On average, movie theaters fill only a shocking 15 percent of their total capacity. Ticket sales have been declining for a decade, and recent surveys find that movie buffs are increasingly unwilling to pay escalating prices. Cinema owners gathered last week at the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas to debate what they can do to get patrons back to the cineplex. Here, critics weigh in on six strategies:
1. Allow cellphone use
The buzziest CinemaCon panel featured a noisy debate over whether texting and tweeting in movie theaters should no longer be taboo. "At a time when teenagers are going to the movies less and less, it might be time to relax our prohibitions," says Patrick Goldstein at the Los Angeles Times. Teens are chained to the cellphones, says IMAX exec Greg Foster. Asking them to shell out $14 for a movie ticket and forcing them to turn off their phones makes them "feel a little handcuffed." While many critics balked at the idea of cellphone glows ruining their screenings, Kevin Jagernauth at Indie Wire acknowledges that "social networking is part of the tapestry of how we communicate, and that does need to be recognized."
2. Make movie releases events again
The industry needs to convince younger consumers that "the movie-going experience remains something special… something so innovative and creative — that it cannot be duplicated at home, no matter how many boxes they have," says Motion Picture Association of America Chief Christopher Dodd. The rise of 3D and IMAX, especially, have made in-roads on that front, though consumers have proven predictably unenthusiastic about paying the higher ticket prices that come with those technologies, says Brad Tuttle at TIME.
3. Variable pricing
"Cheaper prices would mean more tickets sold, simple as that," says Tuttle. Some theaters are considering the idea of charging less for a film later on its run, or setting up a pricing structure based on the film's budget or reviews. There are certainly "mediocre movies that aren't worth $10 or $12 to see, but can be justified if a ticket only costs $5 or $6." It would also be a smart way to get frugal consumers to pay for smaller indie films, says Kelly West at Cinema Blend. But the plan could backfire, says Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, as cheaper tickets could turn off potential consumers who assume it means the film is garbage.
4. Let consumers choose what films are playing
The simple idea behind the new web service Tugg is that people would be more likely to patronize their local cineplex if it were playing a movie they wanted to see. The crowdsourcing service allows users to choose a film they want to see, a participating neighborhood theater, and showtime. If enough people commit to buying tickets on Tugg's website, the screening is on. It's a win-win, says Jason Gilbert at The Huffington Post. "The theater is guaranteed a full, profitable screening, and the ticket buyers get to enjoy a movie they all really want to see in theaters."
5. Offer rewards for buying tickets
There are two camps of moviegoers, says Claude Brodesser-Akner at New York: Rabid consumers who see more than a dozen films a year, and those who might go to one or two. The movie industry needs to retain those "avid cinephiles," who make up 60 percent of movie business grosses, while wooing reluctant moviegoers to the cineplex more often. Perks akin to frequent flyer miles and other incentives could go a long way towards keeping frequent ticket purchasers happy, and persuade inconsistent patrons to come out more often.
6. Offer unlimited passes
Last summer, moviegoers got excited over MoviePass, a planned subscription service that would let users watch an unlimited number of films in movie theaters for a flat rate of $50 a month. Considering that seeing just one film can cost as much as $15 in some markets, Casey Chan at Gizmodo argued that the idea could take off, especially with frequent moviegoers. But after major cinema chains refused to cooperate with MoviePass, the idea was nixed. Still, says Chan, there's a market for it.