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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Upscale Cinema

Here's my prediction, which I don't think is too daring: over the next ten years, a brutal and severe movie theater shake-out will take place - the result of our increasing preference for enjoying movies at home. We'll go from 36,000 screensin the U.S. to less than 10,000. But those that survive are going to be *fab*: giant screens, cushy seats, great sight lines, tasty food (not to mention booze), intelligent programming, and frequent visits from directors. (And along with it all, premium pricing.) The blah theaters will vanish.

The NY Times has a story today headlined, 'Liked the Movie, Loved the Megaplex.' The story opens at the Palace 20 in Boca Raton, where there's valet parking, child care, popcorn shrimp, pinot noir - and $18 tickets for reserved seats. (An aside: I spent a summer working as a film critic for the Boca Raton News.)

Bruce Weber writes:

    Not your image of moviegoing? Pretty soon it might be. At a time when movie attendance is flagging, when home entertainment is offering increasing competition and when the largest theater chains - Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment (which has recently announced a merger with Loews Cineplex) and Cinemark - are focused on shifting from film to digital projection, a handful of smaller companies with names like Muvico Theaters, Rave Motion Pictures and National Amusements are busy rethinking what it means to go to the movie theater.

    The Palace, which was opened five years ago by Muvico, a chain of distinctive megaplex theaters based in South Florida, remains pretty close to the gold standard, in terms of customer amenities in first-run theaters. But the competition is growing. In the age of the megaplex, after all, said Hamid Hashemi, Muvico's president, everyone gets pretty much the same movies and pretty much the same quality prints. "So what makes someone pass up one location and go to another one?" he added. "It's how you package the experience."

    In other words, you have to offer more than a movie.

    "It's the folks who create a compelling value proposition for consumers who will be the survivors in our business," said Paul Glantz, whose company, Emagine Entertainment, runs three megaplex theaters in Michigan, all featuring full bars and allowing customers to take their drinks to their seats.

The piece also suggests that much of this innovation may come from smaller theater-owners, not chains.