Have you seen a movie lately? How about a movie in a theater? The temperature will surely start ticking upward soon, and with the heat comes the summer blockbuster season. At least that’s how it has worked for years.
But with increased home-streaming options, the film and television industry, which employs nearly 2 million U.S. workers and generates more than $16 billion in exports, has been forced to make some changes.
Locally, AMC, Cinemark and Regal Cinema locations have done renovations in the past two years as part of the nationwide corporate attempt to adjust to the rapidly changing media landscape and wants of moviegoers.
Theaters are now offering reclining seats, touchscreen self-serve ticketing kiosks, advanced custom drink stations, a widened variety of menu items and alcoholic beverage service.
They’ve also invested billions to update core projection technology, creating opportunities for new technologies like 3D, high dynamic range, high frame rates and high-definition surround sound.
The National Association of Theatre Owners’ Young Members Committee found that 40 percent of customers ages 18 to 34 said they would go to the movies more often because of reclining seats, and 32 percent said they’d attend more often because of reserved seating.
But is it enough to keep up with home streaming companies? Or is the comparison apples to oranges?
“Despite all the excited talk about the internet and streaming disrupting the movie business, domestic box office [sales have] been on a steady upward path for more than a decade. There has been disruption in the industry — just not in the movie theater industry,” said John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
“Netflix is certainly a key issue in terms of overall consumer media consumption and how this affects leisure time and spending,” said Richard Broughton, research director at Ampere Analysis.
Movie theaters offer an immersive experience that include a human connection (for better or worse).
The Motion Picture Association of America and National Association of Theatre Owners reports don’t share information on customer income demographics, but a family of four can see a movie for less than $35, whereas professional sports can easily reach hundreds of dollars. Individual movie ticket price averages in the U.S. increased from $7.93 in 2011 to $8.65 in 2016.
Netflix costs $8-$12 per month. And it is putting up a fight against the traditional movie release model.
Recently, Netflix partnered with luxury theater chain iPic Entertainment, which owns 15 establishments, and is in the process of building 20 more complexes across the U.S. iPic does not yet have plans to expand to Colorado.
Individual tickets at iPic theaters average $30, but include a luxurious dining experience and cushy seating, including a blanket and pillow. They’ll also debut Netflix movies, qualifying them for Academy Awards consideration.
Netflix plans to release those films to its 83 million subscribers at the same time as the movies’ debuts on the big screen. The Netflix and iPic model flies in the face of the traditional 90-day “windowed” approach that traditional theaters take, in which they have exclusive rights to a movie, and draw out revenue by delaying at-home release for at least 90 days after they’re released in theaters.
Fithian said that “simultaneous release, in practice, has reduced both theatrical and home revenue when it has been tried.”
Even so, a report from BI Intelligence shows that home streaming options are having a significant negative effect on television viewing numbers, but have had no major effect on movie-viewing numbers.
Representatives at local Colorado Springs AMC and Cinemark theaters were unable to comment on the effects they’ve seen or the marketing efforts they have lined up for the summer blockbuster season. Corporate representatives could not be reached for comment.
Regardless, the numbers are telling. In last year’s statistical report, the MPAA found that the industry saw increased attendance from customers under age 24, who viewed nearly seven in-theater movies per year on average. The audience is also becoming increasingly diverse.
There was also an increase in what the MPAA refers to as “frequent moviegoers,” who attend at least one movie per month. Frequent moviegoers purchased 48 percent of tickets, and are also the most technologically connected of all moviegoers, according to the MPAA report.
The production side of the industry continues to grow, as 700 movies were released to theaters in 2016, a 1 percent increase from 2015.
AMC, the nation’s largest exhibition chain, acquired Carmike Cinemas in December. Carmike had previously operated two of the five large movie theaters in Colorado Springs.
In a quarterly earnings call soon after the acquisition, AMC stated that it will renovate 122 theaters in 2017 and 2018 and will retire the Carmike name. Local moviegoers may have noticed those changes occurred quite rapidly at the Chapel Hills location last year.
According to the MPAA, the number of theaters with at least five screens has grown to 34,316 in 2016, a 3 percent increase since 2012. The number of venues with fewer than five screens has decreased almost 5 percent to 6,076 in 2016, and more than 500 drive-in theaters have closed since 2011.
All national-brand theaters in Colorado Springs have more than five screens, while downtown’s independently owned Kimball’s Peak has three.