I have been thinking a lot about the decline of the movie going experience and wanted to share some of the conclusions I have reached, now of course this is just from my perspective.
Factors for the downturn of the theatrical exhibition segment are I believe as follows;
1: The enlarging of release patterns. In 1979 a blockbuster was released to an average of 700 screens , therefore creating a reduction in accessibility, increasing “the word of mouth” and creating a want to see psyche. Lines went around the block to see a certain movie and that created an intense curiosity about a film for the public. When Lew Wasserman advocated for increasing the numbers of screens for a release he started sowing the seeds of Hollywood’s diminishing.
2: In 1979 121 films had a major release theatrically. This is excluding all art house and limited release films. In 2013 there were 46 pictures in wide release. This summer drive-in theatres were dying for viable product.
3.In 1979 there were 18,000 screens, today there are 39,000
4.Hollywood does not finance movies anymore. They make money on packaging movies and taking distribution fees. There is little or no skin in the game for a film to do exceedingly well or have an enduring box office. The higher budget the film the greater the packaging fee can be taken.
5.The consolidation of the theatrical exhibition industry has made film exhibition become less regionally sensitive (IE the Southern drive-in circuit) and as well the method of corporate finance has forced a huge and non sustaining pattern of growth based on cheap money and junk bonds. Frenzied growth has diluted the market when not enough product is available to fill the screens. This is a massively diluted market. I firmly believe there is a place for the Earl Owensby’s, The Fred Olen Ray’s and The Jim Wynorski’s of the world on the big screen. I also know what plays in New York city often will not play in Paducah.
In order for film-going to remain a viable industry there has to be a de-centralization of theatre screens. A reduction of theatre screens by fifty percent, an increase of product being released theatrically by 200%. I would make the case that if States were to provide incentives for theatrical release of films produced within their borders it might make more economic sense in in a long term perspective than a straight production incentive.
Many have said time has come for the independent screen to go away, my opinion is that the time has come for the major chains to be decentralized and a more regionally focused market reality has to arise. I think the majors as well are going to be hit and hit hard with the mall downturn that is facing America. There is too much money involved for the majors to go away, but they should be split into smaller regional entities. The numbers of screen under their control will be reduced by 50%, simply as a result of market pressures. If not the weight of the current amount of screens and the lack of a commitment of a proper theatrical release and a proper theatrical window will doom this industry.
It is my believe that the theatrical market is withering from neglect and over saturation and not from a lack of interest on the behalf of the public.