March 23, 2008

Let's Go To a "Movie"

Happy Easter.

Brooks Barnes writes in today's New York Times about the rapidly increasing trend of movie theaters turning into...big screen TVs with channels that play anything
but movies. We've all seen the ads for the opera and the KISS reunion concert and Dane Cook Live and whatever else they can think to play in there, but how seriously has anyone really taken it? According to the article, this thing is about to explode. Is that good thing, a bad thing, or nothing? The jury's still out as far as I'm concerned:


“I love film, but the simple fact is that we can’t count on movie attendance to grow...As televisions get bigger and the gap between a film’s theatrical release and DVD release shrinks, exhibitors worry that attendance could slump further."

If it's getting so bad that the decision is to close a theater or else show the opera once a week - bring on the fat lady.

"...the technology needed to show live broadcasts and high-definition films is now accessible enough, and reliable enough, to make this a real market..."

HD on the big screen? Yes.

"...a $40 ticket to hear the New York Philharmonic play at Carnegie Hall gets patrons a balcony seat. At a multiplex, for half that price, customers would get digital surround-sound and a close-up view."

Hmm...for special occasions, it could be nice to have access like this. Hannah Montana is NOT a special occasion. Olympics or a World Cup final or a David Blaine special? Maybe. Maybe.


“Live simulcasts of sporting events or whatever won’t displace the first week of ‘Harry Potter,’ but they might displace the fifth week.”

I'm not a big Potter fan, but the "fifth week" could turn into the second week in no time.

"The New York Mets could not have been happier with a simulcast last August at Ziegfeld Theater in New York, where a live organist and the team mascot led viewers in singalongs as though they were in the ballpark."

NIGHTMARE. People are already acting "as though they were in the ballpark." No need to encourage that behavior.

“It’s less ‘let’s be a movie theater’ and more ‘let’s be a community entertainment destination.’ ”

No no - NO. Let's be a movie theater. That's what it's called, that's what it's for.


I thought I had this straight: movie attendance is declining and Netflix has taken the DVD market through the roof. People want to sit in the comfort of their own homes where they can shout and eat smelly food and run around doing cartwheels and whatever else they love to do in the theater. Don't we have them right where we want them? Nope, let's flood the theaters with them and make me stand in line behind everyone buying tickets for (seriously) The Zula Patrol: Animal Adventures in Space! and the 2007 Drum Corp International World Championship Quarterfinals. And because I just saw this, you can imagine what my line crowd will be wearing.

Seems like a "give an inch, take a mile" situation. A one-time showing on a Tuesday night could quickly become fifteen "events" every weekend and movies only showing on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before 4:00 PM. Peanut vendors in the aisle, maybe somebody singing "God Bless America" before the trailers. Eventually, voting or texting or interactivity of some sort because humans aren't able to sit and stimulate their imaginations anymore.

Anyway, there's no use debating, it's already happening.

I'm suspicious. You?


  1. Theaters are struggling for business. You name a few reasons for this, Daniel. DVDs. TiVo. Internet. And oh yeah, I can watch a movie in my home without having to turn down the volume on people answering their phones or talking amongst themselves.

    Personally, I feel that theaters have really gone downhill from about eight years ago. The noise levels from the audience, not to mention prices are a joke. 90% of theaters in the U.S. could be bulldozed under tomorrow and I would dance a jig.

    Ahem. When filmmakers are able to distribute movies on the Internet, with download times, picture and sound quality at least comparable to what we now have with iTunes, what will they need theater exhibitors for? Record companies, theater owners, movie studios, these are middle men I see becoming irrelevant with technology.

  2. Good point about the cost of admission, Joe. It doesn't show any signs of slowing and has even caused hesitation for this diehard theater goer. I know from your comments before that you don't go to the theater very often anymore, and while I can't blame you, I also can't agree about dancing a jig! Three local theaters closed here in the last year and I was none too happy, even though a giant AMC sprung up in their place.

    I don't know, I'm torn. Living rooms and theaters are morphing into each other, but I don't think the content needs to go along with it. Theaters could do a lot more to build loyal audiences (stricter rules, rewards programs, reasonable prices, special features, etc.), but they're selling out to the non movie-going public.

    At the same time, I accept the fact that technology as you describe it may control the fate of theaters anyway, so loosening the standards at the theater might be the only way to keep them afloat.

    CLEARLY my thoughts are all over the place, but it all comes down to this: theaters are a sanctuary for me, and I'll nervously go along with whatever keeps that experience alive.

  3. I am kinda old school on the topic, I mean I love my little old cinema a few blocks away from me. It is cheap, shows all the same stuff as the expensive theatres. We have HD on the big screen as well know, and it was cool to see U2 in 3D, as well as Shine A Light which I will go to on Friday, and it doesn't cost me much at all {the equivalent of $2}. Even $20 is a joke. I don't know, I am not that excited about HD that I would pay that much.

    We don't have NetFlix, but something like it is emerging in SA, called PushPlay, which is almost exactly the same as NetFlix, but people are apprehensive. People don't mind going to rent DVDs, there is a video store for almost every suburb, and I do not see it working in SA the way it has taken off in the US.

    Technology is still slow in SA, we don't really have the greatest internet speeds, and if you want them, you have to pay big money {like me}. Downloading is becoming more popular, but it is all the illegal downloading of movies and TV shows, there is no iTunes for SA. That sucks, because I am all for paying for my movies, but if there is no way I can, of course I am going to download using torrent or whatever.

    Theatres are catching a wake up in SA and are better than ever. So it will be a while before I am in any kind of predicament about the matter as you Dan. I feel for you, and in time, I will nervously tread the same path as you have to someday. I can only hope it is not too soon. I don't even have a Blu Ray player yet ~ like I said, I must be the only teen in the world who describes himself as "oldschool." Maybe I just cannot afford to pay for stuff like Blu Ray when I have to live on pocket money.

  4. I think I'm a little torn on the subject, like Daniel.

    If movie theaters can find new ways to justify their enormous overhead costs, as long as real movies aren't crowded out, I'm fine with that. If movie theaters just turn into community TV, I'll be less happy.

    I'm old fashioned and I'm not ready to lose the communal experience of watching a movie, so rather than cutting out this particular middle man, I'm more interested in hearing people come up with ways to improve the experience.

    There are a couple of theaters in LA that do just that and I'm happy to throw them my business while avoiding the ones that don't deliver.

  5. Not to sound like a communist, but this is the price of capitalism. These companies/industries will squeeze every last drop of blood out of their product even at the expense of their loyalest consumers. This reminds me of when I cry about the NHL. I love the game but there are not enough "me's" supporting it. The sad fact is the experience you enjoy so much is brought to you by the river of money made on ticket prices and concessions. With the studios making more of the ticket sales and the theatres relying on concessions it is easy for them to be open to other revenue sources in order to be profitable. While each group relies on the other in some way they all are such gluttonous idiots that they will fuck this up in the face of technological advancement.

    For the amount of money you spend at the theatre you could buy a home theater and purchase legitimate content. It won't be long before they are debuting features pay for play on the web. The video and audio quality will as good or better. If you still prefer driving to a dirty theater, on their schedule, and dealing with people that don't respect each others viewing pleasure, that's fine. You'll still have that but it will be more like just Lagoon for the traditional theater and places like block e and WB Township for Spiderman 10, birthday parties, events and xbox tourneys.

    I half-assedly checked out purchasing the old Maplewood theatres before they became a strip mall and a park and ride lot. I wanted to make them into a bar/theater that played niche films. A couple screens showing newer good movies, and one here and there playing westerns, classics, anime, whatever. Stuff like Oak street and that Oakdale theatre used to do. It would've been more of a lounge with theater as the decor than a theatre but you get the idea. I just wanted to be able to watch movies and drink, but I think my idea wouldn't be that bad of an evolution for theaters considering the gloomy outlook.

  6. Summer 2000 is the last time I ventured into a movie thea - sorry, "community entertainment destination". I walked into the lobby, past the video arcade, past the bumper cars (I kid you not), plunked down my 12 bucks, filed into screening room #37 (which was cold enough to hang meat in), received a five minute lecture from a sixteen year old "associate" on movie viewing etiquette and cellphone use (which was promptly ignored), and tried to watch Gladiator with 250 whispering, giggling, fidgeting, seat-hopping, aisle-roaming, nacho-munching, pop-slurping, brain-dead nimrods.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hug my DVD player.

  7. Great comments here!

    Nick, your future sounds pretty bright over there, that's for sure. You might be surprised about PushPlay. There were thousands of Blockbusters in every U.S. suburb and city (still are), and nobody took NetFlix very seriously for the first few years. It's only a matter of time - once your fellow citizens get highspeed internet access I expect they'll have whatever they can delivered to their door. Maybe - maybe it's an American thing, too, I don't know. Oh, and regarding Blu Ray...I don't even have an HD TV yet anyway, so...

    Craig, "community TV" is in fact what I'm nervous about, especially since you know people will start to act like idiots even more, regardless of what's on the screen. Fortunately, I know you don't take for granted the "purity" that you still have in L.A. Don't see that adjective used much there, do you?

    Tom, you're basically money across the board there. Dead on with concessions - we can only expect theater managers to bring in as many people for as many reasons as possible, especially if the movie prices are the reason people are staying away in the first place. If and when "opening weekend" does begin online - and it could be next week - I still think I'll prefer the theater just for the scale of the screen. I'd be willing to sacrifice some quality for the ability to be totally immersed in the movie. At the same time, my tolerance for humans in a theater could turn me into a hermit pretty soon. I wish you would have bought the Maplewood Theaters. Wow, would that have been awesome. Speaking of which, we should all pitch in for the Oak St. It's only at about $800,000 - I can have my share ready in about 43 years. I don't know what happened to those Oakdale screenings, either. Anyway, I'm sure somebody with money will expand on your idea soon. This place got a lot of attention at SXSW:

    Rick - hilarious. Too bad that was your final experience. I wish I could say it's gotten better...

  8. It was bad enough when they started showing more commercials than coming attraction trailers, so this would really send me over the edge to take movies out of the movie theatre.

  9. Well I'm afraid "you can't stop what's comin'," Mrs. T.

    Also, Boland, since it's current check out what's right down the street from you in just two days:

  10. DVDs, flat-screen TVs, and technology are great. But I could not live without my good ol' cinema! Yes, the prices are exorbitant, but you learn to work around that. I truly hope theater owners will get wise and save the format.

    By the way, Daniel, I luuurrrvve your rules of conduct. They're truly inspired.

  11. Thanks, Nayana. I'm trying to get them posted at every theater in town. >-P

    I agree with you about the future of theaters, and I hope we'll still have what we have now in 10-20 years.

  12. When I wrote about this, I didn't even think about the audiences getting worse! Honestly, I thought playing the opera would most likely make the audience classier. But you're completely right, the second you break out of the "you're supposed to behave this way during a movie" mold, jackasses might have a chance to run wild. Damn.

    In other news, I once did a cartwheel in a movie theater.

  13. Thanks for dusting this one off after your own post about it, Scott. This is one of the posts I've written that I actually liked reading the second time around.

    I don't think I can do a cartwheel in a straight line well enough to pull it off in a theater. I'd probably crash into the seating on the downward wheel. I'm not an Oompa-Loompa or anything, but nor am I Shawn Johnson.

    Speaking of which, it might have been cool to see some of the great Olympics races on the big screen...


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