Why Movie Theaters Are Closing

Let us count the ways

February 15, the day after Valentine’s Day, there will certainly be several people who are not going to feel the love from Regal Cinemas, the second largest theater chain in the U.S. (after AMC).

On the 15th, 39 theaters, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Washington, DC, will have their marques dark. Last September, when parent company Cineworld filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, 12 theaters were closed.

This leaves Regal Cinemas with about 500 theaters. Which means that the closings represent about nine percent of the chain.

Realize that some of these theaters are in sizable markets, such as Los Angeles, Boston and Miami.

So let’s say that the former Regal patrons have the opportunity to opt for a visit to an AMC outlet. AMC is rolling out its “Sightline” seating scheme.

Presumably figuring that it has worked out well for airlines, AMC will adjust the price of tickets based on the location of the seats. So, for example, people might opt for “Value Sightline” seats. Know that when you see the word “Value,” that’s the opposite of what is on offer: These are seats, for example, in the front rows, where the viewing angle is a chiropractor’s dream.

Then there are “Preferred” seats: those that people who want to have a normal movie-viewing experience generally opt for. And when you see the word “Preferred,” know that it is going to cost more.

Presumably AMC execs (and let’s not forget that in 2021 AMC was on the edge of bankruptcy, essentially saved by becoming a meme stock) figure that they may be able to generate more revenue by the plan.

But here’s a question: Isn’t the chain annoying its best customers by coming up with a scheme to make movie viewing more accessible to its least customers?

Somehow what it is doing doesn’t make it seem to be a preferred outlet. And the way things are going, it could find its Stubs members opting for a Netflix account.

Last year when the Motion Picture Association released its 2021 Theatrical and Home Entertainment Market Environment Report, Charles H. Rivkin, MPA chairman and CEO, crowed of the statistical findings, “In the U.S., the combined theatrical and home/mobile entertainment market in 2021 was $36.8 billion, a 14 percent increase compared to 2020, but notably overtaking the 2019 figure of $36.1 billion.”

The MPA segments the U.S. Theatrical & Home/Mobile Entertainment market into three categories: Physical (“sell-through packaged goods and physical rental”), Digital (streaming but not including premium video-on demand), and Theatrical.

Of the $36.8 billion, Physical racked up $2.8 billion, Digital $29.5 billion, and Theatrical $4.5 billion.

And while there is that $700 million increase compared to 2019 (2020 was a somewhat anemic $32.2 billion), should be noted that the Theatrical take in 2019 was $11.4 billion, or more than twice that of 2021.

Which probably goes to the point of why Regal Cinemas is shutting down multiplexes.

While directors including Martin Scorsese, Patty Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve and others have been critical of streaming, it seems as though that’s what is growing in terms of the means by which people are seeing movies.

And it seems things aren’t going to be changing much.

According to recent polling by Morning Consult, 69 percent of U.S. adults agreed with the statement “I have not gone to a movie in the past month.” And that number has been fairly consistent since last July.

If there is any good news in the numbers is that the two oldest cohorts are the ones who say they’ve not gone to a theater: Baby Boomers were at 85 percent and Gen Xers at 72 percent. Let’s face it: like most any business, the future is in younger demographics. But the not-so-good news is that back in 2019, that good year for theaters, those over 40 accounted for 40 percent of domestic ticket sales.

Morning Consult found that 48 percent of Gen Zers and 55 percent of Millennials said they hadn’t gone to a movie theater in the last month. Which, of course, means that 52 percent and 45 percent did go to a theater, which is far better than the 28 percent of Gen Xers or the sad 15 percent of Boomers.

Another finding by Morning Consult goes to the point of the absolute importance of the two younger cohorts to the film industry.

Only 9 percent of Gen Zers said in December ’22 “I do not subscribe to any TV or movie streaming service.” It was slightly more, 12 percent, for Millennials.

But for Gen Xers it is 25 percent and Boomers 40 percent, so while more of them are sitting in their rec rooms or media centers watching whatever rather than being in movie theaters, it is still a fraction of the younger cohorts.

One could argue that Top Gun: Maverick is a Gen X/Boomer movie, given that it is the sequel to the movie that came out 36 years previously: 10 years before members of Gen Z were born. However, the given that some of the effects are video game-like, there is apparent appeal to a younger demo, which can help explain why it was the top-grossing film in 2022. . .and why the other nine in the top 10 feature comic book characters, aliens or dinosaurs—all things that are better to see on big screens.

And there are fewer big screens.

As anyone who has flown during the past several months, the number of flights to a given destination is down and the number of empty seats on a given plane hovers around zero. But the airlines are able to boast of revenue per seat.

One suspects the same may be the same sort of numbers from theater venues. Add to that things like AMC’s location charging, and there could be the consequence of driving down the interest in buying tickets. . .and lead to more theater closings.

Shouldn’t theaters work to make the experience more appealing, not more financially advantageous for the corporations in question?

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Stephen Macaulay

Stephen Macaulay writes about the music industry for Glorious Noise (www.gloriousnoise.com).He began his career in Rockford, Illinois, a place about which Warren Zevon once told a crowd, “How can you miss with a name like Rockford?”

One thought on “Why Movie Theaters Are Closing

  • February 8, 2023 at 11:40 am

    Interestingly given your airline comparison the vertiginous decline in pleasure one obtains from going to a movie theater these days parallels the decline in of enjoyment in air travel.
    At least with air travel the TSA corrals most of the “concealed carry” demographic.
    Great informative and fin de siecle sad piece. movie theaters which started by squeezing out vaudeville venues, the entertainment dinosaur of their era, will now be repurposed into what – laser tag arenas? micro condos? Night clubs? Oof!


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