EDITORIALS

Mark Cuban and Landmark Trying Again to Reshape the Theatrical Experience

by
May 8, 2007
Source: Variety

Landmark TheatresMark Cuban, a name you should be familiar with in the movie industry, is one of the two who bought the Landmark Theatres chain in 2003 and rebooted the theater chain. Landmark is the biggest independent art house movie theater chain in the US, with locations in around 24 markets, and is really reshaping the independent and mainstream cinema world with Cuban's radical ideas. Just a few weeks ago we wrote up a bit of news on a new theater they're building in Los Angeles to compete with the other "big ones" there and shake up that market. Now he's got another new idea on his hands and spoke more about how they're going to redefine the theatrical experience with a few more theaters - one opening in Baltimore and one in Denver.

In the article from Variety, Cuban discusses plans for a new theater that's focused on adults and establishing a kind of experience at the location that adults will enjoy. This means providing a lounge-like environment instead of an arcade, and focusing more on the "adult" aspect, which is whatever his mind has dreamt up that means an experience adults can enjoy. Here's just one part of that so far, it's a new look at the concessions:

"In our new Denver theater, we completely removed the concession stands," says Cuban. "The original design had the traditional concession stand taking up prime real estate and dominating the look and feel of the theater. We decided that we would rather use that space for amenities, retail sales (movies, books, indie cinema related items), and 'interstitial' type entertainment that complements our 'datenight for grownups' concept in a lounge-like environment. Basically it became a place where you could go on a date, have a drink, food and be entertained before and after seeing a movie."

He seems to have some good ideas on his mind, or at least ideas that the other theater chains ignorantly overlook when considering why (in some years) they don't make money or why the market has been steadily declining over the last few years. Whereas the major theater chains think the way to fix losses is throw in as many other methods of making money (e.g. pre-show advertising, in-theater advertising, etc), Cuban has gone the other route and is thinking of ideas of how to make the experience actually worth a possibly higher ticket price. Real corporations like Apple or Microsoft or Google think this way and have boomed with success, so how come the theater industry is resistent to taking the routes of actually improving and instead thinking of new ways to make money on their old and still failed system.

My favorite part has got to be Cuban's considerations on technology being the attraction for adults and getting people (even those who normally never go) back out to the movie theaters.

The exec sees technology -- from the theaters themselves to the lobbies -- as being a key factor in drawing audiences away from their homevideo centers.

Perks for indie film fans at the new cinemas will include LCD displays with showtimes and info and other high-tech twists.

I'm all for technology and advancing and revolutionizing, and I think this will be one of those subconcious attractions that will make these theaters stand out. When you see the smooth, sleek futuristic look and LCD TVs in airports or restaurants or anywhere you go, you know that place is high class and importantly - you know you're getting your money's worth out of it. That will be the key for movie theaters, just one aspect of it, that you won't think about conciously when you go, but you'll realize in the back of your mind.

Another area he is focusing on in terms of the experience is the seating and atmosphere.

Landmark Theatres
A conceptual design image of the bar/lounge area from the new flagship Landmark being built in LA.

"We are going to experiment with all kinds of seating plans," Cuban says. "From sofas at the new Landmark in the Westside Pavilion, where we will literally try to make it more like a living room experience than a theater."

He also says some theaters will have "VIP lounge chairs" and "potentially even beanbags."

However, as I'll always say when we look at new ideas like this, they always seem to miss the point! As ScreenRant pointed out in a response to the Variety article, what about ushers and preventing people from using cell phones or talking during the movie. Or what about other areas he hasn't mentioned. But before we go on and on about those, I'm going to leave it at this and hope that he does have the next phase in the theater revolution on his hands. As with the Landmark being built in LA, I'm very interested in checking it out and will certainly report back on how everything is and if it really is a step up and a step in the right direction.

For more on the new theater plans and more from Mark Cuban about the theater industry and Hollywood, I suggest reading the Variety article.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a follow-up article from Barry on the "Ideal Movie Theater."

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  • Donald
    I would hardly call this "a new idea". The Magnolia, part of Landmark Theaters, has a full bar and lounging area that, once you purchase your drinks, you can take them into the movie theater with you. In addition, the theater focuses on independent artist oriented films. This has been around for roughly 4 years when Landmark took over operations. Mr. Cuban is a co-owner of Landmark Theaters but not a founder and did not start-up Landmark. From the Landmark Theater website, "After the company's purchase by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban in 2003..." Mr. Billington needs to do more research for his articles. Or at least figure out this new thing called the internet.
  • elle
    The Alamo Drafthouse Theatres in Austin, TX serve delicious food and premium beer/wines during the movies. They have all sorts of fun events which draw people to their theatres (www.drafthouse.com). What I hate about traditional theatres (besides their hollywood type of movies as opposed to documentaries or art house films) is the cold atmosphere, the horrible corn syrupy candy and pre-made popcorn with some kind of toxic grease they call "butter." The Drafthouse serves freshly popped corn with real butter on it. The food is delicious. The Dobie Theatres, Austin arthouse theatres, are Landmark Theatres, which have unique screening rooms, almost like someone's living room. It's a fun place to go (they also serve real butter on their popcorn). I really liked the experience of the Angelika theatres in NYC. They have tables in the waiting area where you can eat their sandwiches or great desserts. They don't have the typical horrible candies and soft drinks that the typical theatres sell. I think Cuban may be onto something, especially if he checks out theatres like the Angelika or the Alamo Drafthouses. I'd like to start franchises of the Drafthouses all over the country. They will catch on like wildfire. The films they show prior to each movie are old shorts and foreign films that somehow have the same theme as the main movie. It's so much fun to get there early and watch these shorts. They don't bore us out of our minds with those awful 20 minute commercials that we're forced to see at typical theatres-showing Coke commercials and advertising television shows. Ugh! We've made it a point NOT to get to the theatre until just before showtime so as to avoid those endless commercials.
  • Donald, I don't think the point here is that he doesn't already have something similar to this implemented in a few of his other Landmark theatres, but but he's yet again trying something new and trying to change and redevelop the theatre market. If you look at his ideas and when it comes down to it, if you were to walk in and directly compare these new theatres to the Magnolia that you're talking about, I'm sure these would be a step up and hopefully a step in the right direction to vastly improving the theatrical experience. Elle, both those two you mentioned, the Alamo Drafthouse and Angelika are certainly ones I'm fond of and consider when looking at the most succesful and best theatrical experiences around. I'm sure Cuban considers them too, but probably as competitors and how he can beat out what they provide... Those are some great points and both of those theatres are great models that I wish all theatre chains (not just Mark Cuban and Landmark) would look at and apply to their own strategies themselves.
  • sam
    popcorn, soda, candy (and coffee) period ESPECIALLY if you're showing art house fare all the other stuff just gets in the way landmark sunshine has tiny screens which make it miserable to visit unless you HAVE to they also don't take moviecash or hollywood movie money - another downside. as for an authentic experience, last time i went to landmark they don't even have hard tickets, just a cash register tape you use for admission, lame. cuban is all about doing things "different" but not always well. and come on, if you really feel like an LCD screen in a restaurant makes it "high class", you're a bigger sucker then cuban is hoping for.
  • Tom
    Landmark's Magnolia here in Dallas leaves a lot to be desired. I saw "After the Wedding" there this afternoon- great movie, miserable theater. The pitch of the stadium seat step up is inadequate, the legroom is too small, and the seats are too low to the ground for 6' 3" me. The springs in the seat I sat in were squeaky, but it was the one seat in the place with decent leg room due to the wheelchair area in the aisle below. The Raisinettes were $3.75, $1.00 more than they are at Cinemark. It was well staffed, possible more staff than customers for the early shows today. I try to avoid the Magnolia whenever possible- the two Angelikas here are great theaters. I hope Mark is not replicating the Magnolia anywhere else, I do think he's a good businessman and will learn from his/predecessor's mistakes.
  • Andrew
    In Australia we have somethign called 'Gold Class' cinemas. The tickets cost considerably more than 'ordinary' cinema tickets but the experience is awesome. Reclining lounge chairs, much like business class airline seats, and full meals pre-ordered and served specifically at the time you advise by a uniformed waiter is just the start. You can purchase alcohol from a full bar, and relax before and after the show in a lounge environment. http://www.greaterunion.com.au/goldclass/
  • Jud
    Arclight Cinemas (home of the Cinerama Dome) here in Hollywood are along this same line, and is my favorite theater. They have a full restaurant where they put your movie time on a card on the table to make sure the wait staff gets your order in a timely basis, a full bar upstairs complete with lounge area, special 21+ screenings where you can bring your 21+ drinks into the theater with you, reserved seating so you don't have to scramble for a decent seat or wait an hour ahead of time, and so forth. It has a slightly higher ticket price than other theaters, but it tends to cut down on the obnoxious kiddies and (for some reason) in the middle of the movie cell phone conversations. Actually, I almost *never* hear a cell phone ring in the middle of a show there and if it does, the person rushes to shut it off and actually seems embarrassed that they forgot to turn the ringer off. Between all this and the top of the line sound & projection systems, I almost never go to another movie theater.
  • Jud, I think I speak for Alex when I say the Arclight is our favorite theater in the world right now. I like to call it a modern movie palace because the quality is obscenely high for the price you pay and you get treated how you should be: Like a customer. I absolutely adore that place if for no other reason than you can actually share an armrest with someone. Seeing Stranger Than Fiction in the Cinerama Dome and Bug during AFI in a regular theater brought two distinctly different, yet wonderful experiences. It's almost worth me visiting LA to see family just to catch a flick there.
  • Steve
    Arclight rocks! Well worth the extra money. One of my favorite aspects is that you can go in and have a drink or food in the lounge without actually going to see a movie. So, if you want to meet a group of people there, it's perfect; even if some of them don't want to stay for the movie.
  • Yea, Dave's right, I love Arclight, too... great place, but I'm still not sold. I don't know, I think there's more that could be done. It's like, mesh what the Arclight's got right, then mesh some of Mark Cuban's ideas, then mesh some of our ideas, then mesh some of what the Alamo Drafthouse does right and you have a dream theater... Now that no one will do this, someone like us has to do it! Let's start our own theater, huzzah!
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  • Mez
    This is what the Theatre in Dallas Texas looks like. http://lovesac.typepad.com/ Gotta admit it's a pretty sick way to watch a movie... Just a room of lovesac's, epic... http://www.lovesac.com/

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