Why luxury is not the answer to cinemas' problems ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

I'm writing today's post mostly as a way to relax me. I've been in a bit of a panic these last few days because my main machine, my trustworthy mac, is giving me kernel panics and I'm in the middle of a project. It's not a nice feeling, and any repairs, I've been informed, are bound to take 10 days. So, blogging to relax, yes, but don't expect regular ones, especially considering this machine can "explode" at any time.

imax.jpgNYTimes recently wrote about a strategy employed by US cinemas to draw in more people. I quote:

"Reserved seating, plush rocking chairs and made-to-order food make Mr. Redford’s Sundance Kabuki theater feel more like a restaurant than a traditional cinema. It also has a 50-foot-high lobby with live bamboo, a glass atrium and reclaimed wood walls. Here, a night at the movies is less about enduring the hordes at the mall and more about feeling pampered."
According to the article, big US-chains are building such upscale cinemas to draw people back into the experience.

While I am a big fan of the cinema-experience and actually worked at exactly such a venue, years ago, as a cocktail-mixing barkeeper, I think there are several reasons why such a strategy won't work.

The nature of movie-viewing (1): regardless of how luxurious a place like that is, you'll still have to sit in a dark room and won't actively notice the luxury or people around you, except for before and after the movie. The reason why people like dining in luxury-restaurants is because of the luxury, yes, but also because you share it with a group of people. In cinemas, luxury is not an emotional draw.

The nature of cinemas: cinemas are still very much in a mind-frame of providing experience of the masses. That manifests itself in a McDonalds' mentality of serving guests standardised services, having a lot of seat-rotation, cleaning big rooms (badly) in less than 10 mins, etc. It's a lot of little things, but they add up to a reputation for mediocrity, and people really just come to view the movie and be with their friends.

The nature of movie-viewing (2): YouTube, the internet, modern lifestyles, etc. have created different viewing-patterns, and there is a much greater focus towards viewing media in bursts. I think that the cinema-industry thinks that it is competing with some kind of emulated experience at home, but I don't think that's generally the case. So what are cinemas competing with and should they compete with it?

Luxury is not mass: Cinemas need masses of people coming in, and luxury cinemas actually only aim to address the (imagined!) needs of a few. In my opinion, it is not a customer-focussed strategy, and is for that reason alone bound to fail.

What should cinemas do?
Now, I'm not all against a certain level of luxury. I like comfortable seats as much as the next guy and I'd love a good cocktail every once in a while. But I think standards should be upgraded throughout the cinema, all the way down to the lowest seats, and that everyone should have the option to get a cocktail (if they have the budget).

There's two main selling-points for cinemas, I think, and those are timing and technology. They are still the first to air a film (ignoring piracy), which will hopefully not change. So, for blockbusters, cinemas reign is pretty much guaranteed.

Apart from blockbusters, there's something special about seeing indie movies in cinemas, which I include into timing. I'll never forget watching "Howl's moving castle" in the cinema, it was a magical experience, one that I could never have at home.

As far as technology is concerned, admittedly we are in an age where big screens and high-def visuals and sounds are becoming commoditised, though no one is as yet planning to install a 50 ft. screen in their house, afaik. I do think that cinema-technolgy should be upgraded, all the way to the point of the IMAX-experience.

Admittedly, there are some problems with 3D-tech. It increases the cost of producing a film and won't translate well to home-viewing (I think). But my point is that cinemas should keep differentiating themselves technologically.

People is a third selling-point, though I think that unless you like going with 8+ people to the cinema, you will be able to emulate that at home.

As far as luxury is concerned, again the basics should be present, and cinemas have to make money, but cinemas would become a lot more popular if they kept the price of seats down, increased the quality of service, and charged what they charged for luxuries. The one thing that I can't stress enough is staying a leader in technology (video & audio) as that is truly where the emotional draw for cinemas comes from.

But maybe I'm wrong!? Feel free to let me know in the comments.


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