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Author Topic: Viability of a boutique movie theater
Scott Jentsch
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1061
From: New Berlin, WI, USA
Registered: Apr 2003


 - posted 06-04-2013 11:30 AM      Profile for Scott Jentsch   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Jentsch   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
An idea that's been bouncing around in my head for some time is the idea of a "boutique" movie theater.

It's the best term I can come up with for the concept of not building traditionally-size auditoriums, but rather smaller rooms that feature the correct viewing angles and other performance features of a properly designed movie theater.

Along with creating a more intimate experience, it would allow for placing a multi-screen theater in a smaller building, and I would think that there would be some cost savings to not having to heat/cool larger volumes of air. With less space to furnish, more time and money could be spent on the appointments, such as some interesting styling (just look at what high-end home theaters can look like, with a budget that is a fraction of what I'll bet it costs to outfit a standard, plain-jane auditorium), a curtain, and a really good sound system. Basically, a high-end home theater open to the public.

This can't possibly be an original idea, and to a certain extent, it's being done in iPic and the former Gold Class Cinema locations, but they take it a step further than I would with the super-wide seating and food service, etc.

I don't think a 40-50 seat theater is large enough to be economically viable, plus the seating in the locations creates poor viewing lines, both horizontally and vertically. The screens are too small and too high, so by the time you get far enough back to not be looking up at the screen, you're too far away to have a decent viewing angle.

I would imagine that the hardest thing about such an operation would be economy of scale. The more butts in the seats, the better the margins. But there has to be a crossover point somewhere, and it feels like many theaters do not come close to filling their capacity on a regular basis, so all that extra infrastructure is going to waste just to handle a few peak periods that might be better handled by more screens that can take on the extra butts when necessary.

I've been hearing about DCP-compliant projectors breaking the $30k barrier, which would help with the cost-per-screen issue. There are still sound systems and screens to be purchased, of course.

Is it possible to build out a boutique style theater with a certain number of screens with a seating capacity of, maybe, 80-100, in a smaller space than a traditional multiplex, and have it be economically viable?

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 06-04-2013 11:47 AM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
While it is true that having very few empty seats is good from the money standpoint, there is a definite crowd of people who like to come on the slow nights so they DON'T have to sit near other people. They like the experience of going to the movies but they like having their own space too, for the obvious reasons plus possible other reasons. Or many people are picky about where they sit, and get annoyed if "their" seats are taken.

With mini-sized auditoriums you might be looking at full houses every night which could turn-off alot of people -- not just the ones I mentioned above but also those who show up exactly at showtime and continually find the show "sold out."

Of course once the area moviegoers got used to the idea, and if it really was a super-high-end experience, people would start coming early, or reserved seats could be offered online, etc. so they could be sure to get in. Combine that with extra-large, extra-comfy seats and a high enough price tag to keep out the riff raff and it could be a winner.

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Scott Norwood
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From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
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 - posted 06-04-2013 11:54 AM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
National Amusements more-or-less just opened one of these:

http://www.showcasesuperlux.com/

Get ready for $20 movie tickets.

I have not seen this place, except from the outside. It will probably do "boffo biz" (as Variety would say), at least initially.

My personal opinion is that anything that results in ticket prices that rise faster than inflation (3D surcharges, Lie-max surcharges, "premium seating," etc.) is bad for the long-term health of the industry. The exhibition business has survived for over one hundred years by providing inexpensive out-of-home entertainment. The last thing that the industry needs is for there to be a public perception that movies are not a good value for the dollar. Even $10 tickets are marginal when bargain-bin DVDs are going for $5.

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Aaron Garman
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From: Toledo, OH USA
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 - posted 06-04-2013 12:01 PM      Profile for Aaron Garman   Email Aaron Garman   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If it was something like the F-T screening room perhaps but I could pay to go and see first run features? Hell yeah I'd go!

AJG

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Mitchell Dvoskin
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From: West Milford, NJ, USA
Registered: Jan 2001


 - posted 06-04-2013 01:00 PM      Profile for Mitchell Dvoskin   Email Mitchell Dvoskin   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
> seating capacity of, maybe, 80-100, in a smaller space than a traditional multiplex, and have it be economically viable?

I would suspect not, but then I don't know your market. The smaller auditoriums mean less unused space, not more business. However, this is more a matter of arithmetic than guesswork.

Figure out the cost to run the place per month (including the servicing of any debt for construction and equipment), and that will give you an idea of how many butts you will need to seat each week/month to make money. If you think that you can meet that, then it is a viable project.

Also remember that any advantage you get by fill the smaller auditoriums on off nights will be offset by customers being turned away on busy nights, some of whom will never come back.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
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 - posted 06-04-2013 03:35 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Warren Theaters' Directors Suites are along the lines of this concept:
http://www.warrentheatres.com/mooredsuites.asp
Tickets are $22. Ages 21 and up only.

quote: Scott Norwood
My personal opinion is that anything that results in ticket prices that rise faster than inflation (3D surcharges, Lie-max surcharges, "premium seating," etc.) is bad for the long-term health of the industry.
I agree with this in principal. Theater operators are fooling themselves if they don't think customers are comparing the cost of a movie theater visit with that of buying/renting to watch at home.

I think a movie theater that puts forth a great deal of effort to maximize luxury aspects of the experience might be justified in charging a premium price. I certainly see more value in that than I do the IMAX concept of merely installing two video projectors, a slightly bigger floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall screen and running the volume louder.

Honestly, there should be a check list of requirements all commercial movie theaters should satisfy in order to justify the standard ticket price (good quality picture & sound, clean auditorium, comfortable seats, decent sight lines, minimal disruptions to the show, etc.). Customers shouldn't be paying a premium for those things.

I paid a standard admission price to watch movies in General Cinemas Northpark 1-2 theater back in the 1990s. I have yet to hear a sound system from one of these premium theaters, be it IMAX digital or anything else, match the dynamics and overall high quality the Northpark maintained.

If it makes a big enough quality difference above the best of what other theaters can do, I could be happy paying a premium for dual 4K laser projection in an IMAX digital theater or paying extra to listen to a movie with an Atmos sound system configured to maximum specifications. I'm talking quality differences that set a new high standard. Regular single projector, 5.1 surround theaters can boast great quality sound and projection and do so for a standard price.

I'll consider an age 21 and up only policy to be a luxury item. Customers shouldn't have to put up with crying babies and disruptive teens. Unfortunately both are often standard fare in a normal movie theater environment. Giant, plush, reclining seats with so much leg room it's impossible for the feet to touch the seat back in the next row: luxury item. Most of these boutique luxury screening rooms often involve waiter/concierge service to provide food and mixed drinks. That's definitely not standard movie theater fare.

quote: Scott Norwood
Even $10 tickets are marginal when bargain-bin DVDs are going for $5.
Bargain bin Blu-rays can be had for as little as $5. I've seen them at Walmart as well as online stores.

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Scott Jentsch
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From: New Berlin, WI, USA
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 - posted 06-04-2013 04:51 PM      Profile for Scott Jentsch   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Jentsch   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The Superlux and Director's Suites look very similar to iPic and the former Gold Class Cinemas. A low number of super-sized seats with wait service.

Here are some photos that I took of the Gold Class Cinemas - South Barrington, IL:

http://www.bigscreen.com/Marquee.php?theater=12644&view=photos

The last photo illustrates the problem with screen height in relation to the seating. The Warren Theatres site shows that a little, but it's hard to tell if it's as extreme.

Experiences like that are really nice, but at $20-$30 per ticket, it's not something people will do on a regular basis (I think). I would imagine that means that you have to be in a high population area to get enough butts in those seats on a consistent basis.

Those large seats also mean that not very many butts will be filling each auditorium. I actually felt like the Gold Class seats were too large to be comfortable. You could probably double the seating capacity in those rooms and still have very comfortable seats. The seating in the opening-tomorrow Carrollwood Villagio Cinemas in Tampa look about right:

 -

While the armrests are still shared, there is substantial distance that should help to minimize concerns about sitting right next to other people (I prefer to have one seat's worth of spacing myself, so I get this).

Mike's comment about the super high-end experience is spot on, in my thinking. What I would like to see in a movie theater is high-end performance without all of the high-end amenities, but still delivering an experience that is better than what is too often bland and unremarkable at best, and downright sad on average.

When faced with the prospect of the usual movie-going experience, people can't help but to compare the experience against just staying home and renting something off Netflix or Vudu.

I'd like to think there's a middle ground between the average experience and these high-end, super amenity laden experiences that cost a lot of money.

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Martin McCaffery
Film God

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From: Montgomery, AL
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 - posted 06-04-2013 08:32 PM      Profile for Martin McCaffery   Author's Homepage   Email Martin McCaffery   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
From friends I've talked to about the "High End Experience" it's a bit like 3D for groups. They'll try it once on a special occasion, but repeat business is going to be really tough to get.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

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From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
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 - posted 06-04-2013 10:02 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
On the topic of seats: why do all of these "premium cinemas" have such ridiculous seats? What is so wrong with normal movie seats, anyway? I could stand to lose (more than) a few pounds and I have never found a theatre seat to be too narrow. I can see the advantage of super-nice seats for long airline flights and such, but are people really too fat to spend a couple of hours in a regular-size movie seat?

As for the idea that smaller auditoria will sell out regularly: this might not actually be as big a problem as one would think _if_ audiences can be trained to buy tickets in advance and if those tickets are for reserved seats. One way to do this would be to allow advance ticket sales by phone or web without adding a surcharge for the privilege. I wouldn't try this in a touristy area or if the programming were targeted toward the over-50 crowd, but I could see it working in an area with a regular group of young-ish customers.

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Brad Miller
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From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
Registered: May 99


 - posted 06-04-2013 10:28 PM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
I would much rather have double armrests than wider seats. It's the space between the stranger that I would appreciate most. Plus I like my own armrest.

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Mike Blakesley
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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 06-04-2013 10:38 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Scott Norwood
why do all of these "premium cinemas" have such ridiculous seats?
It's to make them seem as much as possible like your home recliner. Which is kind of dumb really, since a recliner is designed almost as much for napping as it is for sitting.

Our original seats here from 1930 were 18" wide. The current seats are a mix of 22s and 24s, and even then we have a few patrons who find it necessary for two people to put up the armrests and occupy three seats. I think it's helped business a little to have those wider seats actually.

I'm with Brad about the wider armrests though. I'm kind of surprised nobody's done a small table-ish thing in between every pair of seats, rather than just the cupholder.

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Bobby Henderson
"Ask me about Trajan."

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From: Lawton, OK, USA
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 - posted 06-04-2013 11:30 PM      Profile for Bobby Henderson   Email Bobby Henderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
One thing I like about those super-sized seats (and the wider row spacing): it's impossible for some jerk to kick the back of your seat or rest his legs on the top of it.

I keep any urges of physical violence well in check, but when someone in the row behind me kicks the back of my chair on anything more than an accidental basis the thought of punching him in the teeth at least crosses my mind.

It's sad to think it takes spending over $20 per ticket for a premium/luxury experience just to eliminate many of the aggravations that shouldn't be part of the standard movie-going experience in the first place.

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Brad Miller
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From: Plano, TX (36.2 miles NW of Rockwall)
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 - posted 06-05-2013 12:33 AM      Profile for Brad Miller   Author's Homepage   Email Brad Miller       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Mike Blakesley
It's to make them seem as much as possible like your home recliner. Which is kind of dumb really, since a recliner is designed almost as much for napping as it is for sitting.
So what's the problem? Have you not seen some of the movies being released these days? [Wink]

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Frank Cox
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 - posted 06-05-2013 12:38 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I used to have a guy here who would come to the movie every Tuesday night. He would sit in the back row and sleep until the movie was over. I would wake him up after everyone else was gone and he would leave.

He never bothered anyone -- didn't snore or anything. That went on every Tuesday for several years, then one day he didn't show up and I haven't seen him since.

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Scott Jentsch
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From: New Berlin, WI, USA
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 - posted 06-05-2013 10:26 AM      Profile for Scott Jentsch   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Jentsch   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I like the idea of individual armrests, because I don't like bumping into someone's elbow that I don't know, and it would give you your own sense of space.

I just measured the very comfortable, but not huge, chairs that I have in my home theater, and the seat cushions are 24" wide. The most comfortable chair in my house has a 21" cushion. I think part of the extra-wide furniture in those luxury cinemas is to reinforce that this isn't a standard theater. I don't know what they measured, but the seats in the Gold Class were too wide. I do know that when iPic took over, they did replace the seats with smaller ones so they could get more in each auditorium.

The seats in Marcus' UltraScreens in Brookfield, WI are not super-sized, but they are comfortable. Even when it's packed, you don't feel like you're packed in. The VIP seating does have small tables that put a little more distance between people as well.

 -

They have more leg room, so Bobby's concern about kicking seats would be resolved, and getting into the middle of a row past people isn't an exercise in gymnastics. I've never sat in these seats because they are too far back in the auditorium for my taste and they are reserved seating with a $5 upcharge over and above the $1 upcharge for the UltraScreen. If they were in the prime seating locations in the auditorium, I would probably pay the $16 price tag. The next time I go to that theater, I'll measure the seat widths as well as the row spacing.

I don't know what the rule of thumb is now for theater seating, in order to accommodate a majority of patrons with some room for the larger audience members, but I would think a 24" wide cushion with separate armrests would provide that "nice touch" upgrade without going too extreme and having to double ticket prices to make up for the loss in seating.

The ticket prices are really the rub in the whole discussion though. How to structure the prices so that they don't put it out of reach for the general public looking for "something better" but not willing to go to the extremes that are out there?

In the Milwaukee market, an adult evening ticket is right around $10 with no addons for 3D, UltraScreen/IMAX, etc. With that as a baseline, I could see a 25% upcharge to $12.50 but the ideal would be to keep the price the same so that it would be a competitive advantage.

Can you lose 15-20% of your seating capacity and still have the numbers work out if the ticket prices are the same as the competition? My thinking is that if people become aware of a consistently elevated moviegoing experience, word will get around and it's likely that more people would attend, so even though the capacity is lower, elevated overall attendance rates may compensate.

The Superluxes of the world have their place, but I think there is a potential for offering people better than what has become the de facto (sub)standard experience without going to that extreme and the upcharges that come with it.

The alternative is the continuation of the apathy shown by audiences, which is a reflection of the apathy that many theaters show towards their customers. I think an investment in providing customers with a better experience would be rewarded with positive reviews, which should generate more loyalty in the form of repeat business as well as more new attendance from the positive word-of-mouth advertising it would generate.

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