Movie Exhibitors Are Missing The Point

Movie exhibition is a peculiar thing when it comes to responsibility for advertising to drive business. In most other verticals, the responsibility for driving consumer traffic is placed on the store, outlet or platform where the product can be consumed.  Brands do their own bit of communication and advertising, but there is a wholly separate set of advertising to draw people into the stores or experiences – all predicated on why one is a better experience than the other. With the movie industry, for the most part, the responsibility is placed entirely on the brands (studios) to drive traffic to the “stores” (Movie Cinemas). So, any exhibitor, or theater chain, is missing the point when lamenting diminishing business – they need to start working on pushing the benefits of movie-going.

It actually amazes me that exhibitors are coming off as bitter stepchildren when they complain about the studios and their ever-expanding distribution platforms. A piece in MediaPost’s TV Blog has the headline that TV Everywhere threatens movie theaters. I don’t see how this can be – especially if exhibitors were focusing on what separates the movie-going experience from all others. For far too long, they have rested on their laurels as being the great big screen experience and only had to look to book the biggest films so that people would come to their location rather than a competitor’s. It’s time that they either band together or act individually to go hard-core in communicating that nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.

The exhibition industry has allowed the consumer electronics industry to trump them on experience.  They have sat idly by while the world started to be more comfortable about doing things on their own or in smaller groups.  There is no doubt that technology has enabled great experiences at home, but nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.

Broadway, and the live theater business in general, have seen huge declines over the decades as prices continue to go up.  Somehow they still sell seats as producers and theatre companies push the benefits of seeing live theatre with a large group of people. The economy is bad and we -as a society – don’t go to as many movies as we used to, but I would be more inclined to spend the money on a film where I felt I could receive benefit from the big screen and the communal experience. Though it ended up costing me $71 for three adults and two kids to see a screening of THE LORAX in 3D at Arclight for a show before noon, I was excited because nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.

Perhaps it was laziness that allowed exhibitors to try to squeeze more screens into smaller spaces a few decades ago.  As that happened at roughly the same time as home entertainment came into play, perhaps it just helped the attendance slide that still continues. Though many exhibitors have started to build the larger theatres back up and offer every amenity they can think of to make it feel more like home (lazy boy chairs, full food delivered to you, sofas, etc.) they are still missing the main differentiator between the home and the cinema – the fact that nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.

There is also an emphasis on what kind of movies are being released and how people will only see big action movies in cinemas and then wait for the smaller-scale films to come out on video or cable. There is still an invigorating experience by watching any type of film with a crowd of people – unless the film really sucks… In all cases, even with the best system at home (or on your mobile device) it just isn’t the same with a handful of people because nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.
A HUGE generation of people exists – perhaps a generation plus a half – who have never experienced the amazing energy of waiting in line for a sold out show with lines around the block and every seat taken.  The last time I remember that happening was the original JURASSIC PARK, but my memories of STAR WARS and others like that are burned indelibly in my brain. Even with how well AVATAR did, there were some semblances of that, but it wasn’t the same with the advent of online ticket purchases and pre-selected seats.  It was special, had full houses and, hopefully, it taught some of the younger generation that nothing compares to the communal experience of movie-going.

In the end, I think it’s just silly to thing that exhibitors feel that mobile TV and video experiences are their competition. IMAX is doing the smart thing and marketing the difference between IMAX display and regular theater screens, but that’s effectively like splitting hairs between two very similar mediums.  If exhibitors can’t even figure out a way to market their experiences against home and mobile entertainment, that’s a shame.  If they aren’t doing it from pure laziness because they have been able to rely on studios for so long, that’s just stupidity.  When reading the following quote, it just points directly to the problem:

“The studios have to make a decision,” said Greg Marcus, CEO of the country’s  sixth-largest theater chain. “Do they want a movie theater business? And if they  want it — (and) I think they do, it’s a $10 billion piece of the pie — we have to be able earn a return on our investment … we’re not cleaning up here …

“If they want to move customers from our channel to another channel, they’re  going to cause problems and at some point they’ll cause an irreparable  problem.”

“It’s getting too easy for the customer to say, ‘You know what, I’ll catch  that on video,’” he added.

It’s the exhibitors who have to make a decision. Like a kids-club who has lost the cool kid to another group of kids or a girlfriend, they’ve got to work to make themselves cool or sexy again.  It starts with making a difference in the perception.  People will continue to stream away unless you give them a reason not to and the reason that exhibitors should be shouting out and hen supporting through the actual experience they provide is that “There is nothing that compares to the magic found in communal movie-going.”

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