The Undesirable Future of the Cinematic Experience
When you go to the movies, you usually have options. Not just with what kind of movie you want to see, but also how you want to see it.
Here in the Pacific Northwest where I live, we of course have access to regular 2D screenings of just about every film that's in wide release. A handful of them are also presented in 3D. Many of our cineplexes are also equipped with massive IMAX screens. Additionally, our Regal theaters have their Regal Premium Experience (RPX). AMC has Dolby Theater experiences. And Seattle has one of the six theaters in the country featuring 4DX movies. I can only imagine what other forms and formats cinemas in other markets offer to enhance the movie going experience.
This, it seems, is how theaters want to earn more of your money. Bigger, louder, more immersive experiences that they can upcharge you for.
However, this means that movie tickets in general are getting expensive. This year, the average cost of a movie where I live in Bellingham, WA is $12 per ticket, and in the nearby major market of Seattle, it's $13 per ticket...both are far above the national average of $8.65. And with the national average for ticket prices going up every year, that means movies are only going to get even more expensive from here, causing people to be less likely to go to the movies.
Which brings me back around to all of those formats movies come in now. Adding these premium in-theater experiences seems to be the cinemas' way of coercing the people that do build movie-going into their budgets to spend top dollar while they're at it. It's a strategy that makes sense for blockbuster filmmaking, but is this a strategy that best supports the long term sustainability of the movie industry as a whole?
The great thing about movies is that they serve a diverse set of objectives. Some are meant to expose audiences to new places, cultures, and ideas. Others strive to convey important points, themes, and messages. And of course, there are movies that are purely meant for fun and entertainment. What I am afraid of is this emphasis on bigger, louder, more immersive experiences at the movie theater will eventually take precedent over what many value in watching a movie: sharp, effective, purposeful storytelling.
Obviously, there will always be a place in the movie-going world for loud, VFX heavy...sometimes even brainless...blockbuster movies; experiences meant for these premium formats. But will the industry's demanding need for more money from its patrons drive these and upcoming gimmicky formats to become the new, more expensive normal at the cinema?
If so, I think we are fortunately still a long ways off from premium format only cineplexes. But, it is clear premium formats are where theater chains are placing their priority. Here in Bellingham, our local Regal theater finally adopted assigned seating, which makes attending crowded or sold out showing much more convenient for the advance ticket purchaser. But they only applied it to their IMAX and RPX screens, leaving their other 14 standard viewing screens first come, first serve. Trailers for movies, as you may have noticed, emphasize seeing movies in 3D and IMAX, even if the film is not ideal for 3D or formatted for IMAX screens. And as I mentioned, 4DX has come to Seattle, with ticket prices registering at a whopping $26.05 per ticket.
For now, moviegoers can enjoy a little bit of relief at the box office. Moviepass, the $9.99 per month service, has made going to one standard 2D movie per day as affordable as having a Netflix account. While the viability of business model, which relies on the back-end selling of consumer data to recoup front-end loses, might be questionable, my hope is that Moviepass not only finds a path to sustainability, but also forces the industry to innovate and follow suit.
What it comes down to is the cinema industry asking themselves this: is it better to squeeze existing consumers for as much as possible in premium-style experiences, or make moviegoing accessible to a broader crowd that may be more inclined to spend at the concession stand with a new-found movie ticket savings?
For the record, I am an active MoviePass user and have been completely content foregoing the premium experience in favor of the affordable one. There you go. Free information for any decision makers in the industry who were curious.