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Are traditional movie theaters slowly on their way out? Will streaming claim its next victim?


Strange
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This might initially sound outlandish or dumb to some but it’s a conversation I’m having more and more these days because my best friend is banking his career on the theater industry, and more than one person in our friend group is concerned for him.

Trolls World Tour makes nearly $100 million after home video release

“Trolls World Tour” made more for Universal in 3 weeks than the original did in 5 months

My friend’s argument: They would have made even more than that if they released it to theaters, because it’s the rental price vs. $40 for a family of four.

The rebuttal: Except they wouldn’t have because that $40 a family is split between Universal and the theater. I don’t know what the streaming services are charging Universal, but it has to be more lucrative than funding a physical building. And that $40 per family is precisely why more people would opt out of seeing it in theaters when they could see it in the comfort of their own home for cheaper (and not have to sneak in snacks). You’re seeing more profit with Trolls right now despite a lower cost of entry because people don't want to pay $40 to see a movie anymore. Thus more people are paying to see it.

My friend’s argument: People prefer theaters because of the experience. No one is going to want to watch movies on their 40-inch flatscreen.

The rebuttal: Except thousands of people do that every day? Streaming is the new normal and business is booming. There is the factor of seeing say a Marvel movie in a theater setting. But at some point the cons outweigh the pros. Home theaters are becoming cheaper every day. And some people simply don’t care about “the experience.” Once you strip the pros away, the only experience you’ve got left is sharing a theater with around 40-50 other people who are loud, rude, etc. and you’re sitting in the same cloth chair that grandpa who regularly craps his pants just sat in half an hour prior. And you’re paying a premium for it. I know people who wait for home release altogether solely because of the people.

So I’m genuinely curious what others think about this.

Edited by The Strangest
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4 minutes ago, Reed Rothchild said:

If nothing else, it's certainly in trouble because of the pandemic

And not just during the pandemic. People are changing their attitudes about large, crowded gatherings in general. Sporting events and concerts I would say are safe, but movie theaters seem like the more expendable of the these experiences when push comes to shove.

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Assuming things get back to normal I suspect theaters will continue to survive,  Going to see something in the theater is a much larger (as it were) experience not only for the really large screen but for the sound as well than the home viewing one.  And popcorn and soda is a important  part of the experience.

We go to a local Cinemark with lounge seating and it is very reasonable pricewise with the Cinemark movie club.  We always go to the twilight shows which are really cheap.  Almost all of the time there are fewer than 10 people there. And using the Cinemark club we can reserve specific seats ahead of time for no extra fee.

I don't know how busy they are on Fridays evenings and weekends.

One change I see maybe happening because of this current mess is that in the future there may be more direct to video releases.

Edited by Tabonga
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Theaters will limp along in some format, but it won't be the current one. They have barely innovated in the last thirty years and no media business can survive stagnation. Movie viewing at home has improved dramatically, but the theater experience has stayed the same or maybe even worsened.

When I was a kid, tickets were $3 for a new release evening showing and now they're $10-15. When I was a kid, we had a tiny analog TV with a few over the air channels and a VCR: now I have a 4K 65" OLED behemoth with high speed internet, an Ulta-HD Blu-ray player, and Dolby Atmos surround sound. At a theater I'm surrounded by mouthbreathers texting on their phones and yelling at the screen, while at home I've got pitch black, perfect silence, the ability to pause the movie for any reason (although I rarely do), and snacks of my choosing at a fraction of the cost.

The only thing movie theaters have going for them is the social aspect, which can be a big positive. Having a few beers and watching The Exorcist on the big screen with a bunch of horror afficianados sounds like a blast! Watching the Avengers 14: The Avengening with a bunch of yahoos clapping and throwing $15 popcorn does not.

Streaming Trolls at home saved me at least $50 and everyone in the family loved it. Universal got to keep 80% of the money I paid instead of 50%. The only people who lost anything were the middle men, AKA theater owners. Movie theaters charge MORE money for an INFERIOR product and they know it. That's why they are being so vocal and claiming they will take their ball and go home. This is their last gasp as they fade into oblivion.

Edited by DoctorEncore
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I think they did it to themselves. Theatres used to show trailers for upcoming movies and I really liked it so I had an idea of which movies to watch out for soon. At some point they started adding commercials for cars and other things I don't care about. I already paid to see the movie, why do I have to also watch commercials? I also find I've gotten quite a bit older since I used to go to theatres regularly and now the majority of people that go to theatres are pretty young and have no clue how to act in a social setting without annoying the hell out of everyone around them. They're too loud, too smelly, too much on their phones during the movie, too everything. Just sit there and be quiet while people try and watch this movie. That's why I don't go to theatres anymore.

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Member · Posted

Honestly, I think they are done.  I mean, not immediately, but I think they will be "finished" within a few years. I've met a few theatre franchise owners, or people related to others who owned small time theatres.  It's just like gas stations, little money is made on the primary product sold at the local level.  The money that is really made is with concessions, or in the case of the gas stations, the stuff in the convenience store.

But here's the thing.  "Millennials" or whatever you want to call the generation that's about 35 and under are getting happier and happier to be entertained by their phones, or to just stay at home.  The idea of dropping $15 for a movie ticket seems insane, and why buy all of that over priced candy and junk.  Just stay home, watch it on your massive TV, and enjoy a bag of popcorn.  Plus, you can find plenty of videos on YouTube on how to make "gourmet" popcorn at home (which is really just popping it on the stove.)

I'm not blaming the younger generation for this, but the fact is, movies are over priced.  I think my wife and I would probably go to the movies a lot more often if they weren't so friggin expensive.  We like to buy the snacks and do consider it away of supporting the owners.  So, after tickets for a blockbuster and a $25 combo, we're out $50.  I could get a game for that, or my wife could shop at Target, buy an outfit she could wear for longer than 2 hours and we might come out ahead.  My point is, I just don't see the model being sustainable.  If this virus causes enough people to lose interest, then it's going to be tough keeping thousands of theaters operating if revenue drops.  Pair that with selling and licensing through streaming services or offering it for on-demand might have higher sales volume, I see the theatre actually just fading away.  I might be wrong, but I just don't see how it can't go in that direction.

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We go to maybe one movie a year. These have all been Ghibli screenings.  This last year was the exception where I don't think we went at all.  These were always in a theater with some kind of stain on the screen.  While mostly empty we would still get stuck with chatty people and it would turn into a big distraction.

I have a 65 in OLED and an Atmos sound bar with rear speakers.  The first movie to really show it off for us was Coco. The colors and sound were amazing. Harry Potter in surround is great.  I often worry my neighbors are going to be knocking on my door because of the noise. 

The theater is not an experience I need. I can get the same at home for free.  I could see more of them shutting down around me over the next few years.

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Member · Posted

@zeppelin03 And I mostly agree with that sentiment, and my TV is much smaller.  If I'm going out on a date with my wife, there's usually something that's going to be more desirable than a movie.  IMHO, it's really hard for a +100 year old form of experience to compete with something that's nearly identical that you can have much, more cheaply at home.

I actually do enjoy the theatre experience.  Going once or twice a year is nice.   But I can't imagine if most the people out there who are inclined go to movies started feeling the way I do, it's not going to be pretty.

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1 minute ago, RH said:

@zeppelin03 And I mostly agree with that sentiment, and my TV is much smaller.  If I'm going out on a date with my wife, there's usually something that's going to be more desirable than a movie.  IMHO, it's really hard for a +100 year old form of experience to compete with something that's nearly identical that you can have much, more cheaply at home.

I actually do enjoy the theatre experience.  Going once or twice a year is nice.   But I can't imagine if most the people out there who are inclined go to movies started feeling the way I do, it's not going to be pretty.

Exactly.  The number of people I know who are movie goers is dwindling.  Netflix and other services get stuff quickly enough.  I would much rather put that $50 towards a nice dinner. 

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@DrEncore

Some things have really improved though - the lounge seating is fantastic.  No more scratched up prints is also good. The popcorn where we go is Orville Redenbachers  - far better than what we used to get in the not so distant past.  And the sound is top notch.  And if you go to the twilight shows it is rarely crowded.

@RH 

With the CInemark club and the twilight shows we generally pay a bit under $25 for  the tickets, a large popcorn and a large soda.  Plus with the cinemark club we can reserve tickets at no extra cost - we get really good seats and can tell if the theater is likely to be crowded.  

 

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Member · Posted
1 minute ago, Tabonga said:

@DrEncore

Some things have really improved though - the lounge seating is fantastic.  No more scratched up prints is also good. The popcorn where we go is Orville Redenbachers  - far better than what we used to get in the not so distant past.  And the sound is top notch.  And if you go to the twilight shows it is rarely crowded.

@RH 

With the CInemark club and the twilight shows we generally pay a bit under $25 for  the tickets, a large popcorn and a large soda.  Plus with the cinemark club we can reserve tickets at no extra cost - we get really good seats and can tell if the theater is likely to be crowded.  

 

I'm not saying it isn't a good experience, and I am aware of those deals.  But, how many people are interested in that type of monthly/yearly pass.  From my observation, not that many.  Maybe it's just where I am (rural community, and the nearest town probably has about 30k residents) but few people actually purchase that deal.

I think it does help entice some, but not a lot and probably not enough.  I'm also not knocking theatres in general. What I am saying is I find it just to be an experience I enjoy to occasionally experience like going to an amusement park. It's fun to go there, you know you can go back, but you're not planning on doing that any time soon.  I just see it being the same type of experience and with the large loss of revenue and people being generally skiddish towards large crowds for a while, even once are free from the lock-ups, I just don't see it recovering.

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Member · Posted

Never watched a movie on my phone.  Never will, that would kill the experience for me.

Have an SDX theater (same as imax), with Dolby Atmos (which is amazing), that they just remodeled with power recliner seats, 5 mins from me.  

Once thing blow over, look forward to getting together with friends there to catch a flick and have a beer (they serve alcohol too)
 

 

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30 minutes ago, RH said:

I'm not saying it isn't a good experience, and I am aware of those deals.  But, how many people are interested in that type of monthly/yearly pass.  From my observation, not that many.  Maybe it's just where I am (rural community, and the nearest town probably has about 30k residents) but few people actually purchase that deal.

I think it does help entice some, but not a lot and probably not enough.  I'm also not knocking theatres in general. What I am saying is I find it just to be an experience I enjoy to occasionally experience like going to an amusement park. It's fun to go there, you know you can go back, but you're not planning on doing that any time soon.  I just see it being the same type of experience and with the large loss of revenue and people being generally skiddish towards large crowds for a while, even once are free from the lock-ups, I just don't see it recovering.

No offense but living in the sticks is not terribly representative (having lived in the fourth largest town in South Dakota (with a whopping 8k population) for several years).   There was only one theater - whose owner (I only mention this because it was so reprehensible even back then) had two pictures in his office from a theater he had once owned somewhere in the south - one picture showed the white entrance and the other the colored entrance.

And money is just not the same in rural areas - $25 dollars here is much less than $25 out in rural areas.  

No idea how popular the Cinemark club is - but I doubt we are the only people who find it useful - if you go to more than one movie a month if more than pays for itself.  And the urban areas of course have a much much larger potential audience.

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We still enjoy going out to a movie as its more of an experience than watching something at home, so I hope theatres stick around.  I wouldn't put much stock in those Trolls or any other quarantine influenced numbers - many people watched because they were stuck at home with the kids.  Will they do the same when other options are available?

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Tiger King was (not sure if it still is) #1 on Netflix. What does that say about peoples choices?

 

Either way, theaters are getting out of hand with pricing. I understand why, but it is just too expensive. I only go for movies that would be best enjoyed in IMAX and we go occassionally during matinee and preferably later on so the crowds are smaller.

Edited by Mega Tank
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WHen I was in middle and high school 10-15yrs ago. My group of friends would go to the movies all the time, would even see the same movie twice on occasion. The place would be packed, lines out the door, etc. for reference I live in NJ, plenty of population.

I havn't seen lines at our movie theater in years. I havn't gone myself in years. The price has become stupid. I would never get snacks even back in the day because I knew it was a rip. Back then I could take a date to the movies for $18 roughly for both of us. Now it's $30+ yea no thanks. Thats more than what dinner at a diner costs for 2.

They recently just overhauled our local theater to one of those dinner/movie places but I think just barely opened in March when everything went to shut down. Maybe that'll bring back some business when everything opens back up

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Assuming you mean when things go back to 'normal', I would say no but movie diversity is going to. Theatres keep breaking records, so no reason to stop. However, it's the big blockbusters that really print money because they are so visually stimulating and people want to see that as though they are right there in the action. Theatres have less reason to have their own smaller movies out competing against their big ones. I'm not saying comedies or dramas are going to die out, but I think we might see less than in the past.

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I'll edit as I work through this, but the "theater and distributor split" arguement don't fly. The first week the split is usually 90%+ the distributor, 10% to the theater. It typically lowers every week after the movie stays in theaters.

The commercials were just greed. It started with the carousels, which weren't terrible. Light music played, I learned some trivia, let's all go to the lobby. Then it clicked they could do the trailers. I remember splicing in that first coke ad. Then it was like AOL. Then insurance or some bullshit. 

Fuck handouts at the box office. 

Theaters make their money off cheap soda and popcorn. Source, I used to manage theaters.

I do like beer. That was a nice addition. Thanks Alamo!

If I go see something in the theater these days, it's usually because someone got out a 35mm print or Alamo is doing some special screening I'm interested in. I saw Logan Noir in the theater and was glad I did.

Edited by Ferris Bueller
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11 hours ago, Tabonga said:

@DrEncore

Some things have really improved though - the lounge seating is fantastic.  No more scratched up prints is also good. The popcorn where we go is Orville Redenbachers  - far better than what we used to get in the not so distant past.  And the sound is top notch.  And if you go to the twilight shows it is rarely crowded.

@RH 

With the CInemark club and the twilight shows we generally pay a bit under $25 for  the tickets, a large popcorn and a large soda.  Plus with the cinemark club we can reserve tickets at no extra cost - we get really good seats and can tell if the theater is likely to be crowded.  

 

I will concede that some things are better: laser projectors, reclining seats, food/beer availability. But many things are objectively worse: cost, cell phones, variety of movies, obnoxious ads before the movie. As I mentioned, the overall experience is essentially unchanged over the last thirty years while the home experience has improved drastically.

The theaters have acted like they don't have to compete because of the exclusivity window for new releases. But the numbers don't lie. Ticket sales in 2017 and 2019 were the lowest since 1995. For obvious reasons, 2020 sales will be the lowest since God knows when. Young millennials and Gen Z kids are more than happy to stream a Netflix movie on their phone, even though that viewing experience is offensive to my tastes. The landscape is changing. The grosses have only been up because ticket prices have significantly outpaced inflation.

I don't want the theater experience to go away, but it needs to change. They need to offer more than a big screen. They need to add more event type screenings and classic movies. They need to provide a good reason for me to pay more money for what I view as a worse viewing experience. They should have started working with the big studios ten years ago on a model that allowed them to profit off home distribution, but they were (and are) arrogant, just like the RIAA was with music sales. Many theaters will go out of business as the model shifts.

Personally, I'd be willing to pay $50 for a new release at home since it still saves me money compared to the theater and the viewing experience is better. The studio reaps a much larger percentage of VOD sales and rentals and can make more profit. Pirating will be easier, but it already is exceedingly easy, so I bet it wouldn't even affect bottom line. So what service exactly is the theater providing? They are struggling with that exact question and that's why they are on the defensive in all these news articles.

Edited by DoctorEncore
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