Since the first nickelodeon opened in 1905, going to the movies has become a treasured American pastime. Jump forward a century and some change and it’s hard to imagine life without a multiplex in every town and an overpriced Saturday night screening as a date night option. Or is it?
A quick Google search of movie theater performance for 2016 paints a pretty bleak picture.
While theaters generated over $8 billion in ticket sales, the summer of 2016 saw attendance decline by 3.5% and 2015 marked the fourth consecutive year that frequent moviegoing fell in every demographic save two (the 25-39 and 2-11 demos). What this signals is a change in the kind of audiences movie theaters are pulling in — and larger changes in where we’re going for entertainment and what kind of entertainment we seek.
The rising popularity of streaming platforms and on-demand services coupled with higher-than-ever ticket prices and concessions means home entertainment is slowly creeping in on the cinema’s turf. Netflix now boasts over 98 million subscribers, adding over 5 million paying members between October and December of last year alone. Those numbers are telling compared with the drop in theatergoers and the underwhelming summer box office performance of 2016.
But a few independent theaters are scrapping the factory-line model of moviegoing – cutting out kiosks, reserved seating, generic snack options, and gargantuan screens in order to revisit and revise why movie theaters became so popular to begin with, all in the hopes of driving crowds back to the cinema.
They’re looking to the past to inform the present and possibly save the future of movie theaters by recreating the feel of a bygone era where the experience of going to the cinema is just as important as the movie you’re paying to see, and where each trip to the theater offers a unique outing tailored to their desires. In short, they’re trying to make going to the movies into a destination and an adventure.