Theater Owners Still Oblivious To The Fact That They Can Compete With Home Viewing
from the sad dept
We’ve been arguing for nearly a decade that movie theater owners were overreacting to the threat of people viewing movies at home eating into theater revenue. After all, they’ve been complaining about this for decades. As we talked about last year, back in 1959, Mary Pickford, who was a Hollywood star (or, rather, at the time, the Hollywood star) who also cofounded studio giant United Artists and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who put on the Oscars), claimed that cable TV would kill theaters. Then, of course, Jack Valenti famously said the VCR would be the “Boston strangler” to the movie business.
Yet, now, with home theaters, video on demand, streaming services and (yes) infringement, the theaters are once again insisting that this time theaters are really in trouble.
The BBC has a good article discussing the details of the fears of theater owners, and even mentions both the Pickford and Valenti quotes. It talks up how theater windows are decreasing, and the theater owners are decrying how that’s just going to make things worse and worse.
But what’s amazing is that not once in the article does anyone mention that theaters compete on more than just the content. This is the core blindness that seems to effect most (but certainly not all) folks in the theater business. They keep whining about how they can’t compete with the ability to watch movies at home. But what they’re really admitting is that their theaters suck. Yes, the movie itself is a key part of deciding to go out to the theater, but it’s the overall theater-going experience that really drives people. Lots of people decide they want to “go out to the movies” before they even decide what movie to see.
Going out to the movies is a social experience, and the problem that theaters are facing isn’t that home theaters get the content too early, but that the big theaters have made the theater-going experience suck. The theaters are cramped, uncomfortable, noisy. The food prices are ridiculous. The sound quality or video quality sucks. But that’s not the fault of home theaters. That’s the fault of theater owners not making the experience good.
There certainly are some who recognize that making the theater experience better is the strategy that will work, but they’re in the minority. The big theaters just keep worrying about windows and online streaming and “piracy,” and don’t seem to make any effort to give people reasons to go to the theater. People want to “go out.” People want to have a special experience and enjoy being out with friends. That’s what theaters should be capitalizing on. People can stay home and eat, but restaurants still do fine business, because people want that better experience of going out to eat. The same is true of going to the movies, but only if the theaters recognize that they have to make that an experience worth going out to.
And, yet, oddly, none of that makes it into the BBC article. Even worse, the theater owners in the article seem to want to blame everyone else. Check out this discussion, where a top lobbyist for theater owners seems to pretend that theaters are helpless here and at the whims of everyone else:
“Our concern is people won’t go for this eight-week window,” says Patrick Corcoran, California operations chief of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
“If [studios] are really intent on making this sort of thing work, they have two options: one is to shorten the window, the other is to put it at a lower price, or both.
“The closer it gets to the theatrical release and the lower price it gets, you start to get into this self-competition market that already affects the home entertainment market.
“The theatre business is a fairly marginal business so a few percentage points loss in admissions will end up closing some theatres.
“And if film companies do focus on [home entertainment more], they won’t be able to justify current budgets so you will just end up with a lesser film.”
Or, you know, the theaters you represent could spend some time focusing on improving the experience so that even if they have options at home with the identical content, it’s still worth going out to the movies. But, apparently, that line of thought just hasn’t occurred to many theater owners yet.