Nate Blake: Theaters Aren’t Doing Themselves Any Favors

Entertainment news the past few weeks has mostly focused on the film festival circuit. With the exception of another controversial killer clown, the buzziest of films debuting to rapturous praise from critics have been those submitted by streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. The former looks to have two Oscar heavyweights on its hands: Marriage Story and The Irishman. It’s hard not to be excited about the prospect of being able to see multiple Oscar frontrunners from the comfort of my apartment. I’ve never been happier to own a 50 inch 4K television than I am right now, and I just don’t feel at home in the camp that says a movie theater is the best place to experience films. That might have been true back in the days when your parents’ old 27 inch RCA was considered a big screen TV. It’s not now, and I will fight anyone on this. I know, that makes me a bad cinephile, but have you been to a theater lately?

People have complained for years about high concession prices and rude audience members. The latter in particular is the reason Alex and I must have a two-bedroom apartment. The smaller bedroom, wherever we live, always becomes the media room/theater; complete with room darkening shades. A meticulous amount of planning goes into the arrangement of every such room I’ve created. There must not be any glare or reflection on the screen. The time, money and hassle of setting up each media room has been worth it, because the finished product is our private screening area. It’s a place where we truly engage with films, often viewing them for the second time, in experiences that are universally superior to every theater-going experience. People aren’t repeatedly standing up and blocking the screen to get more food or drinks. I know that phones will not ring, because ours are set on silent. Every film has a short intermission/bathroom break halfway through. It’s paradise.

Despite my preference for watching movies at home, I still force myself to go to the theater frequently. The goal is once a week, but it tends to be more like three times a month. The main reason is to be able to see new releases and write about them for this blog. There are also many occasions where I’m excited enough about a film that I just don’t want to wait for it to be streaming weeks or months later. The FOMO is real, and it prevents me from sidestepping theaters completely. At least, it has so far. That may be about to change.

Cinemark and Regal, facing fierce competition from streaming services that don’t make their viewers watch 20+ minutes of trailers before each film, have decided the answer is more advertising. In addition to trailers, they will now show five more minutes of commercials post showtime. It’s not enough that ads run for a good 20 to 30 minutes before showtime, which is usually followed by a ridiculous amount of trailers. Regal and Cinemark would like to treat us to more ads. Companies with loads of cash to throw around will even be able to purchase a platinum 60 second ad that runs before the last trailer. Are you not excited!  This should solve all of Regal and Cinemark’s problems. Advertising worked wonders for broadcast TV in their fight against streaming.

So far, AMC is reluctant to jump in to this more commercials strategy, which is good because the trailer count before their films is excessive to begin with. For now I’ll still go to theaters, but I’ll shift my support to smaller regional chains like CEC and Classic. As long as they can manage to survive, those smaller chains have been doing right by audiences by sticking to 2-3 trailers before each film. They’d be wise to continue that practice. Judging by how many people I’ve recently witnessed taking their seats 5-10 minutes after the posted showtime at the bigger chains, fewer trailers might be a better option. It doesn’t matter how comfortable a theater’s seats are if I have to sit in them for two and a half to three and half hours straight, depending on the run time of the film itself. I can’t speak to everyone’s preferences, but I know when I lived near a theater that consistently only showed 2-3 trailers, I chose to see films there whenever possible. I don’t go to the theater for ads and trailers. I know what is coming out and when long before I see trailers anyway, thanks to YouTube and the plethora of film blogs and magazines I read.

It’s possible this latest strategy by the larger theater chains will backfire and only serve to help streaming platforms. I will not mourn the loss of chains like Regal, AMC and Cinemark. They’ve doomed themselves on many fronts. I will miss the smaller outfits when they go under or get bought out. Those smaller theaters that many people look down on because they don’t have heated seats or a bar or a menu featuring gourmet burgers, are places where the moviegoing experience, while not always perfect, still feels special. I guess what I’m saying is, seek out and support your local or regional theater chain.

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