Movie Reality Check
Reality can be very cruel sometimes. About four weeks ago I visited a drive-in theatre in Spencer Indiana. The drive-in was beautifully laid out, great projection and best of all a fun and well appointed concession stand. Prices were more than reasonable. I was there for the opening weekend of San Andreas opened. The drive-in had a capacity for maybe 350 cars. 80 showed up.
It was a warm Indiana summer night, one of the few when we were not deluged with rain this oh so soggy summer. The drive-in should have been packed. The concession stand should have had a line out the door. Bathrooms should have been standing room only. None of this occurred and I was baffled. I was perplexed that this shrine to the movies, this ideal venue for entertainment was so underutilized. The owners were great, warm, affable and more than welcoming.
None of this made any sense to me.
Two weeks later a pool in a small Indiana town held a movie night. A consumer projector was used with a cheap blow-up screen. 1200 people paid $7.00 a piece to come in, swim and watch the movie. The film played was a recent Disney release. They are doing it again in two weeks and by all appearances they are going to have similar numbers.
Events like this are competing more than successfully with incumbent drive-ins and theatres. They are licensing movies for a flat fee from one of two alternative venue aggregators in the market today, are paying a comparatively low license fee. The biggest rub is that have access to titles traditional theatres are denied for their summer movie programs and of course they do not have to incur the cost of a DCI infrastructure.
Every small town Parks and Rec department is getting into the drive-in movie business. They do not have any of the limitations set by the studios and this year are able to formally advertise the title and date publicly in all forms of media. A good quality 1920x1080p projections might cost you close to $3,000 brand new. On EBAY you can find deals for a 7000 lumen plus projector for around $3500. Now keep in mind that 1920x1080p is just a hair short of being able to call itself 2K.
In regards to a screen, in the market today there are various alternatives. 30-40 foot blowup screen will cost you in the neighborhood of $7,000. To be totally frank, USA DRIVE-INS is a not a big fan of blowup screens but we just had four portable fixed frame screens manufactured again, 30-40 feet all in for around $3300 each. A solid FM transmitter will set you back in today’s market for around $110. So the expenditure for a pop-up drive-in theatre is around $6,400 excluding concessions.
Compare this to the DCI model forced upon the exhibitors, its literally 10 percent of the cost. What has happened to drive-ins and independent theatres is more than wrong. And now due to actions by the studios they are now having to compete against Church’s, Pools and School for their movie going audience.
Going back to the drive-in in Spencer Indiana. The owner spoke fondly of the days when he did not play new studio releases, when he showed alternative and B grade product. He waxed fondly on how well he did back then.
Last weekend I worked at a fan convention which I have ownership in. We had 23,000 attendees and the bulk of the attendees came to see two Youtube superstars. 8 million kids watch these guys play video games, made snide comments and goof for the camera. These two young men had amassed a fan based which behaved like the audience at The Ed Sullivan show just before The Beatles were to appear. The girls screamed and oooh and aaahed over every movement and comments these two made. It was nothing short of amazing. These kids, these fans has reached around the PR machine of celebrity and purposefully defined themselves, they were thumbing their noses at what was continually being spoon fed to them the the media juggernauts of today. They sought out and defined their own stars
It also provided the answer to what I saw in Spencer.
The simple truth is that the Millenials , those born between 1980 and 2000 and the Generation Z , born after 2000 base of consumers have for the most part abandoned the hype and bravado of Hollywood. They are defining themselves and have steadfastly refused to be sucked in the Kardashian spewing vortex that is the Hollywood machine. They are defining themselves and regrouping in specific patterns that are far outside the traditional movie marketing model. They binge watch Netflix, they are more than passionate for innovation and have not problem abandoning cultural icons like Hollywood studios.
Please do not get me wrong. They like movies, they adore movies…..they just are going to define their consumption by their own rules.
A smart drive-in operator would begin thinking on how to take the drive-in to the audience instead of waiting for the audience to show up. It is time to engage this generation and meet their movie going needs. Look at offering alternative content in alternative venues.
Movies are not going away, but Hollywood my friends for the emerging generation of consumers is no longer driving the bus.