Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's time to rebel against the theaters

Property The Daily Gamecock

The movie industry claims it wants to stop Internet piracy. Several years ago, studio and theater analysts decided the reason ticket sales began to slump in several crucial money-making weeks was, simply, Internet piracy. Nothing to do with the quality, nothing to do with inflation or poor marketing — the fault was the laziness of the 18-30 age demographic who essentially “stole” from hardworking filmmakers by watching a video online.

In 2009, Hollywood rode an upswing, posting record numbers of ticket sales and grosses.All told, last year was the industry’s most successful year ever. Those same analysts who questioned if audiences would keep going to theaters just a few years ago suddenly rejoiced, claiming it’s a sure sign that people are headed back to stadium seating in droves.

It’s a shame then that Regal Entertainment Group is leading the charge in threatening to undo this newfound success. With a handful of tent-pole blockbusters, movies that studios firmly believe will make boatloads of money by being marketed as “must-see events,” in the works for the first half of 2010, Regal and other big-name corporate theaters are instigating several practices that may send the 18-30 demographic back to the Web for their film fix.

Several months ago, Regal Cinemas made the decision to eliminate student discounts on Friday and Saturday. This means that students, who just a year ago enjoyed their two dollar discount at new releases, are paying $9.50 (or more) at their most likely time to go to the movies: the two weekend evenings.

Sure, on a corporate level this decision has a level of logic. College students will go see “Avatar” anyway; they’ll pay the extra fees no questions asked and have a great night at the movies.

But practically, it looks like a scheme to capitalize on increased ticket sales. It’s one thing for a theater to not have student discounts at all, it’s another thing to remove discounts on only Friday and Saturday, the two most profitable nights for any theater.

So then why not just go earlier in the day? Get a reduced price at a 4:30 matinee and get dinner afterwards instead of before? That would work, except these theater chains are also trying to get rid of matinees.

Regal Cinemas and AMC are just two chains who are gradually eroding the idea of an afternoon matinee. At the former, matinees end at three in the afternoon. Most theaters traditionally end matinees at five or six, clearly dividing reduced price “afternoon” and larger-draw “evening” shows.

Taken together, these new practices are a remarkable one-two punch to drive up revenue and exploit one of Hollywood’s most successful moments. Get rid of discounts, push evening prices into afternoon shows and watch the money roll in.

Most unsuspecting spectators won’t even know what hit them, but if they really want to see “Shutter Island,” they’ll just have to fork out those ten dollars. Or they could scour the Internet for a low quality video someone shot in a theater.

The troubling paradox here is that Hollywood makes it their mission to get the 18-30 year old demographic into the theater as often as possible, but these theater chains are creating practices that isolate the very same demographic.

The very concept of a student discount is creating an incentive to get more people to come see a movie. If more chains follow Regal’s sly practices, studios will once again wonder why turnouts are in decline.

If the theaters are so deluded as to believe they are the only ones who provide access to films, and therefore can charge whatever they want and use any practices they want, they should reconsider how they’re competing not only against each other, but the DVD market and the Internet.

The digital age has redefined how we watch movies, and not only because of special effects. Theaters are no longer the sole place to experience a film, and these theaters certainly aren’t making a case for their continued survival. That’s Entertainment.

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