As movie ticket prices continue to rise, audiences continue to shrink — so much so that movie attendance in 2011 hit a 16-year low. The new figures see the continuation of a five-year trend in which the number of tickets sold has dropped significantly, now down hundreds of millions of tickets in just two years.
While industry analysts cite increasing ticket prices, bad movies and the advancement of technology as factors, there seems to be an underlying problem causing these ailments: Giant cinemaplexes generally don’t care about the theater experience anymore; this not only means higher prices for increasingly disappointing films, but inflated snack prices, lazy cinema projection and practically zero effort to police movie disrupters.
When you’re watching the latest $13 post-processed 3D blockbuster, eating your $10 jumbo, refillable bucket of popcorn. sitting next to the person that doesn’t realize their bright phone screen actually does illuminate a darkened theater, it’s easy to see why ticket sales have dropped off so substantially.
So now what? It seems unlikely that Hollywood will steer away from tired sequels and never-should-have-been-made remakes — the money, though not as much, is still quick and easy — the fate of the movie theater experience rests in the hands of the theaters themselves.
Take our own Alamo Drafthouse, for example (don’t worry, I won’t wax poetic too much over everyone’s favorite movie theater). From the beginning they shunned a dollars-over-people philosophy, embracing a more customer-centric approach. With upgraded, sometimes gourmet, theater eats, diverse libations, careful attention to projection, a zero-tolerance texting/talking policy and a robust film selection ranging from art-house to summer blockbuster, it’s no surprise the local cinema chain has done so well.
The Cinemarks, AMCs and Regals will have to adapt to survive. There are just too many low cost alternatives to the highly overpriced movie experience. Consider this: The cost of one movie ticket is about the same as the cost of one month of Netflix’s online streaming service, a service where users can stream thousands of movies instantly, directly from the comfort of a couch.
For deeper insight into the problem, critic Roger Ebert tells us why movie theater revenue is dropping.
In the past, consumers went to the movies because it was an affordable, enjoyable experience: a 90-minute escape from the day-to-day grind with reasonably-priced junk food in a distraction-free zone. No talking, and certainly no tweeting.
The movie theater experience is a cherished American tradition, but unless the multiplex companies address the many problems facing their struggling industry, it may be one that disappears among the latest wave of technology. Well, maybe not. There’s always the Drafthouse.