Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, March 23, 2021

With the appeal of first-release theatrical movies waning — as audiences know the cable and DVD release for the same flick will follow in mere weeks — more cineplexes are using their screens and seats for simulcasting live sports matches, concerts and other big-ticket events as a way to expand both revenue streams and audience access.

Why has this idea, which clearly fills a need and seems like a natural fit for moviehouses’ small-crowd configurations, not caught on? Probably because the words “movie” and “theater” are too-closely wed:

Marketing is the biggest puzzle that operators need to figure out, said Jeffrey B. Logsdon, an entertainment analyst at BMO Capital Markets. Trying to contain costs, most have relied on advertising on their Web sites and in movie listings. Still, most people do not think to seek this kind of content at the movies, he said.

Consumer psychology, Mr. Logsdon says, plays as big a role in the shift as economics. Operators want people to think of theaters as vibrant, busy places. But when weekends account for 70 percent of movie ticket sales, multiplex parking lots spend a lot of time sitting empty.

“At the movies” is the heart of the problem. Nobody considers their town or neighborhood theaters as anything other than a place to catch a movie. Decades of reinforcing this linkage served the movie business well, before box-office declines became the norm in recent years. Now, that extreme tailoring by exhibitors to just one content stream — movies — is the classic situation of putting all the eggs in one basket, and sinking or swimming correspondingly.

It’s not out of the question for theaters to remake themselves into multiple-offering venues. After all, motion picture showings started in old vaudeville theaters that were dominated by live entertainment. Even well after films established themselves in “movie palaces”, they often shared space with other modes of entertainment. A congregation of seating is inherently flexible, and that silver screen can be rigged to show just about anything.

The trick is convincing people that there’s enough of a tradeoff between watching at home, on a smaller but cozier home theater, and sharing a gigantic screen and surround-sound experience with dozens of strangers. The event will go a long way toward selling the experience.

The key is in playing with the definition of “live”. Live simulcasts certainly don’t have the same vibe, but the exclusivity of the situation would still count for something. It certainly needs some marketing finesse — consumers resent an obvious attempt to be suckered into a “live” event when it’s really video. But presented for what it is, with the benefits emphasized, it can be sold.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/23/2008 10:15:24 PM
Category: Business, Movies
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4 Feedbacks »
  1. Interesting. I’ve idly wondered occasionally why so many people still flock to theatres to see movies, when - as you pointed out - you can enjoy the movie just months or weeks later in the comfort of your own home, with your own refreshments, your own family or friends, and for practically free (on a cable channel).

    Wonder if the theatres would be good as lecture halls for local colleges?

    Comment by david — 03/24/2008 @ 02:43:12 AM

  2. I make a weekly trip out to a local theater in order to watch the TV show “Lost”. They also show Heroes, The Office, and 24. They can’t charge for admission, so what happens is that you buy a food voucher in order to reserve a seat. You can walk up to the window and get one for free, but it’s turned out to be so successful that they frequently sell out. It’s been extremely successful.

    Comment by trumwill — 03/24/2008 @ 05:48:25 PM

  3. Theaters have long touted renting themselves out to businesses for offsite meetings, presentations, etc. Yet I’ve never run into anyone who’s actually attended such an outing. Personally, it strikes me as a cheapo second-rate option for corporate meeting space :)

    If those TV parties keep getting popular, look for the networks to find a way to start charging for the experience.

    Comment by CT — 03/26/2008 @ 10:31:43 AM

  4. Yeah, my first thought about hearing about the TV watching was “Can they do that?” Then I reasoned that maybe they could because of commercial revenue and because they’re not charging for admission… but they skip through the commercials. So unless the theater is paying ABC, ABC isn’t making a dime. I can’t imagine that sustaining. Maybe the networks are going to sit back and see if something comes of this trend before opening the cash registers.

    That’d be unusually open-minded and far-sighted of them. Chances are they either don’t know about it, are legally prohibited from doing so for some reason that I don’t know about, or they already are getting paid by the theater. There’s such an opportunity for win/win here that I can’t help but think that the networks don’t know about it and will shut it down or charge excessive rates when they do.

    Comment by trumwill — 03/26/2008 @ 05:35:37 PM

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