Will Home Theater and VOD Kill the Movie Theater?

movie popcornHome Theater Blog (among other sites lately) makes a compelling case when you read over their 12 most egregious annoyances of “going to the movies.” Some of them include: babies crying, cellphones ringing, people talking and getting up, long previews, high ticket prices, etc. No doubt we have all experienced this; but the truth is, only a few of these problems occur at each sitting. Liken it to going out to dinner to a nice restaurant… you would never expect to get the following all on the same visit: a quiet table in a prime location, an exceptional waiter, generous food portions, etc. So, why are people so harsh about movie theaters? For better or for worse, it’s a communal experience! What did you expect?

Nevertheless, I agree that movie theaters are in trouble in their current state. But what’s really the cause? My guess: The movie theater model as we know it has become outdated. All you have to do is ask yourself: Why were so many people excited to go to the movies, say 10 to 15 years ago, than they are now? Answer: Exceptional and incomparable audio and video. These days, a few thousand dollars of high-quality A/V equipment can bring you a near-similar experience right in your living room.

So what’s the solution?

Many of the sites I frequent criticize and predict the demise of movie theaters in exchange for HDTV, VOD, and simultaneous DVD and theatrical movie releases. Okay, great. But how would you reinvent the movie theater? Here’s what I propose:

Integrate cutting-edge audio and video technology with a dash of high tech frills

  • Add motion/vibrating seats with mini speakers or under-seat subwoofers (temperature controlled seats would be a nice touch, too).
  • TV sets are predicted to have 3D “virtual reality” projections by 2020, where viewers can sit and view the action from any angle, why not bring the technology to movie goers first? And while you’re at it, consider repositioning the seats to make better use of the technology.

Create a new social experience and build separate specialty theaters

  • Adult-friendly: Class it up a bit… if you’re going to pay an arm and a leg to go to the movies, might as well make it a formal event and add liquor to the mix. Moreover, provide after viewing salons for people to discuss the movie they have just seen. Who needs the Internet when you can discuss the movie with real people who have had a shared experience?
  • Kid-friendly: Provide play areas, have toy shops filled with studio licensed products, kid snacks, etc.
  • Teen-friendly: Create a mall-like environment where teens can hang out, play video games, lounge, eat junk food, etc. (They want to do this anyway, why not give them a venue to enjoy themselves and make money?)

Filed in: Industry Buzz

  • http://theaterathome.blogspot.com Mike

    I think what Mr Greenway has in his post is mostly a BS. He is driven by the fact that he sells HT equipment and subconsciously ( or even consciously ) wants the end of movie theaters. I have posted my thoughts on that and am VERY open for a discussion.

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    Mike, I read your post and you touched on something at the end that I wanted to include in this write-up, and that’s the social aspect of how society has become so sheltered and closed in. It seems that people would rather stay at home (most often alone) than go out and be adventurous and experience new things and create new relationships. Technology has a way of making life easier, but it also has a negative affect in the way we communicate and interact with one another, including our families.

    I wish there were more ways for people to combine their real world and “virtual” world experiences on a more regular basis. A good example of this actually working is the meet-up phenomenon, where people with common interests come together to discuss or join in a shared activity. I love this model because it combines technology with personal communication, and most often times, brings people who have only met in the virtual world into a physical plane.

    But back to the topic at hand. Movie theaters, as far as can tell, will never go away because they make for a perfect after dinner or weekend night activity/destination. These days people only have a few options on what they can do in the evening and I can’t see “going to the movies” being taken off the list of things to do.

  • David Walker

    I, for one, love the theater. My wife and I saw several of the blockbusters on the big screen this year – Batman Begins, Star Wars, Mr. and Mrs. Smith – and we wouldn’t trade the experience. However, there are some aspects that I also think need to be cleaned up.

    The theater we attend has alot of thug-types that are mostly there to harass people and hang-out. While I don’t have a problem with socializing, I think – as Alexander pointed out – that theaters can do more to keep these teens occupied, rather than polluting the parking lot and entry way. Also – having 3 kids, going to see movies is hard to do. If a theater offered child-care services (10 to 15 bucks?) where the kids could see one of the latest movies while mom and dad caught the latest R-rated flick, I think a whole new market would open up that owners haven’t even considered. It’s worked magic at places like Sam’s WareHouse and BJ’s warehouse, where kids are kept occupied while mom and dad spend lots of money.

    The bottom line – theaters need to be proactive about how they attract people. Until recently, most theaters have been happy with minor adjustments here and there. It’s time (frankly, past due) for theater owners to make adjustments to make movie-going an “experience” again.

  • Jotham

    I can only go with my own viewing habits. I go to the theater to see an experience that exceeds what I can accomplish in my home theater. So I go for Chronicles of Narnia, Batman Begins types of movie. Occasionally I will go for the feel good romance type of movies but for those, I increasingly wait until release on DVD because they are fundamentally not a huge screen necessary experience.

    I’m with Alex in that the theaters need to offer more. Personally, I think a big screen combined with reasonably priced (key word is reasonable) drinks and pizza would pull me in. If it’s not reasonable, I might as well host it at home.

    Now as far as home theaters bringing more isolation, I call B.S. on that logic. All I can say is speak for yourself. I personally hosted Sex in the City nights at my home theater when it was showing on HBO. Every week I had a minimum of 4 friends and a typical number of 8 friends watching. I believe those weekly showings introduced me to several new people as well as allowing me to get to know my future wife (I’m married to her now). Lots of camaradarie and social interaction both before and after.

    If anything, I have more friendly and fun interaction with friends because of the home theater. Because I share.

    An event that would be a blast in a commercial theater would be weekly showings of some TV shows (along with beer and pizza). What a blast it would be to see Lost in a group of similar addicts. Could have subscription service etc. It would save small theaters that don’t have huge screens, motion simulators,etc. Technical details could be overriden with HD broadcasts and line doublers if necessary.

    Okay, I’m finished rambling :)

  • http://www.alexandergrundner.com Alexander Grundner

    Jotham said: An event that would be a blast in a commercial theater would be weekly showings of some TV shows (along with beer and pizza). What a blast it would be to see Lost in a group of similar addicts. Could have subscription service etc. It would save small theaters that don’t have huge screens, motion simulators,etc. Technical details could be overriden with HD broadcasts and line doublers if necessary.

    Cool idea! I wonder if licensing a TV show would be cheaper than a feature movie? My guess is yes, but would people really go to the theater to watch TV? Hmmmmm. Small theaters should consider leasing the space to groups who want to put together such events. It doesn’t have to be just TV, it can be Flickr photo gatherings or other meet-up functions where A/V is involved.

    As for your TV night get togethers, I’m jealous. It seems these days people don’t venture out to friends houses to hang out or shoot the breeze. Everyone is so busy with work and family.

  • David Walker

    To the point of watching TV on a movie screen – there is MUCH on TV now that is of higher quality than most of the dreck being put out by movie studios. I would relish the idea of seeing Lost or 24 on the BIG screen. What an experience indeed!

  • Jotham

    I have noticed that lately, people feel pretty busy and stressed (myself included). I get the feeling that everyone is hunkering down just trying to hold down their jobs and build a little bit of a cushion. War and rising prices is not helping to say the least.

    The way I was able to get a good thing going for SATC was by setting up a recurrent evite. Giving people lots of warning that Tuesdays were the day to come hang out and enjoy each other’s company. By being consistent on the time and date, people were able to have something to look forward to. Rarely did anyone come all the time but a 50% showing was still a good group. I found that a TV show was the consistent draw, movies just aren’t as interactive though they are good for one time events.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had a 100″ screen with a nice surround system as well and plenty of couches. But in the end, it’s always about the company, not the technology. Good people + margaritas is always a good time.

  • http://www.myspace.com/mylkii mylkii

    I think people will always go to the theatre. It’s about getting out of the house and also enjoying the reactions of everyone in the theatre. Home theatre is ok and so is VOD but nothing compares to a very large screen, surround sound, hot dogs and theatre popcorn. Sure it costs but I’m finding myself going to matinees at $6 a pop.

  • LtLeary

    I think Alexander is on-point.

    I have really curtailed my movie house experience mainly because I now CAN. The advent of DVD, PPV, Home Theatre now allow me to not put up with the crying kids, inconsiderate parents, and high prices for the opportunity to be annoyed.

    Bring on the adult friendly theatres, add “day care” facilities to others, and add the “new techology” while you are at it.

    Would doing the above get me out of the house? You bet! Now if they would just do the same for restaurants I could have an evening of pleasure instead of the shrill noise of the spoiled kid piercing the ear drum, dodging the baby carriage, or the unruly child running underfoot.