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TOPIC: When Moviegoers Vote With Their Feet

When Moviegoers Vote With Their Feet 15 Mar 2006 20:52 #12371

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LAS VEGAS, March 15 — In a loud corner of the Bally's hotel convention floor, a dozen beefy, bare-chested men wearing chicken masks and black Lycra tights leapt from a wrestling ring onto the exhibition floor. It was a welcome distraction at the annual ShoWest convention this week, where the aim is to whip up enthusiasm among movie theater owners for the coming summer blockbusters

Deftly stepping to avoid a flying wrestler (part of the promotion for the June release of a new Jack Black movie, "Nacho Libre, Frank J. Rimkus, the chief executive of Galaxy Theaters, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., mused on the subject preoccupying most convention attendees, namely, the future of American moviegoing

"There is a general recognition that the world of entertainment is opening up in ways that we can't imagine today, we are launching into a whole new era," he said. He added, with a note of self-confession: "We are trying to understand what the public wants. And Galaxy does not yet have a handle on it."

The slide in American moviegoing was an open wound at the ShoWest convention, and was addressed with unusual directness by John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, and Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, in their speeches here.

The decline in attendance for three consecutive years "is a trend that must be reversed," Mr. Glickman declared in his address Tuesday; he still called himself "bullish about the moviegoing experience." A former secretary of agriculture, Mr. Glickman suggested that the film industry undertake something similar to the "Got Milk" campaign that promoted the dairy industry as a whole.

For his part, Mr. Fithian defended the idea of maintaining the interval between a movie's initial release in theaters and its later release on DVD and video. Most studios, he said, had come out in favor of maintaining the delay.

With the rising popularity of flat-screen, surround-sound home entertainment systems, the competition to theaters is stiffer than ever, a challenge at least as great as the arrival of television in the 1940's, and the videocassette recorder in the 1980's.

For the film industry, the trend of rising costs may also be tapering off as the entertainment landscape changes. Mr.
Glickman cited association statistics that showed the average cost to make and market a film in 2005 dipped slightly, to $96.2 million last year. The same study noted that the studios, which make up the association, spent more on advertising on network television and Internet sites and less on newspapers and local television.

Given the rapidly growing entertainment options for consumers, at least some companies spoke about short-term alternatives, like limiting investment in new theaters to maintain positive cash flow.
As a longer-term proposition, many exhibitors are looking to digital projection — the next technical leap that would do away with movie reels — to help catapult them past the current slump. But the arrival of digital projection, which had been delayed by a now resolved argument between studios and theater chains over who would pay for the new equipment, is still two to three years away, experts say.

The future of the industry, many here seemed to agree, lies with understanding consumer behavior toward what has been a leading entertainment choice for almost a century. "That's the real question: What do you do to stir attendance, to get people in theaters?" asked Peter C. Brown, chairman of AMC Entertainment, which has 4,400 screens across the country.

His company, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., is toying with lowering ticket prices for off-peak hours — something he nervously referred to as "a slippery slope" — and is looking to digital projectors to allow more flexibility in swapping films among theaters, according to changing audience demand.

"The movie industry needs to take a big leap forward to market itself," said Jeffrey Frank, president of Drexel Theaters Group, a company based in Columbus, Ohio, that primarily operates art houses. For several years, Mr. Frank has held parties for those on line for popular midnight movies, had Oscar night parties at his theaters and instituted concierge services with reserved seating for his patrons.

Mr. Rimkus, whose Galaxy Theaters owns 101 screens in California, Washington and Texas, said that some of the company's theaters were being used, during down-time, for church services and college classes. But he also recalled a heyday of moviegoing in the 1920's and 30's when, he said, theaters were central to American communal life.
"We'll always be tied to the studios," he said, "but we need to serve the community as entertainment value, and educational value."

What about the movies themselves? The summer promises the usual blockbusters including Mission Impossible III and the Pixar computer-animated Cars. On that, Mr. Frank was clear. "Hollywood has to stop making movies out of television shows," he said. "They need to take more risks, people want more stories — and they need to make movies for all of us."

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Re: When Moviegoers Vote With Their Feet 15 Mar 2006 22:55 #12372

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Sounds like they've been reading the posts on Bigscreenbiz!... OK, they know WHAT'S wrong, so what are they gonna DO about it?... Talk about it, or actually take their own advice and FIX the problems they have already acknowledged... I HOPE they DO what needs to be done, but the history of this biz does not reflect that common sense plays much of a role in the ACTIONS of the movers and shakers... MAYBE this time it will...

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