Reviving The American Movie Theater

This week a mediocre film by all accounts “Hansel and Gretel” took in $19 million dollars on 3,372 screens or $5,635 per screen. The second picture was the horror film “Mama” which in its second week of release took in $12 million. It was not a good week.

The grandaddy of blockbusters Jaws opening up in 475 screens and saw a per screen take of $17,265 in 1975 dollars and admission prices. In today’s dollars $73,468.09.

We are not dealing in the same world as we did in 1975. There was not VHS, DVD.CABLE, VOD. There were movie theaters and three channels of TV. Seemed pretty good at the time and in or mind it was more than enough entertainment. Every weekend three of four movies opened and most likely me and my buddies usually saw two. It was the late seventies and the early eighties and going to the movies was still a ton of fun.

I personally hate the demise of the move theater. I believe that with the movie theaters goes the film industry and that soon what we, the popcorn munching , coke sipping, Milk Dud inhaling culture received so much joy from will be a thing of the past, It’s not good and I wanted to share some thoughts about the demise of the American theater and how we can possibly prevent it,

Have the audiences gone away or been diluted, well maybe but to a small extent. Screenings of older films consistently draw audiences and see near capacity crowds in a variety of venues. I think it’s the studio that have changed and their emerging conception of the marketplace which has hurt the movie theater,

As of late the technology companies have combined with the studios (who with they share common ownership) to force a parade of technology changes which has seen the pockets of many an exhibitor being forcibly picked. The powers that be seem to be spinning a story that’s saying…it’s technology that’s the problem. I doubt it and frankly numbers are showing that all this technology is kind of falling flat on its face and in reality in the long run the people primarily benefiting are the major studios at the expense of theater owners.

Hollywood in its sad addiction to a tent-pole movies and massive releases, is going down a path of cranking out tired remakes and increasing insipid franchise entries. In doing soon they are leaving a ton of money on the table by abandoning key segments of the audiences in favor of a quick buck.
It’s funny, when an intelligent thoughtful film gets released, baby boomers scurry to it and provide it with an enduring and sustained audience. Of course then the studios go right back to spitting out technology driven product and go back to pushing all their 3-D High Frame Rate movies. Theater Owners are witnessing the studio missteps and are scratching their heads in amazement. Why did I spend close to a $100,000 to upgrade for this?

But at the core is the simple truth that audiences long to see movies the old-fashioned way: on a big screen, with a big audience. But but the problem is a simple one, the studios have ceased really caring about the theatrical market.

They are designed to served their masters, their owners.

Lets take a quick survey on who owns what;

Paramount is owned by Viacom, a major syndicator and owner of cable TV channels
Warner Brothers is owned by Time Warner, at its core a cable TV operator
Sony, well used to be Columbia but now serve a hardware manufacturer
Universal is owned by Comcast a cable TV operator
Fox is owned by News Corp. a major cable TV channel operator
Disney, well in name anyways is still owned by Disney but in their own words “The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise with five business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media.”

So the its is evident that the studios focus is on cable TV and the emerging world of VOD/Interactive media. The theatrical market has become an afterthought, the only reason they still pay attention to it is that it provides exposure for its cable TV offerings.

Okay… so we have established that theatrical is not the focus for these people, what do to do.Like the studios it is time for theater owners to diversify. Take a page from your predecessors in the 1950’s.

Make alliance with independent distributors
Form your own distributor entities
Invest in productions that make sense for your market space
Slowly dedicate a percentage of your screen time to build alternative markets
Look at alternative technologies
Program music and sporting events
Development clubs for discounts
Program older titles and develop a repertory program
Think how you can develop a pop-cinema program and use it as an outreach to draw in audiences

Keep remembering the lessons of the past. At one time the manager of the local movie theater was a big man in town. He had a one to one relationship with people. They knew him, they liked him and they gave them their business. Use the internet to mimic that relationship. Gather local email addresses, and hoard them like gold, because in fact they are your gold.

Develop an internet strategy. It might look something like this;

A weekly folksy newsletter talking about your theater and the films that are playing
Do a monthly schedule, people are business
Partner with local restaurants
Avoid Hollywood glitz, make it local people don’t trust glitz
Have each email personally addresses
Let your audience have programming input…take them seriously
Offer a club concept
Give reductions in concession pricing for club membership
Coupon, Coupon, Coupon

Going to the movies is woven into the fabric of American society. If movies theaters go away so does a key dynamic of American culture. It is time to stop depending on the addiction to studio and step up and define yourself..

Protect and grow the American Movie Theater.