Theaters Rely on Amenities to Beat Netflix, But Cater Only to the Affluent

The entire theatrical movie exhibition industry is facing significant headwinds coming from multiple directions. Ticket sales dropped in the first quarter of this year and while mid-range original comedies and dramas like Long Shot, Booksmart and others have failed to launch at the box-office, Netflix keeps eating up all the buzz with releases like Always Be My Maybe.

It’s not just Netflix, of course. Every major media company either has or is about to launch its own streaming service, including not just series but also feature films. While theater chains have lauded Disney for how much they support the movie going experience, it will be interesting to see if their tune changes when the studio puts Noelle, starring Anna Kendrick, on Disney+ instead of releasing it to theaters.

In the face of changing consumer preferences that favor at-home or on-the-go streaming and competition from the same producers that have long provided the content they need to operate, theaters have changed the experience offered to visitors. For the most part, those changes have involved adding amenities and services such as those detailed here, including gourmet snacks, craft beer, bottle service and more.

Those changes and adaptation, along with the embrace of premium formats like IMAX, almost solely involve higher ticket prices. Indeed, when the most popular movies are those not released in those formats, the average ticket price falls along with overall industry revenue.

It’s a mindset that’s not uncommon throughout the media world. Indeed, the newspaper and news industry seems to think the only way to survive the threat posed by Facebook and Google is to consolidate scale at unprecedented levels. Technology and media companies are merging and acquiring, too, as they seek to fend off Netflix, Apple and other innovators. Those moves similarly create products that are often more expensive for the average consumer despite promises the new mega-entity will bring prices down.

Slowly but surely the entire theatrical experience is being redesigned to be available only to those who can afford such premium amenities and experiences. The middle-class in America continues shrinking wages remain stagnant (in terms of real dollars) while the cost of food, energy and other necessities keep rising. Even Walmart, once the dominant force in retail appealing to low-income shoppers, is facing challengers as the number of people in that category increases.

Meanwhile the theatrical industry is doing everything it can to make moviegoing more expensive. Subscription ticket services may help to some extent, but it’s only a matter of time before studios or exhibitors start imposing restrictions on what titles, formats or showtimes do and don’t qualify for members, wanting to exercise some control in the same way they do over the home video/streaming market.

Left behind are audiences for whom going to the movies is simply out of reach financially. Those at the top of the income ladder, where more and more of the country’s and world’s wealth is consolidated, will be catered to while everyone else will be shut out. That’s the same situation people find themselves in other areas, whether it’s technology, food, fashion or other market.

What’s shocking about this is that it’s difficult to believe adding three different kinds of signature guacamole to a theater’s menu and delivering it along with the microbrew IPA in custom bottles via server actually enhances the moviegoing experience. That Fast Company story shows the writer focusing more on what he’s eating and drinking than the movie itself. If people want to do that, they can order Postmates at home while watching The Perfection. The core question of “what can we offer that’s unique” is not answered under this scenario, it’s just that hiking up costs in some manner seems to be the only solution theater owners can come up with, whatever the particular challenge might be.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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