MediaPost

Movie Theaters are the Walking Dead

Published on October 15th, 2013

Is it any surprise that almost 50% of adults (according to Mintel 2012), now say they would prefer to watch movies at home? Aside from the weightlessness feeling many may have had from seeing “Gravity,” the experience of going to the movies is probably the exact opposite of how we want to be entertained.

We want our entertainment on our terms. We love a remote control. Our TV, computer or phone, they’re all controlled by us. Anything we consume, we control where, when and how.

It’s an easy $100 for a family of four to go to a movie when you factor in transportation and snacks. But is it worth it? If you consider having your feet stuck to the floor by crushed candy, being surrounded by people you don’t know, some of whom are texting and others who are talking loudly about a recent “procedure” or some other topic that should not be publicly shared, if that’s your idea of fun, then have at it.

The movie theater is in an environment in which we are forced to watch commercials we don’t care about at top volume and for a duration that adds nearly an hour onto the actual entertainment time. There is no pause button if we have to get up.

 Two of Hollywood’s kings have recently made dire projections for the industry. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas both agree that huge changes are coming for the movie industry. The word they used was “implosion.”  In light of another summer of massive flops, something has got to give to lure people back to theaters. Original stories flopped. What saved the industry were sequels and adaptations, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported last month that the summer of 2013 box-office revenue was up more than 10% from last summer.

Spielberg suggested that variable pricing by movie might be in order, in which dates, times, and locations factor into what a ticket costs. Lucas suggested that theatrical movie releases adopt a model closer to that of Broadway: Fewer releases that stay in theaters longer with pricier tickets.

Both ideas are interesting, but will they get Americans out of their home theaters?

Technology has made home a much more enjoyable place to watch movies. HDTV penetration has increased 241% in the last five years. Of those who have a big-screen HDTV, 95% have some kind of subscription service to stream movies. And, with some theater-to-video release dates happening in under 60 days, many people opt for just putting that blockbuster in the queue and staying on the couch.

Here are some ways to get consumers to leave their home theaters for the movie theaters:

1. Make it special. Going to the movies is a date. It’s a special occasion. Make it feel that way again. If you find yourself in Austin, check out the Draft House. Their goal is to be a cultural center for the community. They serve local beer and freshly prepared food.

2. Recommendation engines. Will I like it? All of the video-streaming options have it, so why shouldn’t theaters have it? What is the probability that I’ll like a movie?  Consumers already go online to check times so why not ask a few questions to see if this is a movie that matches their tastes and helps them choose wisely? Take a page from Netflix’s book, and offer up recommendations based on past movie-ticket purchases. After all, if I’m spending $100 or more to take three other people to the movies, I’d like to know my chances of enjoying it. Movie-critic reviews don’t count.  Every movie can find someone who says it is “the must see of the year.” I trust algorithms.

3. Shorter films. HBO and Showtime have always made good content. Next came cable channels and shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” on basic cable. Now we have digital properties like Hulu getting into the creation business. Ultimately, it is about great story telling. Nobody is better suited than Hollywood to do that.  We have a real hunger for good content. What we don’t have is time.  Shorter and better films may pull us in more.

A revolution is coming to the movie business. The question is a revolution with what kind of outcome? Movies have the power to define generations and influence pop culture. To regain that status, big changes need to happen to avoid an “implosion” as the Hollywood greats suggest.

Without change, we’ll look to any other screen besides the silver one for our entertainment.

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Marcus Fischer Chief Executive Officer
tower