Not Every Theater Owner Fears Competing With Your Home Theater System

from the ah,-the-alamo-drafthouse dept

We recently wrote about how various theater owners were freaking out about new plans by studios to release movies for video on demand ten weeks after they went into the theaters… though for the astoundingly ridiculous price of $30. We noted that the complaining theater owners were more or less admitting that their theaters and the theater-going experience they provided sucked. If you can’t compete with a home theater, you don’t really know what business you’re in. It would be like restaurant owners complaining that people can buy fresh food to cook in their own kitchen, so they’ll never go out to restaurants again. Going out to the movies is a social experience, and theaters can easily compete by providing a better experience. The only ones who have anything to fear are those who know they provide a terrible experience and therefore can’t compete.

Thankfully, some theater owners who do provide a good experience recognize this. Carlo points us to some comments from the owner of the famed Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Texas, Tim League, in a blog post written by Caitlin Stevens (who, it should be noted, works for Tim):

He’s not terribly worried. He’s taking very much a wait and see attitude. “I think some of the charges that have been made [about premium VOD] are invalid and reactionary,” he said. “It remains to be seen if this does impact theatrical. If you look back historically all the way to the 1950s everytime there has been a challenge — from TV to VHS to DVD — there has always been a component of the theatrical community that has said this will be the death of cinema.”

Tim’s also really skeptical of the claim that this VOD system will hurt smaller films that have platform releases, and points to distributors like Magnet, who have had great success with films they release on VOD before even hitting theaters. Those films tend to do well at the Alamo as well. “We’ve had good successes with those films even when they’re playing VOD at the same time they’re in the theater,” he said.

Ultimately a lot of this comes down to the theatrical experience. Not to be a total shill here, but part of the reason people go to the Alamo is for the complete experience, which includes food and drink, high quality projection and a firm policy against talking and texting in movies. The big chains simply don’t offer that — not even protection from noisy patrons. “It’s an industry that’s vulnerable because if you give people the choice they won’t choose a flawed option,” Tim explained.

Exactly. Furthermore, he notes the key point that these complaining theater owners don’t seem to grasp, despite their jobs running theaters:

“People — especially on a Friday and a Saturday — inherently want to get out of the house,” he said. If theater owners can offer them a good option for getting out of the house at the movies, they’ll take it.

Indeed. What stuns me is that theater owners who are complaining don’t even recognize what they’re telegraphing: that their theater experiences suck and they know you’d be better off staying at home. If that’s the case, it’s easy to decide to stay home, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. However, for theater owners who really do provide a great experience, they have nothing to worry about. Many years ago, theater owner Marcus Loew famously stated: “We sell tickets to theaters, not movies.” It’s really unfortunate that so few theater owners recognize that today, but it’s always nice to be reminded of the few that do… such as Tim League and the Alamo Drafthouse.

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Comments on “Not Every Theater Owner Fears Competing With Your Home Theater System”

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John Doe says:

People have an innate fear of new things...

I don’t know why, but people always fear new and unknown things. We worry and complain about what might happen when 99% of the time our fears never come true. We waste a lot of time and energy on unproductive worrying when instead we should be looking out how to embrace new things.

As I mentioned in your prior post on this subject, theaters have done little to no innovation in 30 years. Stadium seating and a little better sounds system is about it. Oh and the occasional 3D movie. So they have gotten comfortable doing what they always have done and fear having to actually start innovating to keep their business.

Now I and most people have nice flat panel TVs and surround sound stereo systems at home along with HD movies so we can nearly replicate the current theater experience in our own homes. Not only that, we don’t have to worry about other people talking, cell phones ringing, kids making news or acting unruly or people kicking the back of our seat.

Even with all that, I still enjoy catching movies on the big screen. There are just some movies that must be seen on the big screen to really get the full experience. So it is going to be up to the movie studios and theater owners to create a compelling reason to go to a theater.

I have to work hard every day to stay employed so I don’t feel sorry for theater owners or any other business owner having to do the same.

Brent says:

Re: Re:

What’s interesting about this as well is that tickets tend to be cheaper at Alamo. I pay 11-13 bucks to hit a movie at one of the big chains, and yet can get into Alamo for 8 bucks. Yah, I’m buying beer and queso and other bits of awesomeness which increase the price, but I enjoy the experience immensely more.

End result, you could get out of Alamo or Studio Movie Grill or the like for less then a normal theatre (Even with a single beer!) and have a better experience to show for it.

Rich says:

It’s nice to know that at least one theater own understands these issues. When I was a kid, they actually had ushers that would walk around and make sure everything is OK. I stopped going to the movies a few years ago because people are so rude and self-centering. The non-stop chatting was bad enough. The last–and final–time I went, the teenage girl next to us actually answered her cellphone when it rang, and proceed to talk very loudly on it for several minutes. The time before that, I had to yell at a large group of teenagers that were raising Hell throughout the movie. If you actually go and complain to the employees, they just shrug and say there is nothing they can do.

atroon says:

Re: Re:

@Rich Wow. I wouldn’t put up with that either. There was one theater in town with similar reputation, i.e. full of teeny-boppers talking, texting, making out, etc etc. They lasted three years. Then the other theater chain took them over and improved their quality 100%. I guess I’m lucky to live in a town where the theater operators really zealously guard the experience.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t mean to single out teenagers. I’ve taken my daughter and her friends to the movies, and they are well behaved. The last time I took her to see one of the HP movies, it was actually an older couple that bothered us. They somehow sneaked a huge bag of candy in and throughout the movie talked non-stop, rattled cellophane, and chomped like cows. The three events I described occurred in three different theaters (although two are owned by the same people).

Michael (profile) says:

Theater experience

My last few theater experiences included 3D and great sound….and…

1) a sticky floor
2) people testing and talking on their phones
3) an annoying wait in a line for tickets
4) a walk through some kind of mouse maze to get into that line (with no cheese at the end)
5) at least three distinct odd smells
6) a seat that was less comfortable than a middle-school desk
7) a crowd of smokers outside to walk through
8) popcorn that wasn’t bad (I’ll give them this one)
9) a small (I think it was 4 gallons) soda for $7
10) and a rude employee that directed me to the wrong screen

This was at three different theaters. There is not another one close enough to me to make it worth the trip. The problem is not that my home theater is so great, it that the theater experience has gone so downhill that anything is better.

When I was younger, there was a great pub-theater a few towns over (it closed before the internet was around) and it was FUN to go to even if the movie sucked. They need to re-think. I’d like to find a drive-in or something – get outside of this megaplex box they have stuck themselves in.

Jeff says:

social experience?

“Going out to the movies is a social experience[…]”

As a rule I do not go to the theater to encounter anything remotely “social”. In fact, most of society I encounter at a theater I could do without – whiny kids, talky patrons, IM-ing idgits, sticky floors, outrageous ticket prices, (we won’t even *start* on concessions).

I go to a theater because I want to see a particular movie on a screen bigger than my house with a sound system that could suck my stereo into a single tweeter and not even hiccough. If the movie does not benefit from either of those factors then no amount of “social experience” will make me want to lay out the price of the out-in-6-months DVD for my wife & I to see two or more 15-foot high heads talking on a wall when they can talk just as well on my home screen.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Lawn. Mine. Off.

Stephen says:

Re: social experience?

I think it’s worth qualifying the phrase “social experience.” There’s something immensely gratifying about celebrating, being afraid, or being tense with a group of like-minded people. For instance, would you rather cheer blowing up the Death Star at home or in a theater? The trouble is, too many people today think the “social experience” is confined to their own group, not the larger community of moviegoers, and thus they behave poorly, as if the latter didn’t exist or, worse, didn’t think they existed either.

Jeff says:

Re: Re: social experience?

Fair enough. I’ll grant you that comparison is a valid one for some individuals. Personally, though, it doesn’t make a whit of diff to me if there are like-minded people in the room or not. I’m there to experience what’s up on the big wall in front of me. When the projector starts I’m pretty much absorbed into the movie – it’s what the director wanted from me when he/she made it and it’s what I paid for – to be absorbed and forget the world for the next 90-180 minutes.

If it’s funny, I’ll laugh. If it’s cheer-worthy, I’ll let out a whoop. If it’s scary, I’ll jump. Whether or not others around me have the same funny-, scary-, or whoop-receptors is not a factor. I’ve been to plenty of movies that had laugh-out-loud parts and nobody else in the theater thought it was funny. Did it reduce my appreciation of the movie? Not one iota.

F’rinstance – saw “The Dark Knight” in a packed theater. When the Joker is skipping away from the hospital in his nurse’s uniform he presses a button on his detonator remote and nothing happens. He turns around and starts mashing on the button when the explosions finally start to kick in. I, in my warped little world, thought that was hilarious, as did my 20-something daughter. We laughed like hell. *NOBODY* else laughed. Not even a titter. If the theater was empty except for the two of us, we still would have thought the scene just as funny.

jeremy7600 (profile) says:

I was hoping to get to this thread before the people with a complete lack of tolerance for others crept in, which is always the case when any thread discusing movie theaters pops up.

To anyone else posting after me: WE KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE THEATERS.

Keep it to yourself, alright? The comments don’t add anything, are not insightful and we could care lss about your anecdotal experiences. Everyone that hates theaters mentions the same tired reasons. Whoop. De. Doo.

Back to the topic: I am eager to visit the Warren theaters in Wichita. Drinks and a meal an all that.

I would hope something like this would c,ome to NY. In the meantime I will have to get to George Eastmans Dryden Theater and the one Drive-in nearby during the summer for some zombie/horror flicks.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Now that’s funny. I don’t know who this “we” is he’s talking about. I, for one, am very interested in people’s theater experiences. I use to love going to the theater, and it ticks me off that people don’t have theater etiquette anymore. He calls it “lack of tolerance” like I should have to tolerate people yapping on their cellphones while the movie is playing.


Re: Re: Re:2 Give them the boot already...

…once got kicked out of a live music venue because one of the members of my party was being disruptive. I would have preferred it to be otherwise (both aspects of the situation). However, it was ultimately the right thing. Can’t fault the venue operator.

Yes. Inconsiderate j*ck*sses should be kicked out of the theatre by the ushers.

Some decorum should be enforced. This is just one part of the cinema experience that is sorely lacking these days. The “experience” is far more important than whether or not some overpriced VOD option is available at the same time.

jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Its like this: last night at a sushi place I hadn’t been to in years one member of the party I was in chided me for getting raw rolls. Why should it bother me, I came for sushi (and nigiri)? She said she had a bad experience thre before. GREAT. That means nothing. If it was so bad people were getting sick, wouldn’t the place be closed?

And if you have your bad experiences, how exactly do they mean anything to anyone else? Can’t I kee going and form my own opinions?

Incidentally, the service was so bad and the freshness of the fish was lacking I’ve decided on my own not to go back. But listen to other people, as if I care about their experiences enough to let them ruin mine? Not a chance in hell.

I ignore people talking on their cellphones, as I haven’t encountered too many (maybe cause I pick better showtimes or later in th release?) To even notice. In the past 15 years I can remember twice when someone spoke during a movie. Again its anecdotal and only my experiences. Why should you care?

if you told me something like Cinemark theaters started offering beer, then you’d have my interest.

I largely ignore movie reviews, but I read product reviews looking for objective reviews. I ignore the subjective ones. If you tell me its crap because it feels cheap or plasticky, I don’t care. If you tell me its crap because it broke the first time you used it (properly) then I care.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Hypocrisy

> I am eager to visit the Warren theaters
> in Wichita. Drinks and a meal an all that.

So you tell everyone else to shut up because you’re not interested in their anecdotal experiences, but for some reason you think we’re all going to be enthralled by the fact that you’re worked up to go to some theater in Kansas?


You thought wrong.

Prashanth (profile) says:

I will admit that for a while I was confused as to exactly how the theater experience could be made to be more valuable than watching a movie at home, after having read so many articles mentioning (but not explaining) it on TechDirt. I always figured that if you can get cheaper food, watch the movie at your own pace, and can joke about it loudly with family and friends in the middle, why watch it at an expensive, restrictive theater? Well, the last paragraph cleared that up for me (people want to get out of the house on Fridays and Saturdays). Thank you very much for this article, Mr. Masnick.

zegota (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If cheapness of food was a huge concern for most Americans, restaurants would be out of business.

The Alamo’s food is actually quite good, and they also serve beer. The seats are comfortable, and while, yes, you can’t talk during the movie, you can talk during the previews and before and after. And you still laugh together, gasp together, etc.

There are pros and cons. Sometimes the idea of sitting next to other people to watch a movie sounds like torture. But sometimes it sounds like a lot of fun. I’d like to have both options.

Prashanth (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, the idea of restaurants going out of business due to cheapness isn’t that far-fetched; many restaurants did do noticeably poorer during the recession. That said, it may be worth mentioning that in my family and among our extended family as well as family friends, cooking at home is far and away the norm, while eating out is a pretty rare occurrence (maybe once a month, at most).
Then again, with restaurants the benefits are also of convenience; it is quite a bit more convenient to have your food served to you than to make it yourself. With movies, on the other hand, watching a movie at a theater is only marginally more convenient, if at all, than watching a movie at home.
I agree that the option should be there, but I was always confused as to why people would actually pick it (aside from, of course, the ridiculously artificially long wait between when a movie is shown in theaters and when it is released on DVD/BD/whatever).

Jenni (profile) says:

I will pass that Warren Theatres info on to a friend who moved from Austin to Kansas and misses the Drafthouse terribly.

But it takes more than just booze to make a movie theatre good–you also need imaginative programming. I grew up near Indy, where Hollywood Bar & Filmworks opened in 1991, several years before the Drafthouse. But all it would run were second-run movies and Rocky Horror weekends at midnight. It wound up closing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re; Re; Re; ad naseum

So, this Jeremy person feels that he should be the only voice that counts, yet while he inflates his opinion, he adds nothing.

Personally, I am in the Heart of America, and I enjoy the movie experience, but it has to be at the right time and in the right part of town. Friday/Saturday date night for kids, not so good. Weeknights, much better. Weekday mornings before work…great, albeit lonely (except when wife gets t tag along, we have the theater to ourselves).

There is a magic in theaters. Maybe it’s leftover from my childhood with the balcony seats, or my fond memories of Kim J and holding her hand during Andromada Strain (sorry about the spelling). Whatever the reason, I love the theater experience.

However, sticky floors, odd smells and crappy seats are not pleasant, but I know which theaters to avoid in the Heartland.

John MacMullen says:

Early VOD Window

I have a very nice home theater system that we use to watch our movies; however, I still like going to movie theaters for the big blockbuster movies. I like the social aspect of it as much as the immediacy of seeing a movie when it first comes out.
I just don’t see how this early VOD release issue will impact the theaters much if at all. 2 months later at $30.00 for not really premium movies will not keep the overwhelming majority of theater patrons from attending movies.
But more choice is good for the consumer,so I think this is a positive (though pricey) step towards more choice.

T Bush says:

The same thing about the Austin movie house can be said in reverse across a lot of the country; the reason I DON’T go to the theater is BECAUSE of the experience. I live in a a town of about 60k people. We have two theaters that are both crap. Broken down seats, pitiful sound, sticky floors, they smell bad and one doesn’t even take debit or credit cards! Add to that sorry employees who don’t care and I’ll wait four months to watch at home. If it’s a must see like Star Trek or Transformers, I travel out of town.

So unless they ALL embrace the movie going experience, I predict in ten years they wont even exist, it will all be VOD.

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