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4 Reasons To Exhibit Your Movie In Alternative Venues

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Theaters are in trouble. And not simply because of Covid-19 or the change of a 70-year old law.

“Are movie theaters becoming irrelevant?”
“Small Theaters Struggle To Survive in Tough Movie Business”
“Why Are Movie Theaters Struggling to Make Money?”
“How Will Movie (Theaters) Survive The Next 10 Years?”

Those headlines are from 2019, before theaters went dark from Covid-19 and a change to an old law allows studios or tech companies to buy an exhibitor.

It’s been said that only 20% of an exhibitor’s inventory (seats) are used weekly. This may or may not be true. But it’s likely close. Theaters are in the weekend business. They don’t make content. They put a paywall (literally) between the consumer and the content and food, drinks, and other potential entertainment experiences. Some exhibitors have adapted, creating luxury experiences that integrate reserved seating, dining, and even child play areas.

Theaters are not going away, but massive changes are underway.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. Big box, anchor stores, malls, and other consumer destinations are folding and adapting to new realities. Going to the movies is now intentional. The days of shopping then strolling by a movie theater to see what’s playing, buying a ticket, and seeing a flick are gone.
  2. People are willing to wait to see a movie. And “waiting” is the demise of theaters. Urgency is their currency. There’s not a big difference in the minds of consumers between “see it first” and “see it soon.”
  3. It’s not the cost of a ticket (which is what most experts focus on). It’s the cost of two hours without your smart device. That is the issue. $12 is affordable entertainment. Asking someone to give up two hours (actually longer when you consider travel, parking, previews, etc.) is asking too much. Even more so, what other event or activity requires you to turn off your phone. Air travel? Weddings? Church? Nope. Nope. Nope.
  4. Stranger danger. It’s real, whether we want to acknowledge it or now. We want to be with like-minded friends and fellow fans, not strangers. This is never more true than today. As one seasoned producer friend of ours said, “A person walked into the theater midway through a movie and sat behind us. I couldn’t fully concentrate or enjoy the movie the rest of the time as I was unnerved by the person sitting behind us.”

So what’s the future? Everyone at home watching their own screens with little or no interaction with others? Let’s hope not. Movies are a social experience, best enjoyed with others who laugh at the same lines, recall the same scenes, cry and cheer together. In the same room, together.

That’s why we have an unshakable belief that alternative venues will be a significant part of movie exhibition. In fact, we are seeing the acceleration of these venues due to social distancing, movie theater closures, and creative problem-solving. Drive-in theaters? You mean the broken-down, weed-infested faded parking lots that no one visits? Full. Sold-out. Pop-up theaters on roof-tops? Yep. Places of worship showing feature-length movies? Happening. The alternative venue is not going away.

Here’s four reasons to exhibit your next movie in alternative venues:

  1. Friends and fans together. As we said earlier, the old romantic notion of strangers together in a dark auditorium is gone. We want to be with like-minded people, sharing an experience together that affirms, celebrates, or connects others who are just like us. Star Wars to the latest political doc. All the same type of people, shared beliefs or interests together. Alternative venues do the same simply because of where they are — a school, a church, a restaurant, a neighborhood park. All places frequented by people you know or want to know.
  2. Revenue. In 2016, we did a one-night event in 200+ theaters and 200+ places of worship. All ticketed. All the same night across the country. When we looked at the sales reports we turned to one another and said, “Why would we ever go back to a theater again?” The margins for the theater showings? 35% at best. The margins for the church showings? 90%. Exhibitors take 50% or more (likely more) off the top. Consider how much you are giving up simply for some prestige of being in theaters.
  3. Audiences expectations. Credit YouTube or TikTok. Or even streaming platforms. Or the viewing of Avengers on a smart phone while flying from LA to Detroit. Viewer expectations have changed. You need to sacrifice some sound and video quality to get the audience you want. Would you rather have 200 people in a high school library or 10 people in a Atmos-sound-4k-projection movie theater?
  4. Custom Programming. Alternative venues provide something theaters can never offer (even if you four-wall): customization. A movie ends and the staff rushes in to prepare for the next showing. Pre-show slides come up and music plays. Then trailers. Then the next showing. Try to have a Q&A or special musical guests or a talk-back with talent — not really possible. Theaters are in the business of assembly-lines and one-size-fits-all, not customization and personalization. Alternative venues enable you to create unique walk-in experiences, greetings and welcomes, post-showing discussions and programming — the type of interactions you need to create audience engagements, word-of-mouth, data, and loyalty.

The problem, of course, is obvious: there’s no circuit of alternative venues. At least, today. It requires three things: first, hard work. Second, the quality of the content and experience that brings the audience to the venue. And third, a high-level of trust between venue, content, and audience.

It is scalable? Yes. It is possible to have a circuit of alternative venues? Absolutely. It is going to be more and more important in a post-Covid, blockbuster-centric, streaming-dominant, audience-isolated world?

Without a doubt.

What alternative venue would you go to watch a movie?

©Aspiration Entertainment, LLC

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