It’s no secret that cinema is going through a bad time right now. You can blame streaming. You can blame lockdown. You can blame the actual movies. But how can the industry survive?
It can only do so if cinemas themselves change. They need to offer an experience, not just a bigger screen than the one you’ve got at home. Here are a few ways movie theaters can survive.
Movie Theaters Can Offer Unique Experiences
The obvious way cinemas can thrive is by giving audiences something different.
In the past, this meant IMAX. However, streaming platforms, notably Disney+, already offer content that’s IMAX-enhanced, so you get as sharp a picture and sound quality as you might get at your local theater.
Nonetheless, IMAX could still be important to cinemas. Because the movie-going experience is still unique: we have bigger TVs than ever before, but nothing like what you get with the actual big screen. You can only enjoy IMAX-quality films at home if you have the technology to do so; for most people, that’s out of the question. You can add to your home set-up, but the sound quality you get at the cinema will always be better than what you get with a soundbar.
So what else could make the experience unique? There are plenty of options. Some amusement parks have custom-built theaters with kinetic seats that tilt, spin, and rumble, depending on what’s happening on the screen. Imagine if movie theaters embraced this. Car chases, action sequences, or even train journeys in films could really be brought to life.
Private Screening Rooms
People like watching films at home because it’s an intimate setting and they can feel more comfortable. How do you translate that to the cinema? With private screenings.
It sounds like a logistical nightmare, but movie theaters know the times they’re quietest, so why not utilize the space when it would otherwise be empty? If you can give people the big screen experience on a personal basis, you might just strike gold.
Tired of strangers talking through the movie? You don’t need to worry about them anymore. Sick of stiff, uncomfortable seats? Now you can spread out. Want to get food during the movie? If theatres hand over some basic controls to the customers, you can pause the film, go to the restroom, and order dinner from the lobby.
And this would be perfect for musicals or Disney productions. Imagine singing along to Moana with your friends at the top of your voice! You’re welcome…
Cinemas understandably play the latest releases to draw in audiences, but by widening the library of available content, movie theaters could draw in audiences like never before. Or just like before, actually.
Some theaters do this already, albeit solely for the holiday season or to mark anniversaries. For instance, during the Christmas period, some cinemas play Home Alone, Elf, or another classic favorite. You’re feeding off nostalgia, and that’s something special about movie theaters. Often, we visit to recapture the joy and excitement we got from previous visits.
After theaters opened again following Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a dearth of new content because many films paused production. That left a gap for cinemas to fill, and many did so by playing old films. You might be skeptical of this: after all, if you want to play something that’s greatly loved, maximizing opportunities for profit, then viewers will likely already have it to watch at home, either on streaming or on physical media like Blu-ray. And yet there’s something pleasing about being able to boast, “Yes, I did watch The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema.”
Cinemas play films. That’s a given. But what if they did more than that?
To survive, theaters need to explore other options—for example, gaming parties.
In the UK, Cineworld began to explore this venture in 2021, and competitors like Odeon jumped on the bandwagon too. The premise is simple: you let people play video games on the big screen. That means giving over a whole screen to one party, which sounds costly, for both audiences and cinemas. However, if this is offered as a unique experience for a group of people, that cost is for one room, which then feels more reasonable. That’s particularly true for birthdays and similar events.
Let’s look at this in practice. Joypad organizes gaming events via Cineworld, relying on nostalgia and crowds to gain traction. Yes, you could play Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. Or there’s the chance to play older games on retro consoles. Joypad lets customers choose between many classic and modern consoles, including:
- Atari 2600.
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
- Sony Playstation.
- Nintendo N64.
- Nintendo Gamecube.
- Nintendo Wii U.
Not everyone is accustomed to setting up emulators: cinemas could give audiences the opportunity to enjoy their much-missed video games again.
Movie Theaters Need to Offer Better Services at Better Prices
No matter what else they do or don’t offer, there’s one thing that cinemas need to get to grips with if they want to lure audiences back in—they’ve got to be up to scratch as an establishment. At bare minimum, they need to be clean.
That’s not entirely fair. There are lots of movie theaters that maintain good standards, i.e. their seats are comfortable, their food is decent, their prices are fair, and their floors aren’t sticky. Few venues tick all of those boxes, though. And that’s important: people will only visit somewhere if they feel welcome there.
Food can put people off. How many times have you gone to the cinema and had to settle for a soggy and lackluster hotdog? Pricing is a dealbreaker too. No one wants to feel ripped off because ticket prices increase during busy periods. Still, many are happy to pay a little more if the overall service is good. Let’s say you’re watching a three-hour film: you’d probably pay extra for comfy seats that won’t make your bum ache for ages afterward.
If we’re questioning who is responsible for the death of cinemas, the theaters themselves have to shoulder some of the blame. At least that means they have the opportunity to improve.
Repeat custom will ensure movie theaters survive. How do you make sure people come back for more? A combination of things, including some we’ve already discussed. But you also have to make things easy for them. Instead of a treat, cinema visits need to become a regular occurrence, so you need to remove as many barriers as you can. One such barrier is ticket prices.
The obvious solution? Subscriptions.
You may have a Netflix membership. You may have a gym membership. Why not have a cinema membership too? For a monthly fee, you can have unlimited viewings. That fee needs to be competitive and fair: audiences want a bargain, so ideally, it needs to be a price that makes it worth seeing at least one movie a week. And it’s beneficial for movie theaters because, even when there’s nothing particularly popular on, the business is still making money.
Some cinema chains already do this, although it’s rarer in America. Cineworld in the UK offers an Unlimited card which is basically a loyalty scheme, in that you can pay monthly or annually then get into most films for free. On top of that, there are extra benefits, like advanced screenings and money off food and drink.
Movie Theaters Need to Diversify
Are you happy with the state of movie theaters today? If not, you need to speak up. Contact customer services. If we want things to change, we need to make our voices heard.
Movie theaters don’t have to be in their death throes, but we want them to survive, so we need to support them.