The ramblings of a giant squid…

Cinemas are dead, but they haven’t fallen over.

Current Events, Entertainment, Friends-Romans-Countrymen

I saw this news article (click) today.  It makes some interesting points about declining attendance at cinemas, and suggests that if young people can’t text during a show, they won’t go.  In response, a large American chain is going to stop harping on “turn off your phone”.

What that tells me is that the traditional concept of cinema has actually died, but not quite fallen over.

It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to understand that if you’re watching a film (or a live play, for that matter, in a theatre), it is phenomenally distracting to have some ass with a bright light shining beside you or in front of you.  Forgetting, for the moment, that there are assholes who actually make and take calls at these venues, the texting is, by itself, a major detriment to the enjoyment of the show for anyone else who isn’t also engaged in texting.

It may well be true that young people aren’t flocking to cinemas because of the phone restriction.  I have no doubt that having to have the phone out of sight for two hours may could be traumatizing for a teen or a twenty-something, especially if there’s no safe space.

However, I would suggest that the real reason people aren’t going to cinemas is three-fold:

  • It costs a lot of money – money that young people may not have – for a viewing experience that can be wrecked by a single jackass texting or taking/making calls in the movie.  Even if the ushers throw the cretin out, it’s annoyed everyone and they’ve paid a stupid amount of money for the privilege.
  • It costs a lot of money – money that young people may not have – and doesn’t offer much value for that money.  Big screen TVs are relatively cheap and easy to find.  In a private residence you can sit in comfort, have a beer at beer-store prices instead of stadium prices, pause the feature to use the restroom to recycle said beer, have some popcorn for almost free, and not have to worry about some unknown scumbag ruining the movie.
  • It costs a lot of money – money that young people may not have – and most of what comes out of Hollywood is shit, and that’s being unfairly nasty to all the feces in the world.  To get people in cinemas, there has to be a reason to go.  That means good quality, epic films that are worthy of the expense and effort to go see on the huge screen.  Anyone can watch Yet Another Silly Remake or How Are They Keeping This Franchise Going XVIII at home on the widescreen TV via Netflix, but the cinema is for epic movies like The Ten Commandments, or the original Star Wars.

Traditional cinema no longer has a realistic business model, and easing up on using phones in cinemas will not save them.  In fact, it’s more likely to make things worse as it will start alienating the people who still go to cinemas.

When I was in my 20’s (the 1980’s), I’d go to a movie about twice a week, on average.  By the 90’s, it was maybe 2-3 times a month.  Now it’s maybe 2-3 times a year.  Why?  I have the money, but it’s not worth it.  Me + Squidette + snacks + (sometimes) parking = $40-$50.  Same movie on iTunes is typically $20, and I can watch it as many times as I want on my giant TV.  This means that unless there is a truly earth-shattering reason, I’m skipping the cinema.  For a person with kids it is even more expensive to go out.  It’s just not worth it except for really awesome movies.

So, cinemas of the world: if you want to fill the seats, the answer isn’t “allow texting”… it’s “stop screening bullshit and lower your prices.”  If you can’t do that, you will go the way of the buggy-whip salesman.

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  • Keeper of Maps on 2016-04-15

    I, too, used to go to movies more frequently than I do now. In fact, the most recent movie I watched in a cinema was the latest Star Wars, which I saw in the full motion seats at Lansdowne. The movie before that that I watched in a cinema? Unknown. One of the Hobbit movies, maybe?

    The reserved seating VIP cinemas that Cineplex is rolling out are attractive. I like the idea of knowing that I can pick the seat I want in advance without having the stand in a line for hours on end, and not have to worry about whether the showing will sell out.

    A former co-worker of mine’s father owned a movie theatre. The co-worker told me that basically the cinemas commit to a certain amount of ticket revenues for a movie. Until they hit this number, the only money they’re making is off the concessions, hence the ludicrous markup on popcorn and soft drinks.

    • squid on 2016-04-15

      You’re right about that… the cinemas get screwed by the movie industry itself, which causes the high prices on things like concesssions and ticket prices, which causes people to rethink going to the cinema, which results in difficulty for the cinema and low revenues for the movie industry, which cycles right back to the beginning of this list.

      It’s a negative-feedback loop, and those always end in doom.

      To save cinemas, what needs to happen is that the cinema experience has to be made to be worth the money. The VIP experience is working in that direction, but even then, people aren’t going to pay to watch a crappy movie, and they’re not going to pay VIP for an army of kids.

      The last movie I saw was at Lansdowne as well… I think it was also Star Wars. Prior to that, I believe it was something our nerd group went to… wow, close to a year ago?

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