Over at Vulture, Claude Brodesser-Akner has a list of "Five Ideas to Lure Moviegoers Back to the Theater." Brodesser-Akner says that the moviegoing audience is basically split into two groups: the hardcore cinephiles who go to twenty films a year and the ultra-casual viewer who goes no more than once or twice. From a business perspective, he writes, theaters have already reached a saturation point with cinephiles; there's very little they can do to coax you out to the theater any more than you already go, you no-life-having nerd you. That's why theaters are starting to target the ultra-casual viewers, hoping they can catch their attenion with some newfangled perks. Brodesser-Akner's list of incentives include improved rewards programs for loyal customers, babysitting services, and buy-in-bulk ticket discounts:
"If movie tickets can be commoditized, like toilet paper at Costco, people might be inclined to purchase a whole bunch, months in advance. After all, just like rolls of toilet paper, you’re going to be using ‘em at some point in the future."
There are some smart ideas in Brodesser-Akner's piece, but there's a disturbing lack of ideas in one seemingly fundamental area: improving the actual movie theater experience. Better rewards programs are nice (free better rewards programs are better — some chains have started charging for enrollment), cheaper tickets (or concessions) would be terrific, and crowdsourced programming via websites like Tugg is interesting. But these ideas, even if they work, are just band-aids on the oozing head wound that is the crumminess of the theater experience.
I talk to people about movies all day every day (technically since I work from home, I talk to my dog about movies all day every day and actual people a little bit less than that, but let's not quibble). When the topic of movie theaters comes up, do people complain about crummy rewards programs? No; they say the experience of going to the theater sucks. Just last weekend my wife and I had dinner with two non-cinephiles. When the conversation came around to movies, the other couple admitted they hadn't been to the theater in ages. Why? All the movies are horrible lately, they said, and going to the theater is almost as frustrating as the movies themselves.
These innovations are clever, but aren't they just slapping a new coat of lipstick on an old pig? If you improve the theaters (and the movies, but that's out of exhibitors' hands), the cinephiles will start recruiting friends to join them and casual viewers will remember why they used to go more. It's like "Field of Dreams" — if you build it, they will come. If you maintain it in depressing, noisy fashion, they might not.
Read more of Claude Brodesser-Akner's "Five Ideas to Lure Moviegoers Back to the Theater."