Daily Archives: July 27, 2011

Movie Theater vs. Home Theater (part 1)

Yesterday I read an article in the ZDNet Tech Broiler attempting to make the case for the studios to release first-run movies direct to streaming options (specifically Netflix and iTunes). What they really did was take a full page laying out the case for why they don’t like going to the theater.

Their argument made the following points, frequently predicated on the reality that corporate megaplexes have mostly pushed out the smaller independent theaters:

  • Theaters used to be plush and served real popcorn with real butter and good candy.
  • Cost is high.
  • You have to drive too far. In traffic, even.
  • Theaters are frequently located near a mall, which makes the traffic worse and makes parking a nightmare.
  • You have to walk across a parking lot.
  • Box offices are understaffed, and automated ticket dispensers are too few – plus there’s a service charge for buying tickets online, which is what is supposed to save the theater the expense of populating the booth to begin with.
  • You have to show up too early to get a good seat, because it’s too crowded, plus people save seats for non-existent people so they won’t have to sit next to others.
  • During the movie, there are disturbances: people are using their smartphones which lights up the room, kids are crying (who shouldn’t be in the movie in the first place), people are talking, etc.
  • Restrooms are dirty.
  • Prices are going up but nothing is improving.

Then they make the typical argument:

  • I have an HDTV and good sound.
  • Snacks at home are cheaper.
  • I like my house.
  • I can pause the film, and nobody is rude.

Here’s my take on all that…

First of all, half of those points are just whining like a child. Oh, no… you have to drive?! And park in a parking lot?! And there are people where you’re going?! Dear God, corporations must be evil! What are you a hermit?! Suck it up, Bucky. I especially love that he complains that there are too many people in the theater. So… you’re saying going to the movies is still popular, which is why people don’t want to go. Reminds me of Yogi Berra’s famous line, “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Seriously, though, those points are all one man’s experience in an over-crowded part of the country (New York/New Jersey). Those problems are problems there no matter what you’re doing – and if you live there you know what to expect. Can’t blame the theaters for that. I live less than 5 hours away and have a vastly different experience. Not that they’re not valid issues for him, but those points are not worth pursuing universally because they’re not universal.

There are some good points in there, however. Tickets are expensive, and so are the concessions. I don’t like the online service charge, either. Sometimes, people are rude, which sucks. Let’s take a look at those arguments.

Expense

I’ve made the argument on this blog and elsewhere more than once that I think the cost of going to the movies is too high. I stand by that. However, is it really that much higher than when we were kids? I’m going to take concessions out of the calculation because it’s easier that way (plus concessions make up the majority of revenue for theaters, as I understand it, and I don’t want the theater to go out of business – plus concessions are optional).

Ticket prices in my area are $9.50 for an adult 2D evening showing (up to $15 for an IMAX showing). Some areas are higher, some are lower, so let’s use the official average ticket prices as reported by the National Association of Theater Owners as our guide.  That’s $7.89 for 2010 (which I think is under my cost last year, but reasonable). Using an online calculator, I’ve adjusted that cost for inflation for the years 1974-2010.

 

So, yeah, comparatively it’s high now, but not much higher than the late ’80s and actually lower than the mid-’70s. The ’90s, when I remember thinking prices were reasonable but about as high as I wanted them at around $5 locally, were actually the lowest point in the last 40 years, using today’s dollars. I’d love ticket prices to be lower, and they should be, but I can’t say that they’re way out of line from what they’ve been in the past.

The $1 service fee for online purchases – I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming that’s a charge from the online service provider, not from the theater. I pay it as infrequently as possible, but I can’t begrudge the service provider making a buck (though I’d be way happier if it was $1 per transaction, not per ticket – it doesn’t cost them anything extra to process 12 vs. 1 ticket). If they don’t get paid, the service doesn’t exist, and sometimes I need it.

Rude people

Yeah, rude people suck. But is it really that pervasive of a problem? I’ve been to 5 movies in about a month, and only one of them featured a guy talking during the film (okay, another one had a loudly crying kid for short periods, but that was a kid’s movie, so I didn’t expect perfect behavior there). Granted, that guy was really annoying and ruined the scene for me twice, but 1 out of 5 is still pretty good. And I didn’t see a single smartphone illuminate in any showing.

I have been forced to ask people to be quiet before, and I have a pretty short fuse for that kind of thing – but honestly it doesn’t come up much. I’d say it was because I live in a generally polite area, but I don’t really remember it being a huge problem when I lived closer to Philadelphia either.

So that takes care of the ‘why the theater sucks’ arguments. What about the ‘why home is awesome’ arguments?

I’ll tackle those in my next (probably much shorter) post.