What To Do About Movie Theaters... The Latest
by Alex Billington
March 7, 2007
The on-going debate about how to improve the experience at movie theaters is still being discussed, as theater chains are slow to improve, if at all. A few important reconsiderations have arisen recently, and I thought I'd revisit this subject a bit more, since it's something we strongly support at FirstShowing.net. I'll actually be heading out to ShoWest next week, the theater and film industry's annual convention where all the theater owners and studios gather. I'm not there to make a speech yet (maybe that's next year), but I am arranging some meetings to further discuss plans and ideas that we have in mind in order to begin to improve the entire experience.
In the meantime, one of the aspects that has been brought up recently is what else can be done in movie theaters and at movie theaters to continue to improve. In addition, a new list of ideas of how to "bring the magic back" recently appeared on another site.
Getting That Movie Magic Back
A new article showed up at BillDamon.com recently, titled "How to get a little of that movie magic back", which he wrote after reading an interesting LA Times piece. He goes down a whole bunch of bullet points of how to improve, and gets it right with a few, wrong with some others, and also misses some important ones. I'll only just mention a few that stuck out.
3D - Are you kidding me? (I've been known to dislike 3D) This isn't going to help at all. It's a terrible gimmick mostly used for profits that fortunately even Pixar has realized just isn't there yet.
Volume - He actually mentions to turn it down during the trailers. I don't know where you see your movies, but most of the time the sound is way too quiet everywhere I go. I've been noticing an increasing number of poor projection and audio issues that could simply be fixed if they spent some extra time tweaking before the movie begins or repairing and maintaining the system.
Commercials vs Pre-Show - He mentions earlier that he likes the pre-show entertainment, but then goes on to say he hates that the movie starts "late" because of more commercials. Don't these two contradict themselves? If theaters want to try and make mountains of money from endless ads, then they need to figure out how to run it all beforehand, and even then I hate watching 20 minutes of commercials. I'd rather just watch 20 minutes of trailers, because then it'll excite people to continue to return to see more movies. That's a simple concept!
Actors / Actresses - I'm not sure why he chose to list "more" and "less" lists based on actors and actresses, but he did. Not that people can't have their opinion on who sucks and who is great, but that's not going to improve the movie theater experience. Sometimes a bad actor can be great, and sometimes a great actor can be terrible. I would rather be able to see a movie in a high quality theater with a great experience and determine that for myself.
The Overall Experience - The one area I think he really missed is the overall experience. It's looking at what the theater is for - it's a venue to see movies and experience them. He's really missing the idea that there's more you deserve for your ticket price and there's more that all the theaters are missing that should be part of the experience. Popcorn and reserved seats and 3D and commercials will always be there, but it's what is not there that is most important.
On Demand Film Quality Control
This is a very interesting subject, but I think it's become increasingly important with the overabundance of sheer crap that gets put out in theaters these days. Everyone would go more often if there were actual good movies to go see! Techdirt had an introduction to an article on Wired about the upgrade to digital systems that allow for more on-demand control. This means they can kick out films that aren't making money in less time and add more screens of films that are selling out in much less time (than it takes to order new 35mm prints).
This will probably be the hardest to overcome, because so much crap like Stomp the Yard, Epic Movie, and Norbit gets released and yet still makes lots of money. It would be easier if they didn't make any money and were gone by the week's end. The first step is getting people to the theater, because even if it's the Oscar winning The Departed, if you boot some crappy movie and put in extra screens of that, if you don't have the people coming to the theater those won't fill either. This is much more of a second step in the equation to improve the overall quality of films and then drive people to the theater more often because higher quality films are showing.
Gaming in Theaters
It's rare that I venture too far out of the movie realm, but I had to take note of the recent buzz about video gaming inside of movie theaters. Ever since I heard my theater manager friend say "we hooked up the Xbox 360 to the screen," I've realized that this is an ingenious idea. The movie theater is a great place to be as is, and most importantly, lots more than just seeing a movie can happen at them. The two recent articles to mention on this idea are from Techdirt and Engadget.
Again, this is almost an additional step that will help improve the experience overall, but won't solve the inherent problem at hand. I believe the most successful theaters in the end are going to be the ones that really make the experience a complete package, like the Arclight in Hollywood or the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. From there they would provide in-theater gaming opportunities, better on-demand turn around and customer-based feedback on what to and what not to show, and more community-involved events and activities that made the theater more enjoyable and much more worth the (high) ticket price. There is still quite a distance to go, but at least some improvements are happening slowly.