Rating The Moviegoing Experience
Wednesday - July 13, 2005
I have been reading with great interest the trials and tribulations of Hollywood and the “slump” the industry is experiencing. I don’t know if slump is the right word when this weekend’s biggest hit, War of the Worlds, took in over $117 million. However, to put it all into context, box office receipts are down 7 percent from last year. When you consider increased ticket prices, the gap widens to 10 percent off the 2004 pace. So, what gives?
I think there are three obvious explanations.
First, the moviegoing experience is not all it used to be, leaving patrons somewhat disillusioned and, frankly, PO’d.
Second, Hollywood is cranking out movies in which the majority of Americans are not interested.
Third, technology in the home affords a wonderful alternative to the aforementioned “less-than-stellar” theater visit.
Let’s talk about going, or these days, not going to the movie theater. Most outlets provide pretty decent parking. The major movieplexes such as Dole Signature, Ward Consolidated and Restaurant Row do a pretty good job. But the security issues at Dole persist, Ward on a date night creates a hellacious traffic situation and Restaurant Row parking can leave you with a challenging walk to the theater.
I do think the valet service at Ward is one of the best, although Dole does not provide the option. There is valet at Restaurant Row, but it will be closed by the time a late showing is over. All three venues are off major thoroughfares, so getting there is pretty painless. So, if convenience is not a deal breaker, then what is it about going to movies that people don’t like?
An improvement in business fundamentals would be a start. I find it exasperating to wait in long lines for overpriced snacks when staff is standing around talking story. The indifference to customer service is irritating. This happens more times than not. My frustration is exacerbated since a bag of popcorn is $4.75 when you know you can buy the same amount for about 50 cents in the store. Speaking of prices …
We are all aware the true profit in movie theaters is in the snacks. The profit center for theaters is not found in ticket sales, but in the concessions. Don’t get me wrong. I know near $10 ticket prices are astounding, but this is costdriven by studios and distributors. But operators do have control over their concessions.
I love the fact that Dole theaters won’t even put the prices on its numbered packaged deals. You know, a large popcorn and two sodas, etc. Where are the prices? Hot dogs are in the $4 range with sodas starting near $2. The all-time worst is at Dole and the fresh fruit stand. A chunk or two of watermelon nears $5 with a banana close to $2. Unbelievable. I know mark-up is not unique, and we all have a choice to buy or not. But remember — we are talking about why fewer people go to movies. Popcorn and drinks are a part of that experience.
When you get inside the theater you are immediately assaulted with advertising left, right and center. Whether it’s found in the on-screen trivia games to the trailers themselves, ad messages are everywhere. But when they began running actual commercials, that’s what broke my enthusiasm for going to the movies. I had viewed the moviegoing experience and the theater as a safe haven from the outside. That line has been crossed. If I see that stupid Fanta commercial one more time, I’ll scream.
One must consider the movies being offered, too. They say sex and violence sells, but do they really? You know what sells? Quality productions that attract families or contain themes which may be somewhat provocative, but are original and tastefully presented. Do you know what is the top-grossing movie of all time? Titanic. Compelling story with some adult content, but a well-made and tremendously impactful production. No. 2: Star Wars. Yup, the original. Not a naked actor in the bunch. Nary a swear word to be heard. In third place, Shrek 2. Fourth: ET, The Extra-Terrestrial. Among the 50 top-grossing movies of all time are The Passion of the Christ, grossing more than $370 million, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, The Incredibles, Dr. Seuss, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 2 and Aladdin. My calculator doesn’t even have enough spaces to tally the money these films made.
Recent examples show Robots, the animated feature with Robin Williams, grossed $125 million. The second big animated film of 2005, Madagascar, has already made $172 million in about a month. But where are the big, splashy and tremendously expensive movies like Troy, Constantine and Sahara? Goners. Take Constantine… Please! (rimshot). No, really. Constantine has earned about $75 million since release. A creepy, gory, graphic story centered around Hell on Earth. Now, look at Hitch, a lighthearted, nonvulgar film about awkward guys finding love — $178 million and counting. Why are there not more Hitches, Madagascars and ETs than Miss Congeniality 2s (a paltry $46 million) or Beauty Shops?
You tell me.
Big screen TVs are more affordable than ever before. Home surround-sound systems can be found for less than $100. Netflix and now Blockbuster allow you to have DVDs mailed to your home. Cable systems offer video on demand. Movie channels such as TMC, AMC and TCM are free and show all kinds of great films. It has never been cheaper and more comfortable to watch movies at home. If you can wait for blockbusters to be released on DVD, then why would you ever have to go to the theater again?
I hope Hollywood and movie operators understand they can no longer take the public for granted, and in order to have more people consume their product, they must make it more palatable. Improve the experience and lower the cost or this 18-week slump will be the rule and not the exception.
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