The news Monday that Regal – the largest theater circuit in the world – is open to being courted by any suitable buyers willing to kick its tires, raised a lot of eyebrows. Investors liked the news; Regal’s stock spiked upward even as its earnings report looked pretty bleak compared to same quarter last year. But most everyone else did a bit of handwringing over the future of the movie business – specifically the theater business.
Coming off a disappointing summer at the Box Office, the news that Regal might be going on the block could be interpreted as a bad sign for the future of theatrical exhibition. On the other hand, it could be a sign that Regal’s board thinks this is a good time to get a great price. Why? Foreign money and a strong slate of blockbusters are on the near horizon. You can read some good analysis of those factors by Variety’s Brent Lang here.
I’m not one to kvetch about the prospects for theatrical distribution. The studios and the theater owners still have a vested interest in exhibiting movies for the foreseeable future. Change is coming but that’s nothing new. Some changes are for the worst (or maybe it only seems that way to those of us given to bouts of nostalgia). Some changes are for the best. And sometimes threats to a business can bring out the best in that business. The theater business survived the onslaught of radio (30’s), television (50’s), video games (90’s & aughts), and they’ll survive the Internet. In some ways they’ll thrive because of the Internet.
Here are three reasons I’m not betting against theaters any time soon:
The experience of watching a movie in a theater is still my favorite way to see a movie. So far this year I’ve walked up to a box office window 29 times to buy tickets to a first run movie in a theater. In the last eight weeks of 2014 I’ll probably see another 6 or 8 – ‘tis the season. I have always loved walking in, settling down and opening up to the immersive experience of seeing an image projected on a large screen in a room completely dedicated to that singular experience. Add a roomful of strangers who laugh, gasp, cry or applaud in the same places you do, and the experience becomes communal in the best sense of the word. It’s the last media viewing experience that I’m not in control of — it unspools and I can’t pause it, save it for later or let sit dormant in my queue. I think that increases its value rather than diminishing it. There’s a core audience out there that feels the same way I do about going to the movies. We may be a small band with fewer options in years to come but I believe we’ll always have a place to go.
The experience of watching a movie in a theater is better than at any other time in my life. More than ever there has to be a compelling reason for people to go to the theaters. The compelling reason can be the movie or the experience – ideally it will be both. The experience has steadily improved in the last quarter century. Our neighborhood theater happens to be a Regal property. It was a United Artists Theater when it opened in the late 70’s. Since then it’s gone through numerous updates and several major overhauls – including total demolition and the construction of a brand new building where the parking lot used to be. Most recently there’s been an update to the decor and installation of luxury recliners. Top notch projection, sound, and seating — what’s not to love if you’re a movie-lover? Regal’s CEO Amy Miles seems to be a movie-lover with skin in the game of making sure the theater experience falls somewhere between compelling and irresistible. Whatever happens with Regal, I hope she continues to be a leader in the Industry. I applaud every pragmatic visionary in the theater business who keeps investing and innovating for a better user experience.
The experience of going to the movies is still one of the best out-of-the-house entertainment values I know of. I recently took my son and a friend of his to the State Fair. It was $75 for all access tickets for the three of us before we bought a souvenir or anything to eat. A night out at a nice restaurant with my wife will cost upwards of $75 to $90 – it would easily be over $100 if either of us drank alcohol. Tickets to a college football game start at about $75 a pop as do concert tickets (for the cheap seats). When my family of 3 goes to the movies we’re generally in an out for right at $50 for tickets and concessions. Now, I’ve still got enough of my Dad in me to think that $50 is a lot of money but that’s still a good deal for something we can all do together — that we all enjoy. At home I pay for 100 channels and only watch about 6. Every time I go to a movie, I watch it. That’s a 1 to 1 ratio and a pretty good bang for the buck.