Social Theaters of the Future

The entertainment industry has been concerned with decreasing theater attendance for some time. 2011 marked the lowest domestic theater admissions per capita since 1995 and younger, price-sensitive audiences are now willing to wait for films’ DVD or streaming rental releases to watch a film.

This is problematic for the film industry, where opening box office weekends set the tone for a film’s incoming revenue.


Theater Audiences per Year

| Create infographics

From 2000 to 2012, Admission numbers are shown to decrease at a rate of roughly 1.5%. This steady decrease means lower forecasts, increased ticket prices to balance revenues, and the possible replacement of theaters by digital platforms. Why? Theaters have problems…

When marketers come together to build a marketing plan for a product or service, most of the time (unfortunately, not all the time) the discussion starts with identifying the consumer’s problem. I have pondered this question for entertainment throughout the time of my Master’s degree to come to this conclusion: movies solve a socializing problem for consumers.

We buy sunglasses because we need to see in the sunlight and protect our eyes. We buy food because it is a necessity for physical energy. We go to the movies… why? To socialize with our peers. This is an odd conclusion because essentially you sit inside of a theater and don’t talk for the duration of the film. But in attending a movie theater, one often makes plans to go with friends or family, to spend time outside of the house or work, discuss our reflections of the film after sitting there in silence, and to share the experience of having gone out with that person or group for this specific event. Therefore, we go to the theaters to socialize.

The advancement of digital exhibition platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go have given this “problem to socialize” a new home… literally in our own homes. We are able to watch films at our convenience; control the environment to our preference of volume of sound, light, and comfort; and replace costly supplements like theater popcorn or drinks for the affordable supermarket substitutes. Theaters were able to do so well before the internet opened this opportunity to us because it was an affordable escape from the confinements of home. But now, comfort of the home is replacing the visual and audible quality that theaters have to offer in their exhibition.

So how will theaters have to change to solve our developed problem to social? These are my recommendations:

Monetize something else

Some theaters are already doing this by providing a “dinner and a movie option.” Customers are offered much more comfortable seating, vast spacing among seats and groups, and a personal service staff that will serve full meals (not that cheap regular theater stuff we’re used to) and even alcoholic drinks. Ticket prices are much higher, given the full-service inclusion, but customers will regularly visit these theaters for this additional, luxurious experience. This solution benefits not only the solo-viewer, but also larger groups who can socialize around the meal.

Additionally, I’m remembering a tradition I would do with my parents as a child when a Disney film would release. A local Hollywood theater, El Capitan, would build a playground filled with games and activities based around the film released. Families would be able to crowd the playgrounds after the film’s conclusion, giving children a chance to dive into the world of the movie once they understood the characters and challenged. Theaters can makes us all feel like a kid again by providing escapes like this after a film that is packaged with a ticket’s price during a certain number of days after release; not to mention, this can send opening weekend box office numbers soaring.


Let groups be groups

Since home-viewers like the comfort of spreading out on their sofas to relax, why not bring the home to the theater? Imagine box seats, similar to those in baseball or basketball auditoriums that viewers can rent out for their private groups. Now throw in some la-z-boy recliners and L-shaped sofas into a private box-seated area of a theater and home has never been so far away form home. If closed or barricaded, these rooms can also allow hosted groups to control the volume within the room and talk amongst themselves while not disrupting the public around them These rooms would have their own pricing, of course, and shouldn’t find themselves in every theater room of an exhibition location.. This is because larger numbers of audiences will attend in the earlier weeks of a film’s release, serving a larger demand and price-point for these box-seats; so this luxury should be available for those highly demanded films, leaving smaller theaters for the solo, mate majority, and laggard audiences.


Menu priced showings

If theaters were to integrate the alternatively monetized models above, while competing with the low cost alternative of at-home exhibition, they will have to integrate a menu-priced option for audiences. This already exists within theaters (low ticket prices to enter the door with high process for food and beverage once inside), but should be altered for the socialized experience. Audiences will pay a fee for entering the theater for a specific film. Food and drinks, of course, are added to the bill upon their wants and needs. But in the spirit of encouraging socialization, what if theaters added movie-specific cocktail lounges before or after the film, take-home limited-edition goodies based on the film, or additional “distractions” available in the smart phones through an access code.


Involve the audience

This one is a long shot, but we’re talking about theaters of the future, right?

I once saw the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. Before the show even started, they did an incredible job of entertaining the audience while they sat in their seats. How? A reader board sends messages to the crowd with jokes and insults. Lights above the audience will even single out specific members to directly point jokes their way or force them to take part in an activity. Everyone was actively reading, laughing, and looking for what shenanigans the venue had in store. Movie theaters can do this too with simple technology and the creative direction of a single employee. Theaters can even personalize the messages to the film, sponsors, or advertisers to make that dreadful waiting period something fun to look forward to.

One day, digital channels may eliminate theaters, and the entire industry will have to base their monetization and success on other media or events. But there is time for theaters to change their declining audiences by shifting to the market, as any company should.


How would you like to see theaters socialize audiences? Which of the ideas above are your favorite and why? Will any of these ideas not work? Let us know in the comments below.