Friday, January 20, 2006

Kiss the Movie Theater Goodbye...

Because it's beginning to look a lot like obsolescence.

Steven Soderbergh's new film "Bubble" is being released to DVD and cable TV the same day it hits theaters (January 27) - despite a boycott by some theater chains who are apparently under the impression that they still matter to the entertainment industry. Other films have been simultaneously released before, but this one has the backing of major entertainment capital and, of course, the Soderbergh name.

Theaters now account for only about a quarter of the revenue for most films, with DVD sales accounting for fully half the revenue, and cable and broadcast TV bringing in the other quarter. That revenue slice isn't enough to give theaters the pull with studios that they seem to feel entitled to.

The logic is implacable; people are tired of paying $20 for a movie date - sans refreshments - when the same $20 gets them a DVD they can watch at home - on their schedule, sitting on their comfy coach instead of a stained and sprung airplane seat, and with cheap and tasty treats instead of $7 garbage popcorn and $3 sodas. The theaters simply do not deliver value for the dollar any more. True afficionados already get their video streams through the Internet or via services like

I don't anticipate theaters disappearing altogether. There is value in the social environment and in the "getting out of the house" phenomenon, especially for couples with children. Instead, they will go upscale, and going out to a movie will be an Event for most couples or families. There will be fewer theaters in each cities, and the horrid multiplex model will vanish in favor of enormous screens and a truly immersive experience - IMAX gone mainstream.


flint cordoroy said...

I see a reverse of this trend happening. The idea of releasing a "blockbuster" will fade. Theatres will run older movies more often, the advent of the internet and computers making it easier for fans to "book" old movies to be shown at specific theatres at specific times. Sort of like the way the rock band Marillion continues operating today.

Illegal movie file trading will become as easy as mp3 file trading was/is. The social experience and the nostalgia experience will dominate the draw of movies.

The intersection of big budget blockbusters and CGI means movies today are essentially cartoons, and will become more cartoonish. Only with hyperstylized violence and pornography. People will get sick of watching cartoons.

The lure of nostalgia may reach so far back that black and whites from the 30s and 40s will become popular in theatres again. Cagney, Bogart, Tracy, even the Crosby-Hope Road films will be widely booked in theatres.

djw said...

I think the arthouses will do OK for us weirdos who think movies actually look better on actual film. All this other stuff about the cost and quality of snacks and the comfort of the seats is buzzes and pops to me. Film oughta be film.

flint cordoroy said...

At a conventional movie theatre today, virtually all of the ticket price goes back to the film makers/studios/distributors. A theatre's profits come almost entirely from concession stand sales and arcades.

What I'd like to see is different statistic tracking. We see how much a move makes in theatres. We don't see how many tickets it sells. We don't see the ratio of ticket prices to median wages by year and its correlation to total tickets sold, total theatres operating, total theatre seats operating, etc.