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Author Topic: The multiplex was once a force, but it’s gone over to the dark side
Frank Cox
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The multiplex was once a force, but it’s gone over to the dark side
quote:
The multiplex was once a force, but it’s gone over to the dark side

Marsha Lederman

The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Jan. 08, 2016 7:59PM EST

Last updated Friday, Jan. 08, 2016 11:32PM EST

There’s a good chance you returned to an old flame over the holidays, figures suggest. But was something awakened in you?

I’m referring, of course, to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a force in the universe so strong that it drew people back to that old love, the movie theatre, after years of neglect. This week it became the highest-grossing film of all time in North America.

Many of you have probably been involved in a new, comfortable situation – holed up under the covers at home with Netflix (and perhaps BitTorrent, shame on you). In 2014, attendance at North American movie theatres hit a nearly two-decade low. Things are expected to bounce back somewhat this year; The Force Awakens is obviously a factor.

The film presented an enormous opportunity. Here was a chance for theatres to woo back audiences, by showing them what they’ve been missing. Think midnight mass: You’ve got a once-a-year audience packed into the pews and you want to be welcoming and impressive enough that they’ll consider returning on some regular Sunday.

So this reunion with the theatre for Star Wars should have been an easy and spectacular encounter. Perhaps you discovered that it wasn’t.

You may have wondered what the heck D-Box 3-D UltraAVX Atmos was, and why it cost $23.50 per ticket – or how it differed from UltraAVX 3-D, regular 3-D, or just “regular.” Perhaps you balked, as I did, at the $46.38 spent on popcorn and sugary drinks – a total that did not seem to reflect the fact that you ordered family members to share, and even applied your Scene Card discount.

That’s when you, who have not been to the theatre in some time, were introduced to the fresh hell of the self-serve beverage machine. (Depending on your location.) You may have been surprised, after lining up for popcorn, when the person behind the counter handed over paper cups that were, alas, empty and directed you and your brood over to yet another line-up.

There you performed a balancing act – popcorn, children, movie tickets – while you searched for space on the inadequately sized counter and selected from infinite flavour offerings on a touch screen that may have thrilled your seven-year-old, but probably provoked a different reaction in you, the thirsty adult breaking out into a sweat as the queue behind you grew ever longer.

There are some aspects of the movie-theatre experience that are beyond the theatre’s control: the bathroom stall spoilers (it happened to us), the play-by-play plot-breakdown whispers from the couple behind you, the last-bit-of-pop slurpers at key emotional moments, the Tommy Texters.

But 15 minutes (approx.) of commercials? After living through those inane interactive quizzes? Followed by a similarly long block of trailers? While I did thoroughly enjoy a mock trailer for Chicken Squad – an ad from the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board – one line from it seemed to sum up the endurance test of this movie-going experience: “Oh, cluck.”

It seems to me if they want to lure audiences back to the theatres and away from their couches and all the binge-watching they can manage for $9.99 a month, exhibitors are going to have to do better. Otherwise it’s just too easy to stay home and watch Making a Murderer or 134 episodes of The Good Wife.

A film diet consumed entirely at home is a viable option, with a film and TV landscape that is pretty much unrecognizable from the previous time a Star Wars movie whisked us to a galaxy far, far away.

On iTunes, you can already order recent blockbusters such as The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road – both of which are up for Best Picture awards at this weekend’s Golden Globes and are likely to score Oscar nominations when they’re announced on Thursday.

In 2015, Netflix subscribers watched 42.5 billion hours of programming. This week, Netflix announced a huge global expansion into more than 130 new countries (with the notable exception of China – and they’re working on that). “You are witnessing the birth of a global TV network,” said chief executive officer Reed Hastings.

That birth comes with all kinds of potential carnage. In Canada, pick-and-pay, cord-cutting (and cord-nevers – people who have never subscribed to cable and don’t plan to) are of grave concern to cable and satellite providers and the television industry. A report out this week predicts funding and job losses with the great cable unbundling to come – even a threat to the survival of some Canadian channels.

Sure, giant releases such as Star Wars and 3-D technology you can’t get at home will always be a draw. But if it’s unpleasant at the multiplex, it’s pretty easy to just stay home; there’s always something to watch. I love going to the movies, and I hate being a Marsha Moaner, but I fear the industry is losing the plot – and is in danger of losing the audience, too.


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Buck Wilson
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Welp, there ya have it.

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James Biggins
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That article nails it. Excellent!

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Mike Blakesley
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These kinds of articles are so annoying because the writer always insists that the theater industry has to "do better."

Do what better? She had no complaints at all about the movie, just the ads and the prices and the "other people." And the movie was the thing they went to see -- if the theater "did that" right, most everything else could be dealt with.

Such as, a lot of the gripes she had could have been addressed by just waiting a little while to go to that movie. Want shorter lines and less people to deal with? Simple - avoid the opening weekend.

Want to not "juggle?" Take the kids to the auditorium first, get them settled and then send Dad out for snacks.

Don't like the ads? Pull out the ever-present cellphone and ignore them, but recognize they're a fact of life for many places. Every theater ad package should periodically have a slide that says "Thank you for watching these ads. If we didn't have them, your ticket price would have to be higher and we might not be able to afford to stay in business." (Our ads are going to help pay for our next digital upgrade.)

And then maybe another one explaining how movie ticket prices have actually gone up LESS than other things, given inflation.

These "gripe" articles are always written from an uninformed point of view that never takes the nuts-and-bolts of theater operation into consideration. And they NEVER go interview a theater manager to get their take on it.

The industry's main failing is not educating people and the media as to WHY prices are what they are. They're too busy touting ridiculous opening weekend ticket sales.

I agree with her about the self serve soda machine though. (Obviously one of those Coke Freestyle disasters.) But even that -- maybe multiplex owners are just tired of people holding up the line by going "I need more ice! That's not full enough! Oh wait, I meant a large, not a medium! Wait, could I change that to a Dr. Pepper?

I'm always ready to hear suggestions on what the industry could "do better." But they have to be realistic and suggest things that we could actually DO without putting ourselves out of business.

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Manny Montes
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quote:
On iTunes, you can already order recent blockbusters such as The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road – both of which are up for Best Picture awards at this weekend’s Golden Globes and are likely to score Oscar nominations when they’re announced on Thursday.
I think this is the most pertinent part of the article, people don't see it worth going to the movies because you can wait a few months and download it and watch it on a 5" screen. Unfortunately for us, people have put convenience over any sort of real experience.

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Frank Cox
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With regard to the ads, I think that saying "it's a fact of life" so deal with it is, in fact, the problem.

On all of my shows, I play a "turn off your cellphone" notice, then between one and three appropriate movie trailers, then "Our Feature Presentation" or "Welcome", and then the movie. No ads here for anything other than forthcoming movies that I intend to play here. People can see ads on television for free, they don't want to pay to watch more ads here.

If it's really and truly necessary to raise the prices to not have to play ads, then raise the prices. Otherwise you're degrading the experience that you're providing for your customers and people will "deal with it" by staying home.

Same thing with cell phones. Clamp down on cell phones in the auditorium. Hard and consistently. People learn that they can't have a cellphone blazing away in the auditorium, and everyone's experience is improved. Excessive talking? Feet up on the back of the seats? Kids bouncing around at a non-kiddy show? This must STOP and if you toss a couple of customers out once in a while to make that point, then so be it! Your other customers will appreciate it and will probably come back again next week; otherwise they may not.

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Jim Cassedy
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quote: Mike Blakesley
Every theater ad package should periodically have a slide that says "Thank you for watching these ads. If we didn't have them, your ticket price would have to be higher
Case in point:
The theater I've been running Hatful Eight at does not show ads ("roadshow" or not).

But, for the privilege of not having to endure any extra advertising, they add an
"amenities fee",which, depending on day of week & time of performance can add
as much as $3.50 to the the ticket price. According to the theaters' website, this
extra fee covers an assortment of things, including lack of advertising, and the
extra costs associated with being "environmentally politically correct"

(To be fair, that last phrase is mine; but it's essentially what the corporate-speak
explanation on their website boils down to)

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Leo Enticknap
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Mike: I think it's the chain multiplex she has in her sights, not the independent, neighborhood exhibitor or arthouse theater. Her argument is that ticket prices have risen a lot in real terms, but the audience experience has degraded: standing in line for self-service, poor hygiene standards, etc. etc. Image and sound technology by itself will not draw theater audiences, especially as the increasing ticket and concessions prices mean that going to the movies is no longer the cheapest option for mass audience entertainment. The price now is approaching that of some live theater, music or sports events, meaning that movie theaters are now in competition with other sectors of the entertainment industry that they could once easily undercut on price.

I very rarely go to a typical suburban multiplex (precisely once during 2015, in fact), but from my limited experience of doing so, I think the reporter has a valid point, even if she does exaggerate it a bit. Furthermore, audiences aren't stupid. Most moviegoers will have no problem with an independent theater in a remote location showing a few minutes of ads to help fund a badly needed upgrade (especially if some of them are local ads), but are likely to be irritated by a mega-chain multiplex playing as many minutes of ads as they were charged bucks for their ticket.

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Buck Wilson
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quote: Mike Blakesley
Such as, a lot of the gripes she had could have been addressed by just waiting a little while to go to that movie. Want shorter lines and less people to deal with? Simple - avoid the opening weekend.
That's one of the few perks of going to a theater to see a movie anymore.... seeing it immediately. Wait a week or two and you might as well wait for Netflix.

If the megaplex corps weren't so stingy with payroll, lines wouldn't be so long.......

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Mike Blakesley
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You don't have to wait a week or two. Wait a couple of days. We're still getting people at Star Wars: TFA who have waited until the "crowds diminished" to see it.

quote: Leo Enticknap
Most moviegoers will have no problem with an independent theater in a remote location showing a few minutes of ads to help fund a badly needed upgrade (especially if some of them are local ads), but are likely to be irritated by a mega-chain multiplex playing as many minutes of ads as they were charged bucks for their ticket.
This is true. We've been running ads now for 3 years and I have never had one single complaint or snide remark about them -- in fact I've had some compliments because there are local people in all of the ads.

I haven't done a poll but I would bet just about any amount of money that if I asked people, Would you rather see these ads or pay 50 cents to a buck more for each ticket? that an overwhelming majority of people would opt to keep the ads.

Don't get me wrong, I don't LIKE showing ads. I resisted it with every fiber of my being. But, I'm no dummy about this computer-related digital stuff. We're probably going to have to buy another new projector within 5 to 10 years. We already had to buy a new server. And while I enjoy putting profits back into the business, I don't want to put 100% of the profits back into it! So the ads pay for upgrades and anyone who asks me why we run them will find that out.

I don't quite get why theaters are supposed to be sacred ad-free zones anyway. Pay $100 or more to see a sporting event, there is advertising playing on multiple screens and plastered across every available surface, including the back of your ticket.

We play our ads at soft volume and they run before the advertised showtime, so anyone who wants to visit, or look at their phone, or even arrive exactly at showtime, can do that without being distracted by the ads if they so choose.

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James Wyrembelski
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Leo hit the nail on the head. I'd agree the article's sights are not on the little guy.

And I'd bet Mike is right as well....people will put up with the ads if it means even 50 cents off the ticket price. And yes, sporting events basically are just one big advertisement.....

From what I've observed it's pretty much "commercials" that patrons have an issue with as far as the ads go. A silent slideshow or with soft music featuring local merchants and business people are often welcomed....especially in small towns. Usually these theaters play the ads starting 30 minutes before show time and run till the advertised time the movie is to play. A multiplex near me actually plays what is pretty much TV commercials at near deafening volume WHEN the show time is advertised....we no longer go there and patronize the 3 single screens near me within a stone's throw. Many in this area are following that trend. They're more personal and feel more like a theater.

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Sam Graham
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The article focuses on the extreme worst-case scenarios. But the truth is...

You can still see any release in 2-D in a mostly empty auditorium, even opening weekend, for around seven bucks in most of the US.

There is no requirement to buy snacks. You are not going to die of hunger in two hours.

The pre-show commercial content doesn't matter because nobody's paying attention to it. They're all on their smart phones catching up on social media or even watching TV shows.

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Justin Hamaker
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I think the length of trailers is probably the most problematic part of what I see at Regal or Cinemark locations. Just because you CAN program 20-25 minutes of trailers doesn't mean you should. We have always stuck to 'about 10 minutes' of trailers. Sometimes it will be a little more and sometimes a little less. It depends on the running time of the movie and whether there are multiple trailers which 'deserve' to be on a movie.

Our customers know we run 10 minutes of trailers and we frequently see people taking advantage of that when running behind, or if they just don't want to watch the trailers.

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Mike Blakesley
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quote: James Wyrembelski
A multiplex near me actually plays what is pretty much TV commercials at near deafening volume WHEN the show time is advertised.
See now that's a cardinal sin in my book. Ads have no place past the advertised showtime and should be played at soft level, I think. I know there are some places that play ads mixed into the trailers. These places should be burned down.

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Brian DeCiancio
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quote:
Mike Blakesley said:

This is true. We've been running ads now for 3 years and I have never had one single complaint or snide remark about them -- in fact I've had some compliments because there are local people in all of the ads.

I haven't done a poll but I would bet just about any amount of money that if I asked people, Would you rather see these ads or pay 50 cents to a buck more for each ticket? that an overwhelming majority of people would opt to keep the ads.

Don't get me wrong, I don't LIKE showing ads. I resisted it with every fiber of my being. But, I'm no dummy about this computer-related digital stuff. We're probably going to have to buy another new projector within 5 to 10 years. We already had to buy a new server. And while I enjoy putting profits back into the business, I don't want to put 100% of the profits back into it! So the ads pay for upgrades and anyone who asks me why we run them will find that out.

I don't quite get why theaters are supposed to be sacred ad-free zones anyway. Pay $100 or more to see a sporting event, there is advertising playing on multiple screens and plastered across every available surface, including the back of your ticket.

We play our ads at soft volume and they run before the advertised showtime, so anyone who wants to visit, or look at their phone, or even arrive exactly at showtime, can do that without being distracted by the ads if they so choose.

I agree 100% with every statement here. I too resisted for 10+ years until thinking about the upgrades the extra revenue can go toward from a 6 and 8 plex. I do not run them at my DI.

The ads are scheduled to be finished before the advertised start time.

quote:
Buck Wilson said:
If the megaplex corps weren't so stingy with payroll, lines wouldn't be so long.......

While that is often the case, extra staff does not always eliminate lines. My theaters are neither part of a big chain, nor are they first-run, but we can have every station manned with efficient staff and still have long lines. Sometimes there just isn't much you can do except apologize and thank people for their patience.

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