ quite happily. If the connection in use in Shoreditch becomes more common (2Gbps) they would need no physical distribution at all.

    To reduce piracy, the companies could use some strange format which would require complex corrdection software,but which can be easily built into the hardware of a projector unit. THis might be difficult, but it would be possible.

     

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  14.  
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    Ian Douglas, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 4:06am

    Grown-up cinema

    In London there's a cinema called the Electric. There's a bar at the back of the theatre, you get a leather armchair and footstool and a wooden table to put your drink on, which comes in a proper glass. The table has a little cooler built into it to keep your bottle of wine at the right temperature. Tickets are more expensive but they show grown-up films in a setting that's far better than you could achieve at home. Teens can't go because of the bar.

    It's the best cineme I've ever been to. I hope it's the future.

     

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  15.  
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    Nobody Special, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 5:52am

    renovate the place

    And while they are at it, install panels that make the place a radio dead spot. They can then advertise that cell phones don't work in their theaters. And that will bring in quite a few people.

    Note I am advocating the legal way of blocking phone calls. Until jamming is allowed, it shouldn't be used. But nothing prevents places from using materials designed to block the signal in the first place. I would go to such a theater.

     

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  16.  
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    Andrew, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 6:45am

    Re: The key to successful theatres will be...

    Ayal, the last few times I've been to my local Loew's/AMC I've seen ads for stuff like that. A special showing of an older film (I believe it was "Boondock Saints") or a special showing of a Dane Cook stand-up. There also an independent/art house theater near me that periodically has one-night showings of classic or popular films, I think this past saturday they ran a midnight showing of "Taxi Driver," and they regularly show "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." It's a start.

    The bar I frequent used to be a theater but they kept two of the screens. It's great for Sundays during football season, and they show a lot of pay-per-views. On slow nights, they plug the DVD player in and watch pretty much whatever anyone brings in. For a while they had "Madden Mondays" playing 360 up there. Engadget posted two weeks ago about an outfit called Cinegames in Spain that holds LAN parties in theaters. Like I said, it's a start, hopefully it'll keep going.

     

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  17.  
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    Raymond Bianco, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 7:25am

    Re: The key to successful theaters will be...

    focusing on the "human (customer) experience." Period. As others have said here - comfortable seats, quality food and drink, convenient box office transactions, proper staffing, clean restrooms, well appointed public spaces and other "extras" or innovations.

    All this talk of "just in time" changing of content is unfortunately ignorant of the market dynamics. Contracts are signed between studios and chains that require a certain amount of guaranteed play dates. Next, the marketing mix for movies is still an on-line off-line mix, with print advertising still reigning as a POWERFUL force in movie making decisions among consumers. Its a minimum of 2 weeks in advance to change the schedule at many chains. A theater can't change its listing on movietickets.com or fandago.com on the fly.

    While chains are getting more sophisticated from a management information system, the booking departments at chains are made up of only a few people who work regular business hours. There isn't some NORAD like control room with people monitoring minute by minute revenue.

    And finally, pushing "alternative content" is something for the equipment manufacturers. It has been tried and has failed more often than not. Want to see a concert - you go to a concert. Want to see a play - you go to a play. Want to see a movie - you go to a movie. Rarely do people want to gather to see another category of entertainment on a big screen. (I know there are exceptions - but championship wrestling will ultimately not pay off the fibre line media storage and DLP projection system).

    It's all about the experience -

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 8:51am

    I went to the movie theater for the first time in 3 years during Christmas with my family. I sat through 20 minutes of previews. I then sat through 5 minutes of ads. Ads for Coke, and other products. I don't *EVER* pay to see commercials. Finally the movie starts. The guy behind me talks on his phone constantly throughout the movie. The seat becomes uncomfortable after about 45 minutes (shortly after the movie actually starts).

    I stopped complaining about the expensive food and drinks years ago and just quit buying them.........just like I've quit going to the movie theaters. I don't really understand why anyone would want to go to a movie theater.

     

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  19.  
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    John, Mar 7th, 2007 @ 12:59pm

    How are theaters losing money

    How, exactly, are theaters losing money? Or are the owners complaining about losing the audience?
    Granted, most of the $10 ticket price goes back to the studios, but theaters still charge $5 and $6 for popcorn, $3 for sodas, and $2 for a box of M&M's.
    Plus, these theaters are getting ad revenue by showing the same BMW commercial that I *literally* saw on "Home Improvement" on TBS the night before! I can understand how ad revenue supports free channels (even though TBS is a channel only available through a paid cable service), but why are theaters becoming "ad-supported" as they raise the price of tickets, food, and drink?
    Commercials are NOT "pre-movie entertainment" like cartoons once were.

     

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  20.  
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    Malgwyn, Mar 11th, 2007 @ 4:29am

    The Horror, the HORROR!

    Most of our local movie theatres and drive-ins were purchased by Indians (as from India). The immediate effect was that the experience of visiting became like being railed into a concentration camp. Our bags were searched by dour employees and our every move was watched by cctv cameras. Concessions became less like food; garbage bags of pre popped popcorn were unloaded into the popper rather than made fresh. Of course every batch was splorked with "butter flavored oil"

    We are now bombarded with 15 fifteen minutes of advertisements that begin at the time listed for the movie, so if you come in early you get even more of them. Add to it the various anti piracy messages.

    Then there are the cel phone ring tones, that will consistently detonate throughout the captivity.

     

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