Why Movie Theatres are Losing Patrons

Posted on December 3rd, 2005 in Commentary,Entertainment,Movie Reviews by mynagirl

Nobody Goes to the Movies Anymore

There’s much ballyhoo and boo-hoo in the press these days about how movie theatre revenues are declining. Nobody “goes to the movies” anymore. DVDs are too prevalent and come out so quickly. Moviegoers just aren’t as excited about going to the movies.

One possibility is that the movie quality is declining. I know Engineerboy feels this way, at least in part. Make good, interesting movies that people want to see, and they’ll go to the theatres.

But that’s not entirely true. Sure, a theatre packed with Syrianas and When Harry Met Sallys and Full Metal Jackets would be great, and you might see more people — although some potential moviegoers may want more Dukes of Hazzards instead (which actually wasn’t a bad movie…). But the truth is, at least for people like Engineerboy and me, going to the movies is largely about the experience as much as it is the film content itself. Granted, if the only offerings at the Googleplex were Deuce Bigalow Three through Thirty-Three, we might take a pass. However, we’ll go to the movies even for a mediocre offering just to have a nice social afternoon escaping from reality, snuggling next to each other in the seats, and munching on treats.

But our urge to go for even a mediocre offering dims in the face of the waning experience that is “Going to the Movies”. Movie theatres could do SO much to improve the experience and pull people in, almost regardless of the quality of the film itself.

What the Hell are Squinkles?!

First off, improve the concessions. For some of us, this is almost the whole point of the “Going to the Movies” event… the fresh popcorn, the Milk Duds, the fountain Cokes. But movies no longer have “traditional” candy, I was informed… No Milk Duds, no Whoppers, no Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. About the only recognizable offering among the weird disgusting-looking candies were M&M’s. I’m sure somewhere at the corporate level a bean-head decided that evil alliances with sub-par candy providers were a good financial decision, and it may have looked really attractive on paper. But what 35-to-40-year-old has great memories of Squinkles at the theatre when they were a kid? I bet you if they just bought from the various vendors without regard for alliances and simply bought with the immense buying power they wield, they’d have a fully stocked display case of REAL candy that might make people actually want to come to the movies. But it’s a long-return payoff to improve the bottom line, unlike simply slashing your “treat” providers to UnknownCandyCo.

And improve the popcorn… I mean, the stuff they put on it isn’t even labeled as “Butter Flavoring”. It’s “Golden Flavoring”. If that doesn’t scare you, it should. It’s just flavored oil. Eww. There’s a classic theatre here in River Oaks from a boutique chain (Landmark Theatres) that actually has butter on their popcorn. I’m sure it’s messy and a total pain in the ass for them to maintain, but it’s SO exquisitely good. Makes going to a show there worth the narrow seats and only two or three screens.

So if the treats are any indication, the movie theatres just don’t care about you anymore. Just a year or two ago if you ordered a pretzel extra salty, you got one right from the spinning spindle — warm and decently fresh, with the salt baked ALL over that twisted little piece of bread. Last week when we went to the movies I ordered an extra salty pretzel and got a PLAIN pretzel in a disgusting perforated steam pouch and had to find the location of little salt packets on my own. I mean, could this place give less of a shit about the experience? They can’t even be bothered to bake the salt into the pretzels. And trust me, trying to get large hunks of salt to hold onto an already-baked surface is completely futile. AND distracting if you’re trying to watch a show. Similarly, I got tricked the other day into lusting after a “Cinnabon Pretzel” at our local Marq-E multiplex. It looked incredibly appetizing in the picture, hot and delicious with a cinnamon bun center with swirled icing. Knowing how yummy Cinnabons are, I asked for one. Same disgust-o perforated pouch, with a little TUB of COLD icing. Why does this make me want to come to the movies? It doesn’t.

In general the whole self-service aspect of the movies gets so infuriating that you do begin to ask yourself, Why am I here?. I have to butter…er….oil… my own popcorn. I have to salt my own puny pretzel. I have to get my own napkins and straws at the end of the counter, at this narrow space among the zillion other patrons. It does make one ask “Is this experience worth $30?”. As the theatres try to cut costs by streamlining their process, they forget that at some point the loss of customer interest just isn’t worth it.

Go for the Long Haul

Like many companies, the theatre chains are trying to improve bottom line by slashing basic services. This may work in the short haul but will not gain you long-term loyalty. And loyalty is what these guys need as home-based options get more advanced. I know theatre chains are bitching about movie quality, but they should take a hard look at themselves and decide what will entice people to the theatre instead of staying home. I mean, people still go to eat out all the time even though nearly everyone has a stove and oven. Going out is fun, and enjoyable, at the right restaurant. The theatre chains have to think of themselves as more of an “experience provider” than a “movie house” that can just shove any old thing at their patrons and somehow miraculously expect the patron to want to come back again and again.

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