As the (very) old song goes, “the theater, the theater, what’s happened to the theater…?” With 2011 bringing international box office to a 16-year low and U.S. revenues down for the first time in the last six years, it’s beginning to look like curtains for the movie theater. What can be done to turn this around? We’ve got some suggestions…
This one is a no-brainer, isn’t it? “Going to the movies” as an experience these days can be ridiculously cost-prohibitive, between ticket prices, travel and whatever snacks you end up buying when you’re there. Considering the economic climate, surely it only makes sense that, if you lower prices and make the whole thing more easily affordable to more people, attendance would rise…? I am somewhat spoiled in this respect, living in Portland and surrounded by second-run theaters where tickets cost anywhere between $2 and $6 and movies are constantly sold out as a result.
It’s not even as if all costs have to be dropped across the board; why not promote special lower-priced weeknights, or take full advantage of the possibility of cheaper matinees? Prices can be kept up for high-traffic times and 3D or IMAX movies so that theater owners don’t get too upset at the idea of losing so much revenue. Which reminds me…
Make Bigger Movies
Not for nothing were the biggest movies of the year at the U.S. box office essentially missing from the list of the most torrented and pirated movies of 2011; with the increased focus on movies that emphasize spectacle in a way that doesn’t really translate to the home theater experience, no matter how big the screen (i.e., movies in 3D and IMAX). This is where movie studios come into the business of trying to keep movie theaters alive, by trying to produce films that demand to be seen on a scale too big for your laptop or television screen. Along those lines…
Take Advantage of The Community
No matter how many people as you might be able to pack into your living room, there isn’t a more communal movie experience than a movie theater, and some movies – comedies and horrors predominantly – become far more enjoyable when watching them with big crowds (Think of the Paranormal Activity movies, for example; they’re as much about the collective fright than anything else). If there was some way to promote that and remind people that some movies just need a room full of people going through the same thing that you are, then you’ve given people another reason to buy a ticket.
Popcorn Isn’t Enough
The final thing I’d like to see theaters taking into consideration when thinking about how to bring people back is something more than candy and popcorn on offer in the concession stand. Again, I’m spoiled here in Portland with theaters that offer pizza, beer, burgers or even full meals in a couple of cases. But having something more substantial on offer to accompany the movie turns the theater-going experience into something more than just watching a movie; it becomes a more complete “night out,” and that makes it more attractive an option when compared to watching a movie at home. After all, anyone can buy some popcorn and stick it in a microwave, but the idea of crossing a restaurant with a movie theater…? Who can compete with that (without a lot of effort)?
What am I missing? What changes do you think are necessary for movie theaters to become more of a destination in 2012 – or do you think they should just be left to quietly die off in favor of streaming movies directly to your personal home screens? Feel free to leave comments and weigh in on the debate.