US Box Office Revenue Finally Drops; But Not Because Of Infringement

from the make-better-movies dept

Every year for the past few years, we've been noting that, even as the MPAA whine and cries about "piracy," it's been doing record business at the box office. It's been up, up, up. Until this year. It appears that there's been a rather slight downturn in box office take, though it still exceeded $10 billion. A lot of people are focused on fewer tickets being sold, but the number of tickets is a pretty meaningless measure. What matters is revenue, and that's still strong, if slightly off from its previous highs. But, of course, no business always sets a record.

And what's good here is that it seems most folks involved in the movie business seem to recognize that online infringement has nothing to do with the dropoff in box office revenue this year. Reports are chalking it up to "a combination of a weak economy and expanding home entertainment options." The most thoughtful explanation I've seen comes from Roger Ebert, who puts forth a series of compelling reasons why box office revenue is down, starting with the lack of good quality movies that are "must sees."

The key thing about the reasons he gives? Almost every one is something that the industry could have fixed if it only was smart enough to have a long term strategy.
1. Obviously, the absence of a must-see mass-market movie. When moviegoers hear about "Avatar" or "The Dark Knight," they blast off from home base and land in a theater seat as quickly as they can
Definitely a huge and important point. If you don't make quality films that people want to see, the box office is going to suffer. It seems that the industry has become so risk averse these days, that it keeps churning out rather formulaic pieces -- sequels and reboots, mainly. Sometimes you can do those kinds of movies in amazing ways ("The Dark Knight" is certainly one example), but too frequently these movies seem to rely on their "built in" audience, rather than working to find an audience. So the ticket sales decline.
2. Ticket prices are too high. People have always made that complaint, but historically the movies have been cheap compared to concerts, major league sports and restaurants. Not so much any longer. No matter what your opinion is about 3D, the charm of paying a hefty surcharge has worn off for the hypothetical family of four.
This was bound to happen and there are two reasons for it. The first is that the industry was experimenting with different price points, and when that happens, sooner or later you're going to find the ceiling. That finally happened. I don't think it's wrong that there were experiments with price points, but the industry needs to be careful to avoid continually pushing those boundaries.

The 3D issue is a bigger one. As I've noted in the past, it's good that the industry looked to add value to give people more of a reason to buy. Doing things like 3D films and IMAX films give people good reasons to go to the theaters, rather than watching at home... but in typical Hollywood fashion, they understood the superficial aspect ("ooh, with 3D we can charge more") and ignored the real underlying reasons why it worked ("we have to add real value"). So they just rushed out a bunch of crappy 3D movies where the 3D added no value, and people started rejecting it. As they should. If the industry had focused on real value, rather than just assuming "3D = more money" perhaps this wouldn't be an issue.
3. The theater experience. Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls. The annoyance of talkers has been joined by the plague of cell-phone users, whose bright screens are a distraction. Worse, some texting addicts get mad when told they can't use their cell phones. A theater is reportedly opening which will allow and even bless cell phone usage, although that may be an apocryphal story.
Preaching to the converted here. Some of us have been arguing this point for a decade and are still amazed that the theater owners and the Hollywood studios just don't seem to get it. People go out to the movies because it's a social experience -- with part of the key point being the experience. You can cook your own dinner at home, but people like to eat out at restaurants. What's amazing is just how bad the experience has become, and how little effort most in the industry (with a few notable exceptions!) have made in trying to improve the overall experience. If the theaters and Hollywood actually focused on improving the overall experience, they'd be having much better performance.
4. Refreshment prices. It's an open secret that the actual cost of soft drinks and popcorn is very low. To justify their inflated prices, theaters serve portions that are grotesquely oversized, and no longer offer what used to be a "small popcorn." Today's bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred.
This goes back to number 3, really. The food is a part of the experience. Making it ridiculously overpriced doesn't contribute to the overall experience at all. You can price it reasonably, make a good profit and use that to attract more people to the theater. Or you can do what the theaters do and seek to gouge.
5. Competition from other forms of delivery. Movies streaming over the internet are no longer a sci-fi fantasy. TV screens are growing larger and cheaper. Consumers are finding devices that easily play internet movies through TV sets. Netflix alone accounts for 30% of all internet traffic in the evening. That represents millions of moviegoers. They're simply not in a theater. This could be seen as an argument about why newspapers and their readers need movie critics more than ever; the number of choices can be baffling.
I'd argue it goes beyond just other forms of delivery, to competition from other forms of entertainment. The wider internet has grown quite a bit over the past few years, and video games, in particular, have become a much, much, much bigger industry. Plenty of people who might have wanted to go out to see a movie in the past, might prefer to just stay home and play video games online instead.
6. Lack of choice. Box-office tracking shows that the bright spot in 2011 was the performance of indie, foreign or documentary films. On many weekends, one or more of those titles captures first-place in per-screen average receipts. Yet most moviegoers outside large urban centers can't find those titles in their local gigantiplex. Instead, all the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few over-hyped disappointments. Those films open with big ad campaigns, play a couple of weeks, and disappear.
This is also a big one that gets very little attention, unfortunately. It's typical Hollywood thinking though. They're driven solely by the hits, and have never understood the value of solid movies that can make a profit without being a blockbuster. We're not even talking about the full long tail here, but anything beyond the "short head." If Hollywood would stop thinking in terms of finding only the "big hits," and actually looked at how to make profitable movies, they'd do things pretty differently. Unfortunately, that's just not how they think.

All in all, I believe the movie industry will eventually figure this out, though it may take some outsiders and fresh thinking, rather than today's studio bosses. Unfortunately, in the short term, we're likely to hear the MPAA and others pretend that the decline has something to do with "piracy," when there's little (if any) evidence to support that.


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    Pixelation, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:57am

    Perhaps it's a reaction to the attitude of the MPAA, with all of the attention they are creating by suing fans and pushing bad laws.

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:03am

      Re:

      The idea of "Boycott the MPAA" seems to be spreading, but I'd lay odds that it's affecting the box office just about as much as piracy (AKA: not much if at all).

       

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      MAJikMARCer (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      That may be the case for some but not all.

      I personally find myself asking, "Is this movie worth the cost of going to the cinema or can I just wait for it to be on RedBox?" There are just some movies that you WANT to watch in the theater but many more that as just as enjoyable at home on Blu-Ray

      Secondly, many of my friends with kids have stated they simply can't afford it. A movie night is pushing $100 in some cases. That's not an easy investment for some to make regularly.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    "A lot of people are focused on fewer tickets being sold, but the number of tickets is a pretty meaningless measure. "

    Holy crap, talk about downplaying the obvious.

    Mike, dollars in sales is NOTHING compared to number of clients served. Ticket sales for 2011 are at a 16 year low. That is a horrible situation, and one that no increase in ticket prices will cover in the long run. Why discount the key issue? After all, this is one indicator that can be more directly connected to piracy, and people seeing the movies outside of the theater.

    "On many weekends, one or more of those titles captures first-place in per-screen average receipts."

    It's not shocking to have this happen. When a movie is available only a very limited number of screens, or with a very limited number of playing days, the audience for it will be forced into a very small window to see it. If a movie is only going to be in NY and LA, only at couple of screens in each, and only for the 3 day weekend, they should do very well on a per screen basis. If they didn't, they would have something serious to worry about.

    That effect is amplified on "big movie" down weeks, when there are no new major releases, etc - this is often a time that indie films get a little screen time (because they can actually get them), and do there short one weekend "run and done".

    Since you are in denial that the number of customers served is important, it sort of makes the rest of your arguments and points rather meaningless.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:20am

      Re:

      I wonder how many customers are served by Netflix and Redbox?

       

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      Jay (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      Ticket sales for 2011 are at a 16 year low. That is a horrible situation, and one that no increase in ticket prices will cover in the long run. Why discount the key issue? After all, this is one indicator that can be more directly connected to piracy, and people seeing the movies outside of the theater.

      Ticket sales in the US have been stagnant most of the year. This indicates that people aren't interested in the movies coming out right now. Why try to link this to piracy? The decline was very accurately shown to be competition in people's time, and yet you have to stretch to find a link to piracy.

      When a movie is available only a very limited number of screens, or with a very limited number of playing days, the audience for it will be forced into a very small window to see it. If a movie is only going to be in NY and LA, only at couple of screens in each, and only for the 3 day weekend, they should do very well on a per screen basis. If they didn't, they would have something serious to worry about.

      Again, more people are staying at home and playing video games or creating content on Youtube. They aren't going to the box office. People aren't hearing the big box office ads that say "come see this movie" because people are finding the movies lacking. Are you sure you read the article?

      That effect is amplified on "big movie" down weeks, when there are no new major releases, etc - this is often a time that indie films get a little screen time (because they can actually get them), and do there short one weekend "run and done".

      And that's a problem. The movie theaters have become a Wal-mart with few niches for smaller documentaries or niche titles that might pull an audience. You get the same movies that everyone has already thought to be lacking such as Spiderman 4: The Reboot. This is a major problem with the experience. People don't want to watch a movie that isn't worth their time.

      Since you are in denial that the number of customers served is important, it sort of makes the rest of your arguments and points rather meaningless

      You seem to be in denial about the reason why people aren't going to the movies. Maybe you should research why the foreign markets are doing better for US movies, but people are looking for entertainment elsewhere. Hint: It's not piracy.

       

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        Loki, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:47am

        Re: Re:

        Maybe you should research why the foreign markets are doing better for US movies, but people are looking for entertainment elsewhere. Hint: It's not piracy.

        I've noted before that the while the US, with its draconian policies, has been "struggling" (at least as far as putting people in seats), countries often sited at "hotbeds of piracy" like Russia and China are setting records left and right.

        Hell I even saw a story earlier this year that called Pirates of the Caribbean a "waning franchise" because On Stranger tides made significantly less money than the other three. Waning? Really? The fact that it was only the third movie in history (after Titanic and Avatar) to make over $800 million in the foreign markets didn't count for anything?

         

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          The Groove Tiger (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 4:27pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Those are foreigners, therefore rogue, viewers. Like the rogue websites that the US seeks to censor.

          Stop foreign rogue theaters! They're stealing our box offices!

           

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        Hephaestus (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:04am

        Re: Re:

        "Ticket sales in the US have been stagnant most of the year. This indicates that people aren't interested in the movies coming out right now. Why try to link this to piracy? The decline was very accurately shown to be competition in people's time, and yet you have to stretch to find a link to piracy."

        You actually have multiple things at play here. The movies suck, people still spend the same percentage of their income on entertainment, and limited entertainment time.

        The movies suck piece, just make better movies and stop rehashing the same crap over and over.

        People have limited income for entertainment it is now being spread over many more areas, Cable, PayPer view, RedBox, NetFlix, Games and consoles, internet access, iPads, cell phones, etc. This will continue to grow and eat into the number of people watching movies.

        People have limited time for entertainment. See the limited income piece and add, texting, talking on the phone, skype, surfing the web, social media, email, online hobbies (photography, etc), social media, and crap like farmville.

        Basically the profits of the content industry are going to continue to move from point C(ontent) to point O(ther).

         

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          Vincent Clement (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Exactly. Think of the entertainment choices people had a mere 30 years ago and compare that to the choices we have today.

          In my own house, I have two TVs (one with an HD PVR), a PS3, a PS2, an iPod Touch, an iPad, an iPad2, a couple of Sony mp3 players, a laptop, a desktop computer, three Nintendo DS units and the almighty Internet. God, I haven't even left the house yet and I have a multitude of entertainment choices (and I didn't even mention things like board games and toys).

          That's what movie and record companies are competing with. Not piracy.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      "Ticket sales for 2011 are at a 16 year low."

      And yet, they are increasingly making more money (except for this year). What are you complaining about again?

       

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      aeortiz (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:26am

      Re:

      I agree with you that tickets are a more important metric than revenue, but not the rest of what I hear you saying. It seems to me that your apparent dislike of Mike's ideas misled you a bit.

      Most of the arguments in the article are Roger Ebert's, not Mike's, and I hope you agree Ebert's opinion is not meaningless. He's the leading movie critic in the business. Both are experts within their fields.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:53am

        Re: Re:

        I think that Mr Ebert is making the same mistake that Mike makes, which is ignoring the largest single market force, and attempting to find all sort of other excuses why things are the way they are.

        Let's touch the points:

        1) 2011 will not go down as an amazing year for movies, that much is true. However, it is not the worst year in 16 years for new movies. Harry Potter, Twilight, Cars2, Tranformers and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were all huge draws and took in massive money and ticket sales. Rather, it seems that the tier 2 and 3 movies (lower end wide distribution, lower end limited distribution) did more poorly.

        2) Ticket prices are not too high. Ticket prices are only up 30% in a decade, and that includes the surcharge on 3D movies (without it, you are looking at less than 20%). It would be much more valid to say that the price of gas or parking might be drivers - but ticket prices are up much less than inflation.

        3) The theater experience is in part created by those very people who bitch about the experience. The same people who protest if someone tries to block cell service, or tries to shush them down. You do it to yourself, sorry!

        4) It goes back to point #2. If you think that an average $8 ticket is too expensive, the theater owners have to come up with way to make the money somehow. Those buildings aren't free to own, you know!

        5) He is right on this one, but ignores piracy - and ignores that Netflix is running the movies months after the theatrical debut. Netflix should be competition for DVDs and rental places (Bye bye Blockbuster), not the theatrical releases.

        6) Lack of choice? 2011 has the 4th highest number of released movies (according to Box Office Mojo) of all times, wihin about 3% of being second highest all time (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are all close together). That doesn't seem to indicate a lack of choice, does it?

        All of this is a wonderful distraction from the problem. One again, ticket sales are down and that is the single most worrying factor. Ignoring piracy and acting like it has no impact is pretty misleading.

         

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          The Devil's Coachman (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:18am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No, it's not misleading. You, on the other hand, are. The movies you represent as being choices, by and large, suck ass. The theater experience is created by the theater owners to start with, and if the places are the usual filthy overcrowded hellholes they tend to be, people will not go there. I sure as hell won't and haven't been to a local theater in over ten years. I could go on, but it would be a waste of my time.

           

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            JEDIDIAH, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 2:05pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Exactly. It's the venue owner that sets the tone. If they choose to drown the movie with a sea of commercials, only offer forklift concessions options, or fail to enforce an atmosphere amenable to enjoying a move, then those are all things that will drive customers away.

            Those are things that the venue owner controls.

            Movies aren't cheap and any of a number of annoyances can drive away a particular customer. The aggregate effect of all annoyances on all customers can be quite dramatic.

            Although the Studios must shoulder part of the blame because they create the rather difficult environment that venue owners must operate in. They are the prime movers.

             

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            WillBest, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:04pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "The theater experience is created by the theater owners to start with, and if the places are the usual filthy overcrowded hellholes they tend to be, people will not go there."

            How can they be overcrowded yet not have people? is there livestock at your theater?

             

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              bjupton (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:22pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              On why he no longer went to Ruggeri's, a St. Louis restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
              -- Yogi Berra

               

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:18am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "He is right on this one, but ignores piracy - and ignores that Netflix is running the movies months after the theatrical debut. Netflix should be competition for DVDs and rental places (Bye bye Blockbuster), not the theatrical releases."

          Why? The movies I didn't go see last year I am watching on Netflix now. Next year I will be watching the movies I did not go to see this year. Or even older movies because there isn't much that came out recently that interests me.

           

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          tsavory (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 1:23pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ticket prices are not too high. Ticket prices are only up 30% in a decade, and that includes the surcharge on 3D movies (without it, you are looking at less than 20%). It would be much more valid to say that the price of gas or parking might be drivers - but ticket prices are up much less than inflation.
          It goes back to point #2. If you think that an average $8 ticket is too expensive, the theater owners have to come up with way to make the money somehow. Those buildings aren't free to own, you know!

          Well the last time I went it was just me and my wife cost $28 (and not a 3D movie either) to get in and $24 for two drinks and a bucket of popcorn. Seats suck can't piss, get a refill without missing anything or disturbing others. Plain and simply not worth the time or money for a shitty experience.
          Inflation is up in a lot of thing I agree and yet the people are not doing so well so have to cut parts out and sorry to say movies is always first on my list of things to say bye bye too. Went once last year and probably won't go at all this year. I as many others will sit back and wait till Netflix either get it or Redbox copy and have a way better viewing experience at 1/4 the price.
          OR
          Heck how about the movie bigwigs put together there own Netflix type experience wait a month or two after theater release and put out reasonably priced streaming I would be a heck of a lot more willing to pay that than I am to sit in a theater.
          Oh and wait chance to have paid stream to see a film in high quality before the ripped DVDs hits the streets hmmm might just slow down piracy a bit. I know it won't stop it but I am willing to bet it would be a step towards fighting it.

          Oh wait never mind that would involve a new business model that fits the life and times that we live in today and give customers something they would enjoy. Sorry I forgot the internet and technological advances have to recede to fit their old outdated business model.

           

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          MAJikMARCer (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 4:48pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I don't agree with you on the inflation statement. The dollar has deflated or been stagnant for the last few years. Additionally other costs, such as food and gas have risen significantly.

          At the end of the day most movie goers have a very limited budget. They are going to focus on the necessities first and entertainment second. Theaters are providing less entertainment value while services like Netflix and RedBox are providing the same content (delayed sure but not an issue) at a much lesser price.

          I've been to theaters that had amazing service, great projections and brain rattling audio. I didn't mind paying for that experience, but my local theaters are barely better than sitting at home watching on my flat screen.

          To summarize, $8+ for a movie isn't terrible but the theaters have to provide an experience that is worth the money spent. As others have said, movies, as entertainment have a lot of competition now, and all of that legal.

          Piracy as a factor is so minor as to be ignored, as Ebert did.

           

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      Another AC, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:27am

      Re:

      If number of tickets is so important, come down on the price and I would bet more tickets would be sold.

      The last time I took the family to the movies (a couple years now) I spent $60 on cloudy with a chance of meatballs for a matinee, 4 people, 1 popcorn and 2 drinks. All for roughly an hour and a half of entertainment, yeah, that was worth it.

      I can say that I am all done with theaters, I am happy to wait for the DVD or streaming options.

      They do not care how people they serve as long as the bottom line is met

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:53am

        Re: Re:

        "If number of tickets is so important, come down on the price and I would bet more tickets would be sold."

        There isn't enough upside - dropping ticket prices 20% isn't going to generate enough new ticket sales to make up for what is lost on the other side - most importantly, at the times people want to see movies, the theaters for the most part don't have the capacity to sell enough additional tickets to make up for what is lost.

        Clearly it isn't only about putting asses in seats, because they could give them away for free to do that. It's business, and Mike can explain about supply, demand, and the scarcities of a limited number of seats in a building.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 3:31pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Limited seating? THERE is a laugh. We go to the movies at least once a month, and for the last three months every movie we went to see only had four seats FILLED. Not empty, filled. That's it. Obviously seating isn't as big an issue.

           

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          nasch (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 1:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          There isn't enough upside - dropping ticket prices 20% isn't going to generate enough new ticket sales to make up for what is lost on the other side

          So the number of tickets sold is the most important thing - more important than total revenue - and dropping ticket prices isn't worth it because total revenue would go down? I don't get it.

           

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        Vincent Clement (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 2:54pm

        Re: Re:

        Since getting a flat screen TV, my interest in seeing a movie at a theater has fallen. The picture is clear and sharp, the sound isn't overly loud, the floor is clean, the chairs and couch are ultra comfortable and I can pause what I'm watching to go for a pee or food break.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      Except that he didn't make the (other) points in the first place, Roger Ebert did and Mike is only commenting on them, so, the fact that you think he's in denial about the number of customers served sort of makes the rest of your arguments and points rather meaningless. (which will nullify the rest of my comment, but you won't care, so I will ask anyway)

      Because if you think for one minute the studios are MORE CONCERNED with the number of tickets sold than the revenue brought in, I have a bridge to sell you. Since its 1 bridge, you won't care what it costs, right? You don't care about the number of dollars, but the number of things I'm selling, so you'll buy my 1 bridge for $1billion, right?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re:

        "Because if you think for one minute the studios are MORE CONCERNED with the number of tickets sold than the revenue brought in, I have a bridge to sell you. Since its 1 bridge, you won't care what it costs, right? You don't care about the number of dollars, but the number of things I'm selling, so you'll buy my 1 bridge for $1billion, right?"

        Your argument is meaningless, because it's wrong sided. They care very much about tickets sold, it's pretty much key in their relationships with theatre owners, and with the ability to keep those theatres open and operating.

        It's a big deal because increased ticket prices are mostly as a result of people shifting to seeing movies in 3D (and paying a higher ticket price for it). Having less customers overall is worrisome. Any business that doesn't worry about that sort of thing isn't a business.

        I think that the studios are worried about all of the things involved.

        Oh yeah, you can stuff your bridge. It is overpriced.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:02pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Its not wrong sided, you did say the following, did you not?

          "Mike, dollars in sales is NOTHING compared to number of clients served."

          so, how is my argument wrongsided when you were the one who drew the lines?

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 3:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Obviously revenue is the most important to them. Otherwise why do they not report on number of tickets sold over a weekend instead of gross earnings?

           

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      bjupton (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      I do not find the movie going experience to be particularly pleasant any more, nor do I find that it has value commensurate with the cost.

      I wish that this were not the case. I like movies. My wife likes movies. The rest of my extended family likes movies. But it is just not worth the hassle.

      This has nothing to do with piracy. If the theaters are finding themselves with fewer customers, they have no one to blame but themselves.

       

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      Loki, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:09am

      Re:

      Mike, dollars in sales is NOTHING compared to number of clients served.

      Really? Trust me, customer base is an important metric for long term sustainability (something the movie industry seem not to understand), but at the end of the day it's not how many people came through your door, but how much money you made.

      In fact, in some situations greater sales with less customers is preferred. Ask a company like Walmart or Target if they'd rather have one person buy a $500 TV or 50 people each buy a $10 pair of shoes. In the end, even if the profit margins come out equal for both sets of items, the TV requires significantly less labor costs than the shoes

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      Mike, dollars in sales is NOTHING compared to number of clients served.

      That may be the single most ridiculous sentence you've ever uttered.

      If it were true, then it's easy: reduce ticket prices to $0.01 and watch ticket sales zoom way way up to new records.

      This isn't about how many tickets are sold, it's about maximizing revenue.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:41am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah they are still trying to find the variables in this equation

        (Xprice) x (Ysales) = All the monies

        Keep increasing X until Y starts to drop off and then... find ways to block other legal forms of entertainment because X never fucking goes down morons!

         

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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:17am

    My best movie theater experience of the year

    A drive-in theater in Lexington VA over Labor Day weekend; $6 a person for a double feature of Captain America and Rise of Planet of The Apes. The concession stand was 1970 era pricing, $1 hotdogs, $1.50 sodas, etc. The screen wasn't that bright, but bright enough. The sound was FM over your radio, but none of that mattered. The social experience was so much better than staying home or a modern mall theater that I would be there every weekend if I lived in Lexington.

    The theater experience can be better than staying home in so many more ways than 3D or million dollar sound systems.

     

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      DH's Love Child (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:36am

      Re: My best movie theater experience of the year

      About 3 weeks ago, went to a Theater/Pub in Salem, Or. Total cost for dinner+movie with my wife

       

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        DH's Love Child (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:39am

        Re: Re: My best movie theater experience of the year

        Oops.. it cut off the rest.

        total cost was less that $40 and that included a 16oz beer that I could drink while watching the movie. Now the movie was not a first run movie (this weekend we're taking the kids to see Puss in Boots for example), but it was still the best movie experience I've had since our first date at the drive in 20 years ago. :)

         

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          MrWilson, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:02am

          Re: Re: Re: My best movie theater experience of the year

          I frequent a first-run pub theater that still only charges $6 a person and maybe $4 for a good quality regional microbrew and a few bucks for good quality homemade pizza slices. The screen and audio is decent quality. They sell out frequently and seem to be doing well. And they're in a nice little old downtown location near my house instead of at a sprawling shopping center ten miles away.

           

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    WillBest, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    When its $10.50 per ticket, and its $22 to buy the blu-ray, my interest in going to the theater wans dramatically.

    In that sense, they are still getting my money just in different form. About 5 years ago I used to see about 15-18 movies in the theater every year and buy 3-4 DVDs. Now I go see about 5 movies in the theater and buy about 15 DVDs.

    The person that loses out is the theater owner not the studio. But then as has been pointed out that is where the value isn't being added. At home, I have more comfort, better sounds, TV viewing angle, the ability to pause if I need to take a leak, which I need to do less at home because I am not mindlessly sipping on a gallon of coke.

    I can make my flippant comments to my wife without bothering other people or being bothered by other people that are doing the same thing or taking it "too far" with their technology or above whisper voices, etc.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:46am

    Who would have thought that Roger Ebert is a pirate. Pirate Rogie is just like Pirate Mikey because he is trying to blame industry problems on the industry itself. We all know the only problem is piracy! The American film industry produces the best movies in the world. Expecting the industry to change just because consumers do not like the product is unpatriotic, so Pirate Rogue must be a terrorist, too.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:46am

    The movie-going experience is AWFUL

    From the exorbitant prices for tickets, to the beyond-absurd prices for treats and drinks, to the talkers who won't shut up and the phone-users who text and yammer, to the WAYTOOLOUDANDCRAPPY sound, to the awful movies (really? some moron was allowed to make another Transformers movie? Why wasn't he taken out and shot, as a service to humanity, after the first one?) to the surly and ineffective staff to the commercials and previews rammed down our throats to the wrong lenses and the farce of 3D...it just sucks.

    It's not an art form. Not any more. It's a cash-extraction machine. Oh, they'll still keep giving themselves awards, but, to quote the insightful Donald Fagen and Walker Becker:

    Showbiz kids makin' movies of themselves
    You know they don't give a fuck about anybody else

     

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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:50am

    No choice

    6. Lack of choice. Instead, all the shopping center compounds seem to be showing the same few over-hyped disappointments.

    This. Even for those of us in metropolitan areas, there's not a large choice.

    There are 14 theaters with a total of 170 screens within a 30 minute drive of my house. Of those theaters, 7 are Regal Cinemas, 3 are AMC, 1 Cinemark, and 3 that are either independent or not owned by a well known national chain. There are 33 different movies playing, but 80% of the showtimes are the same 8 movies. It was even worse earlier in the week when my family went looking for something to see, and 90% of the showtimes were made up of only 6 titles.

    Just an example, this is a set of times for one movie. The first two are from a Regal and AMC, each 22 screens, a few miles away from each other. The next 3 are on the other side of the city, an AMC (24 screens), a Regal (14) and another AMC (14), again all very close to each other.

    -10:00am 11:30am 12:15 1:00 1:50 2:40 3:20 4:10 5:00 5:45 6:35 8:15 9:00
    -11:25am 12:05 12:50 1:40 2:25 3:05 3:50 4:35 5:20 6:45 7:35 9:05 9:45

    -9:55am 10:45am 11:30am 12:15 1:05 1:55 2:35 3:30 4:20 5:05 5:50 6:45 7:35 9:05 10:00
    -12:20 1:10 2:35 3:20 4:45 5:25 6:55 7:50 9:25 9:55
    -10:30am 11:20am 1:10 1:50 3:40 4:30 6:20 7:00 9:00

    I picked that movie because there's no 3D/IMAX or other special version of it. And its a kiddie movie, so the theaters have even cut out the usual 10:30-11:30 late showing. The second group has 34 showtimes of the same movie within about 12 hours in a 5 mile radius. If there was some difference in these theaters, I'd understand. But they all have the same prices, the same (crappy and overpriced) food, the same seating, the same quality of employees, and are completely indistinguishable from each other.

    If theaters and studios want to compete with the internet, Netflix, even 300 cable channels with 20 movie channel subscriptions, then give us some choice.

     

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:59pm

      Re: No choice

      Unfortunately it's that way because 80% of the people are only interested in those six title. The vast majority of theatre-goers are only interested in seeing the movies that Hollywood tells them to see. I know people who value the popularity of a movie far more than the quality, and will happily go see a movie they know will be awful just because it's the big movie for that week.

      The reality is there isn't much of an audience for a broad, diverse offering of films, and the majority of cinema-goers are lemmings.

       

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        nasch (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 1:52am

        Re: Re: No choice

        Unfortunately it's that way because 80% of the people are only interested in those six title.

        I wish we could get some more information. If most of those theaters sold almost all the tickets for that movie at most of the showtimes, they would be making the correct moves. If most of the seats are empty most of the time (which I suspect is more likely), they're probably leaving money on the table. If I counted right, that's 60 showings of the same movie in one day. Even with only an average of 100 seats in a theater, do 5000-6000 people in an area want to see the same movie on the same day (other than opening weekend maybe)?

        On the other hand, the theater owner has little power in the relationship. The studio tells them how long they have to run each movie, and for all I know maybe how many screens to show it on and how often, too. And of course they tell them how much money they have to pay the studio per ticket. I assume the theaters get to set their ticket prices.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:51am

    I've had 50+ dollars in movie vouchers accumulated as gifts over the past 1-2 years. Mind you going to see a movie would cost me NOTHING and I've still only seen 2 movies in theater in 2 years.

    THAT'S how bad the experience is. How hard is it for the industry to figure out that their product just isn't as valuable as the ludicrous prices they set?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:00am

    I quit going to theaters years ago.
    I don't have to stick to a schedule,drive somewhere and find parking,pay excessive prices for admission and snacks,listen to and put up with rowdy and rude kids, be exposed to billions of who knows what kind of germs and viruses and have the feeling I was ripped off after watching a so so movie that should of been released straight to DVD in the first place.
    It is so much easier to stay home with friends and family and stream online or watch a DVD.
    My decision to stay home has nothing to do with piracy and everything to do with high prices, low quality and an overall bad experience.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:03am

    #3 - all I have to say is: Alamo Draft House.

    you get a warning, and after that they throw your ass out if you are being loud, obnoxious or using your cell phone during the movie. Plus the tickets are usually cheap, and they serve actual food that's not outrageously priced.

    supposedly there is a youtube video of someone complaining about getting kicked out, but they make it very very clear from the get go what the policy is.

    I love it, I don't see movies anywhere else now.

     

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    David Sanger (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:39am

    Competition from backlist

    Ebert mentions "Competition from other forms of delivery" and you add "Competition from other forms of entertaintment."

    More significant I think is competition from all the other movies made in the past.

    You can't see them in theaters, but only via home rentals of some sort. With today's technology we are no longer restricted to seeing just the few films most recently released and being marketed, but can, at our leisure and on our own time, see any of tens of thousands of films.

    I'd gladly have seen 3:10 to Yuma, Unforgiven, Gone With the Wind in theaters last year but they weren't showing anywhere so I watched them on Netflix.

    There aren't enough cinemas to show even a fraction of films people want to watch and this is an inevitable consequence of today's technology.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 10:57am

      Re: Competition from backlist

      "I'd gladly have seen 3:10 to Yuma, Unforgiven, Gone With the Wind in theaters last year but they weren't showing anywhere so I watched them on Netflix."

      You however would not have gladly paid the ticket price to see them, as you likely would have been one of the few people in the room. There is a point where unrealistic expectations can't be met.

      Plus is the movie companies did that, there would be howls of "not releasing new movies" and being too cheap to produce anything. There is no win here.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:48am

        Re: Re: Competition from backlist

        Movie theater by me does this with raving success. Halloween has horror classics on fridays and saturdays. This year: the thing, evil dead, alien, pyscho. And they do stuff like this all year round. On almost any given weekend they are playing some type of classic for a 1-5 dollars a ticket, and they try and have some theme appropriate to the season. Let me tell you seeing Carpenter's The Thing on the big screen was a hoot and the theater was fucking packed, as it always is when I go to these classic replays.

        A theater near where I went to college also saved themselves from closing by starting a similar set-up. Thats right they went from almost closing while only showing new movies and turned themselves quite profitable by having one or two classics at a discounted price constantly being rotated out.

        Its not an idea that should be dismissed out of hand like you do. Its just it takes a little more work by the theater, you know the management actually has to like movies and be able to pick out good season appropriate ones to air and they have to know and listen to their audience. I am sure its way easier just to stick Twilight on 6 screens and run it 50 times a day and then complain that sales are down.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:12pm

        Re: Re: Competition from backlist

        I saw The Big Lebowski at the Dryden Theater (look it up) at full ticket prices ($8), and it was SOLD OUT. I GLADLY paid that price.

        I was one of the HUNDREDS in that room. Capacity is 535 people, if you need to know.

        There is a point where you need to accept reality.

         

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        TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:43pm

        Re: Re: Competition from backlist

        Actually, remaking or turning movies back into episodic things as they were during the 30s and 40s, which is a lot of what's happening now.

        Sure people will roll jnto the filthy, overpriced, plastic omniplex to see LoTR or Harry Potter because there's a built in audience that wants to see them. BUT, Hollywood, overdoes this with endless remakes of their own best sellers so we end up with a round of increasingly poorly make Batmans, Xmen, Transformers (you gotta be kidding), old TV shows and on it goes.

        To suggest that the movie studios are doing much that's original or might be a tad risky in the way of NEW movies as it stands is almost laughable.

        I'm still surprised that Avatar ever made it onto the screen.

        And no, he wouldn't have been one of the few in the room. Independents that do this sort of thing do very well. Classics weekends, Animation festivals, that sort of thing is how the independents stay in business and even take in more and make more money than chain franchisees or chain operated locations do.

        Heck, even things like Anime weekends, which one theatre in Vancouver picked up on in the early 90s kept them in business, poor subtitling in Japlish and all.

        Studios live on making new movies. Pity, by and large, that most of them aren't these days. THAT might be one reason that ticket sales are down, don't you think?

         

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    Loki, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:07am

    The biggest problem with the movie industry is they don't understand their customers. This wasn't an issue when the movie theater was the only game in town, but now the industry is competing with itself for eyeballs.

    Speaking for myself (as well as several other people I know) I NEVER go to the theater opening weekend. I usually go somewhere around week 4-6 (depending on how long I think a movie will run). A theater full of people just breathing can often add significant background noise and I don't like crowded spaces.

    However, a showing with only 4-10 people in it is never going to be particularly profitable, so it really doesn't matter how many movies I go to see.

    Second, for me, genre is important. American Pie and Jerry MaGuire are good movie, but not necessary to see on a big screen (given we have alternative. Theaters are for ACTION movies. Terminator, Matrix, X-Men.

    Lastly, and perhaps the most important point, the movie industry isn't competing against piracy. It is competing against itself. With over 500 movies and easily 100 seasons of TV shows on DVD, is your movie worth my time to see?

    Footloose 2011? Really? I didn't even like the first Footloose, and even if I did, what makes this version worth going to a theater for? I think I'll stay home and watch V for Vendetta (even though I once watched it every day for a month and have probably seen it at least 75 times).

    Madagascar 3? Eh, I saw the first one, and the only interesting parts (the penguins and the Lemurs) they made into a TV show.

    Times change, culture changes. Just ask Roller rinks and bowling alleys.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:20am

    yeah infringement is never the problem

    according to mikey everything should be free and somehow they will be raking in the dough, and recouping their 100+ million investment. I'm sure no one ever downloads a movie illegally, that they would have otherwise went to the theater to see. Just not possible since it goes against mikey's dogma.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Piracy & Box Office don't really compete

    At least this year, there has been very few quality scene releases on opening week (or even within the first few weeks). Pirates who are willing to watch CAM's or Telesyncs are not the Industry's customers, and never will be. Box Office sales ($$$ or tickets sold) are not directly correlated to piracy.

    The real competition is between R5/DVDrip releases and PPV/DVD. There is always a DVD quality release available before the industry decides to release the content. Availability and price are the main drivers, both of which are levers that can be adjusted by the industry.

     

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      tsavory (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 1:56pm

      Re: Piracy & Box Office don't really compete

      I agree who would waste time on a CAM or Telsync those that would never buy the movie anyways.

      Here is my Idea to fight against the DVD pirates again.

      Heck how about the movie bigwigs put together there own Netflix type experience wait a month or two after theater release and put out reasonably priced streaming I would be a heck of a lot more willing to pay that than I am to sit in a theater.
      Oh and wait chance to have paid stream to see a film in high quality before the ripped DVDs hits the streets hmmm might just slow down piracy a bit. I know it won't stop it but I am willing to bet it would be a step towards fighting it.

       

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    Canucklehead, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:06pm

    If ticket sales are down...

    So must piracy numbers. I have to admit, there weren't many "must see" movies for me this year, and I haven't downloaded many shows this year either.

    It's too expensive to take my family of 5 out for movie night. Admission and snacks would run $100. I can buy a 51 inch 3D TV for under $1000, and subscribe to netflicks for 8 bucks a month ( or I can use Torrent for free).

    The theaters have pushed my costs so high, that I don't even consider that an option. The reality is that they'll never drop their prices, and they've painted themselves into a corner by making so many high priced crappy movies.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 1:30pm

      Re: If ticket sales are down...

      It's possible (that piracy numbers are down too). I know that there are any number of titles out now -- as there always are -- that I wouldn't bother to pirate. In fact, you would have to pay me to get me to watch shit like:

      Mission Impossible 82 (or whatever number it is)
      Chipunks 19 (same)
      Sherlock Holmes whatever
      Twilight whatever
      Jack and Jill
      New Year's Eve

      (Let me note in passing that I was a huge fan of Mission: Impossible as a kid. It was cerebral and clever...therefore completely different from the mindless action crap on display in the movies. Same for Sherlock Holmes; I would vastly prefer to watch Jeremy Brett's definitive performance over the garbage currently being peddled.)

      So I'm not interested in Hollywood's incessant whining about how making billions isn't enough and life is ohhhhhhh so hard for them in their mansions and limos. Fuck them. Fuck their work. Fuck their self-absorbed lives. The best thing that could happen to the art of film in America would be for every major studio to burn to the ground, so that there would be more room for the little works of genius made on $30,000 budgets.

      While the poor people sleepin' with the shade on the light
      While the poor people sleepin' all the stars come out at night

      (This is the point at which you should go lay your hands on a copy of Steely Dan's brilliant "Countdown to Ecstasy" and listen to it all the way through with the volume cranked.)

       

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        JEDIDIAH, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Re: If ticket sales are down...

        Yes, with the remakes.

        Why bother with a remake when I can have the original? Apparently MI4 is something to see on a big screen but it never occurred to me. However, spending that money on the DVDs of the original TV show is something I would consider.

        All entertainment has to compete with all other entertainment.

        If you don't understand that then you are just a dinosaur waiting for the meteor to hit.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:12pm

    I don't think the behavior of big media has helped their cause. People are just too busy fighting SOPA and lawsuits to go to theaters anymore.

     

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    gorehound (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 1:31pm

    I wish the reason why is that people are boycotting the MPAA but it is just a weak economy more likely.
    I totally boycott the MPAA & RIAA.I never go to a theater,never buy new discs,never will use NETFLIX and others, and I will only buy used physical discs.
    MAFIAA go away.you will never get a dime out of me for the rest of my life.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 3:26pm

    I saw "The Adventures Of Tintin" today. Excellent flick. Yes, I was charged extra for the 3-D. I think they should have a system where you get a discount if you bring your own glasses from the last 3-D movie you saw. I have several pairs.
    BTW, I don't pay the inflated concession prices. I always smuggle my own food and drink in. Amazing that more people don't.

     

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    MikeVx (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 4:20pm

    Theater Avoidance

    The only time I go to theaters anymore is when friends ask me to go with them. The theater experience is so bad the people I am with serve to distract me from some of it.

    Let's see. Tickets that cost more than is reasonable for a disc of the film, concessions (which I have not purchased in well over a decade) priced worse than the films, ads running any time a film isn't.

    And there is a mystery here?

     

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    HLF, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 4:22pm

    about refreshment costs

    While I agree about the enormous costs of refreshments, part of the problem is that movie theaters for first run movies get very little of the ticket price. I have read that it can be as little as 2%. That's not very much to run a theater on unless there are lots of people attending. Hence, the concession prices, which the theater keeps and is how it really makes its money.

    If a movie stays around a while (not sure how long), the theater gets a larger percentage. If it's second run, the theater gets even more. Thus, if you see a second run theater charging $3 (as one does here in the Seattle area) the theater is probably keeping more of the ticket price (as much as half), and making more per person, than did the first run theater which may only be keep 20 to 50 cents per person.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:13pm

    Movies have turned into something I do at home. If I'm going to leave the house for entertainment, I'm going to see some live theatre, which is a true communal experience that supports your local arts and economy.

    I've got a big, bright TV screen, 300 movies in my Netflix queue, and a public library filled with Criterion DVDs. Why would I leave that to see a movie?

    There are new movies that I want to see, but I just add them to my queue. I can wait for it.

    My motto is if I can't pause it, I don't watch it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:27pm

    Here's another reason. Maybe people are getting tired of the COMMERCIALS they have to sit through at the beginning of the movie in order to finally start watching the movie. I thought that was part of the premium pricing of watching a movie at the theatre, TO NOT WATCH COMMERCIALS!!!

     

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    Scribblenerd (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 8:13am

    It's an expensive business

    Ticket prices are a direct reflection of the cost of operating a movie theater. The industry does not release figures, but having worked in the biz some years ago, here are some of the factors:

    The building - heating, cooling, cleaning up after those nasty snacks, general maintenance. Look at the size of the building and estimate what that costs.

    The prints - theaters rent the films for the length of time they get (based on some arcane negotiations in which, of course, the highest-bidder wins) and first-run theaters pay the most.

    The movie theater biz is a series of big gambles, and the owners hedge their bets by charging ridiculous prices for the ancillaries like popcorn and soda.

    And it doesn't matter how old the movie is - houses that show classics also have to negotiate print prices and balance those against the number of cinephiles who will show on a given night.

    These practices have been around for more than 100 years and are not about to change. The studios would rather see theaters close than make exhibition less expensive.

     

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      nasch (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 9:54am

      Re: It's an expensive business

      The studios would rather see theaters close than make exhibition less expensive.

      They might just get what they want.

       

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    Andrew D. Todd, Jan 1st, 2012 @ 9:47pm

    A Historic Parallel for the Modern Movie Theater, With its Teenage Audience.

    In the first place, Kevin Drum has an interesting observation that movie revenue is becoming more and more concentrated in the opening weekend, and that films are catering to "Teenagers who are eager for something to do on Friday night and don't really care much about subtleties like theme and character development."

    http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/12/la-times-chart-proves-movies-are-getting- worse-and-worse

    That is correct, of course. A theater, like a restaurant, or any other place of entertainment, naturally caters to people who were going out anyway, not to someone who has to be induced to go out at all. It is much less difficult and expensive to divert a customer from an alternative place of entertainment, than to attract people who were not proposing to go at all. This is not a new thing. On the contrary, it is very old thing. Most of the comments people have made about why they don't want to go to the movies are not new. They describe, equally well, certain segments of the live theater before the invention of motion pictures.
    If you look at what a theater looked like, circa 1800 or 1850, the seating was mostly "boxes," little rooms, or inside porches, with perhaps half a dozen seats each, and these boxes offered a degree of privacy to little parties of the audience. These boxes were stacked anything up to eight layers high. A common accessory were "opera glasses," telescopes or binoculars enabling one to get a good view of the stage from about a hundred feet away. The different tiers of seats had separate entrances and stairways leading to them, and were priced differently, according to the height. Private coaches could pull up to the various entrances, and the passengers could get out and go in the door, while the coachmen drove away somewhere to wait. In sociological terms, there was not the equivalent of a parking lot. The boxes were effectively a kind of television viewing avant le lettre, so to speak. An illustration of London's Pantheon theater, circa 1800, shows the Royal Box on the third deck, a safe height above the Pit (see below). At one point, George IV was hissed from the pit below, just after he had divorced his wife, but it didn't go further than that.

    What we now think of as theater seating was known as the "pit," in the space between the boxes and the stage, and it was exclusively the domain of unattached young men, typically students, the kind of young men who spontaneous picked up arms and fought in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. Alexandre Dumas the Elder was a charter member of this class. The term "musketeer" was apt to be applied, generically, to the kind of young men we are talking about. Aramis, Porthos, Athos, D'Artagnan, and one might add, Edmond Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, were recognized as archetypes of the footloose young man of respectable birth somewhere in the provinces, with no commitments, and free for any wild adventure. They were also the class who threw things such as rotten vegetables at the actors they did not like. The whole tone was straight Fraternity House, in short.

    Of course, really rich people, starting with the King, could arrange private performances in their private theaters in their own houses, and often did. For that matter, amateur theatricals, for an audience of friends and family, were a popular recreation. When the rich people came to the public theater, it was in large part for the purpose of being seen, and attempting to maintain a national community with themselves at the head. Women, in particular, wanted to show off their expensive clothing. Men had other motives, the theater being the best place to find a strumpet. One of the curiosities of the time was that the theater was a point of confrontation between the expensively virtuous wife, maintained in idleness, and her husband's human sex toy.

    Intellectually speaking, the theater was at a pretty low ebb at the time. It was not being used to popularize ideas, except for the special case of Germany, and the special case of ideas appealing primarily to very young men, eg. Victor Hugo's _Hernani_. It was not like Shakespeare's theater. In the early and mid-nineteenth century, the two obvious heirs to Shakespeare' mantle were two novelists, Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, who had, respectively been a lawyer and a newspaper reporter. Even people who could not read themselves could pay someone to read to them, typically in a group while they worked. For example, in 1815, a young bookseller's apprentice named William Chambers, who would eventually go on to found a publishing house, earned his breakfast every morning by going to spend a couple of hours reading aloud for a group of bakers while they baked the day's bread.

    The theater tended to a high level of spectacle (ie. special effects). It wasn't Shakespeare's theater in the round, but a modern stage-house with winches capable of lowering painted scenery into place, elaborate furniture hauled onto the stage from the wings, and elaborate costumes, and a full orchestra. In addition to this, there was about as much sex as the censor would allow, with female performers who wore much less than almost any other woman of the time would wear in public, and who were themselves on sale after the performance. By contrast, words had become much less important. The basic commodity was musical theater, that is, Opera, and an equally vital element was the ballet performance incorporated in each show. Like the first-run movie in our time, it had tended to become childish, not in the G-rated sense, but in the sense of not addressing the scope of adult thought and action. In a provincial music hall, serious drama, eg. Shakespeare, was apt to be combined in a program with music hall turns, meaning one act of a Shakespeare play, and then something lighter. This was of course adapted to an audience which could read Shakespeare, and had been compelled to read Shakespeare in school, so they already knew how the story came out, and wanted to get an idea of what the play looked and sounded like on a stage. New serious dramatists did not have the advantage of being in the school curriculum, of course.

    In England, established "highbrow" theaters, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, which had endowments and government subventions like a school or college, and which could afford to present, in its entirety, a Shakespeare play lasting two hours, came much later, say from 1875-1925. As a nineteenth-century London theater manager observed: "Shakespeare spells ruin, and Byron bankruptcy." By this, he meant full-length plays, not the judicious ten or twenty minutes of out-takes which a provincial theater would have done. There was no sizable audience which could take serious drama in more than small doses, well diluted in junk and the audience's favorite kind of soft pornography.

    In the long span of time, what happened was that movies temporarily inserted themselves into a niche between theatrical performances and books. However, movies are gradually being assimilated to one category or the other. Some kinds of movies are naturally viewed on a laptop computer screen, pausing and rewinding to look at certain portions more closely, and these are in effect a kind of book. Other kinds of movies are essentially spectacular, and are about the dynamics of a crowd of spectators in a theater. No theatrical experience, movies included, has ever matched, or will ever match, the sheer wealth of material in books.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    _Memoir of Robert Chambers, with autobiographic reminiscences of William Chambers_ (1872)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Chambers_(publisher_born_1802)
    http://www.archive.org /details/memoirofrobertch00cham

    p. 94, (Hat Tip: The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, ed. James Sutherland, 1975, 1976)
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    George Bernard Shaw, Love Among the Artists

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- --
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Shakespeare_Company
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Natio nal_Theatre
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_theatre

    "F. B. Chatterton's 1878 resignation; in his words, 'Shakespeare spells ruin, and Byron bankruptcy.'"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_Royal,_Drury_Lane
    ----------------------------- ------------------------------------

     

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