Fidelity and the Theater
by David Hartwell
September 5, 2006
In my daily ramblings of movie related news and articles, I stumbled upon an interesting piece from USAToday.com that looks at the struggling theater market and the possible causes of this struggle. These causes include, but are not limited to, the rise in popularity of "low-fidelity" outlets of entertainment such as iPods and cell phones as well as the inconvenience (in terms of price and proximity) of the "high-fidelity" outlets, such as major concerts, and more importantly to us at FirstShowing.net, movie theaters.
The first task here, which the article from USA Today does pretty well, is to briefly define what we mean when we use the "low/high fidelity" phrases. Kevin Maney writes, "Techies describe fidelity as the total experience of something. Seeing a movie in a packed theater, with its wide screen and the social aspect of a crowd, is a higher-fidelity experience than watching a movie on a home system. Seeing a movie at home is, in turn, a greater-fidelity experience than viewing a movie on a cellphone." So there it is, the all-encompassing atmosphere of our daily lives, in particular, going to the movies. For the staff at FirstShowing.net, our goal right at the outset of our site was to make the movie going experience as fun and exciting as it can possibly be.
The big problem, according to the article is this: "The fidelity [of home theaters] is good enough compared with traditional movie theaters, and the convenience so much greater, that people are increasingly choosing to watch at home." As a result of the rise in relatively affordable and generally high-grade home theater systems, as well as the availability and economically undemanding ease of DVD purchases, the theater industry is in something of a pickle about what to do in order to generate a rise in revenue. So it's no wonder that more and more often we see movies with a "3-D" or "Imax" logo stamped next to the title. These are little things that may help increase interest, but in my personal opinion (and I assume I'm not entirely alone here), this probably won't help as much as theater owners hope.
Perhaps newer technology isn't always the way to go. In the case of the seemingly dwindling theater attendance, there is a lot more that can be done to generate the level of fidelity that is impossible to get when sitting on a recliner in front of a 52-inch flat panel screen. I like to think that FirstShowing.net is on the brink of what may help the industry, at least when it comes to opening nights. A simple fact remains: that as far as 12:01 A.M. premiers go, you only get one chance to experience it. Now these kind of events are usually reserved for the big budget summer popcorn-flicks like Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean, but there is more that can be done to make these movies more enjoyable; and 3-D polarized glasses are not what I'm talking about.
This is where I get into the true heart of FirstShowing.net. When you come to one of our organized "First Showings," you definitely get more than you would expect. For the previously described "big budget popcorn-flicks," we like to go all out. This includes camping for at least 24 hours to get the "good seats" as well as generate some major hype in the line of eager moviegoers. In the theater, we like to "connect Hollywood with its audience" (hence our slogan) by asking trivia, doing costume contests, and fun games like "talk like a pirate" or "give the best Keanu Reeves impression." These little things before the movie generally include prizes like movie posters or passes, but most importantly, bring out the hype that is needed to make a genuinely cool movie successful.
In the same USAToday.com article, movies are not the only medium critiqued. Videoconferencing, sports and music get a good assessment, too. As far as the music industry goes, the so-called "low fidelity experience" rise in song downloads has hurt the industry in every area except one: concerts. Both ticket sales and prices are up a considerable amount from the previous year. The article had this to say:
"-The fidelity of a megaconcert or superbly honed performance can't be beat by anything- And it's not just the show on stage, but also what happens in the building. 'With a concert, the performers can also respond to the audience's energy, and there is the possibility of an unexpected event,' says Larry Downes, author of The Strategy Machine. 'So the high transaction costs of going to a concert are offset not only by the fidelity, but also by the social experience.'"
At this point, you may be wondering how huge concerts can relate to the world of theater, and rightly so, because we know that the actors on the screen can't react to and play off of an audiences energy during the showing. However, the movie can be whatever you want to make it. For us this includes all the events described above and then some. A movie won't change based on how much the audience laughs or how excited people get about a certain action sequence, but an individual's enjoyment of the movie can be greatly affected by the camaraderie and response from friends. This is something that can't be imitated on the same level when done in a home theater system. FirstShowing.net's goal is and always has been to make going to the movies fun and awe-inspiring event again - a unique, one-of-a-kind experience.
Now, it is not necessarily a concern of the movie industry or us that home theaters will cause the cinemas to ever cease to exist, but they can have a negative impact on income. As Norman White, the manager of our favorite local theater once told us: "Every household has a kitchen, but people will still go out to restaurants because you can't stay inside everyday."
This doesn't mean to throw out your video iPods (though I'll take yours if you feel the calling) or to stop buying DVDs. These things are great, and they are doing things for entertainment that never could have been dreamt of even ten years ago. But if you're watching a DVD of Spider-Man or an illegally downloaded copy of Crank, and wonder if it gets any better, it does. So come out to the movies and if you happen to come to a FirstShowing.net event, even better, but help make the movies as magical as they once were and still should be.
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