Just as politicians like Barack Obama are quick to pass the buck for the nation’s ills (remember, it’s all Bush’s fault), so too does the movie industry explain away its attendance woes. Film piracy and online file sharing receive the lion’s share of the blame here, but if you don’t work for a studio, you’re probably not buying that excuse.
One such skeptic is film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, who penned a column on his blog titled “I'll tell you why movie revenue is dropping
.” Ebert divides blame between six sources of movie-goer angst, and each has its merits.
Most obviously, (1) 2011 lacked a blockbuster of Avatar-caliber. The final installment in the Potter film octalogy
grossed more than $300 million domestically, but can you name another? This leads to Ebert’s second point: (2) ticket prices. Especially in economic down times, we can’t be expected to heft over a day’s pay for a family to see an unknown, likely disappointing movie.
Ebert continues with a point he makes more politely than I might otherwise: (3) the theater experience has declined considerably with the decline of manners (you “talkers” know who you are) and the increase of cell phones, texting and other bad behavior. Not to mention Ebert’s next point, (4): refreshment prices. The vaunted critic notes that portion sizes have increased to “justify” prices, but notes “today's bucket of popcorn would feed a thoroughbred
Finally, leaving the theater, Ebert concludes with two points conceded by studios: (5) competition from alternatives such as Netflix (which now accounts for 30% of all evening internet traffic) and (6) lack of choice (indie movies which are gaining popularity among audiences are rarely available outside large urban centers) are plaguing the industry. Instead, movies with million dollar ad campaigns haunt the theater for a matter of weeks and then are gone forever.
As a movie-lover, I felt Mr. Ebert made a number of good points. And like many, the economy has been tough on me and my family. But before writing this column, I felt compelled to put the theater experience to a test.
Thanks to a generous relative, I had two AMC gift tickets. Otherwise, it would have cost us $16 (total) to catch a matinee of the new Sherlock Holmes flick. I believe this probably counts as a blockbuster, so point #1 didn’t apply today.
Regarding #2: I didn’t see what full-priced evening show tickets cost, but did notice the loan applications at the ticket window. My recommendation: movie tickets or gift cards are definitely the way to go.
As for the experience #3: we got lucky. No noticeable talkers, texters, sexters, or other miscreants in our theater. I may have been the exception, as I had to blow my nose during the movie. Twice. That said, there were only twelve people in the theater.
Now, for refreshment price, I’m siding wholly with Mr. Ebert. I saw the bargain deal #1 above the register advertising big savings for a large popcorn and a large drink. By my estimation, including the bag, the cup, the popcorn (no butter), the ice and the soda, my order possibly cost the theater 59-cents plus whatever the clerk taking my order earned in our four minute transaction. For this, I was charged $13.50.
I kid you not.
At this point, my nose started to run and I was angry, and I couldn’t concentrate on the movie because sucking every bit of flavor out of every kernel of popcorn became my one and only mission in life. I believe Robert Downey, Jr., starred in the film. The rest was just a blur.
I am indeed a Netflix subscriber. One of the few who remained, in fact. And as my television screen is about the size of, oh, Montana, I have little problem recreating the theater experience in my own home. In fact, with a Blu-Ray from the Red Box, a $1 two-liter of soda and a $3 box of microwave popcorn (3 bags, no less), I can recreate the theater in tremendous comfort for less than the price of one ticket.
Sure, some of you readers will remember I suggested not long ago that all the NBA players should be fired for their outrageous strike. Am I a crank? An old curmudgeon? Maybe.
But just as I believed a little tough love would have got the NBA season back on track sooner (and players working a bit harder, too), so too do I believe both Hollywood and theater chains need to start working a bit harder for our business. As consumers, if we start saying “NO!”, they’ll start working to win us back.
I kid you not.