Theater Owners Worried About Losing Younger, Mobile Generation

Kids Love Ipads more than TV
Richard Drury/Getty Images

The box office may be booming, but the kids are not all right.

That was the takeaway from the kickoff to CinemaCon, the exhibition industry confab that began Monday in Las Vegas.

Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis and Yelmo Cines CEO Fernando Evole tried to accentuate the positive as they rhapsodized about the magic of a shared cinematic experience in their keynote addresses to theater owners as part of CinemaCon’s International Day.

However, they acknowledged that multiplexes are engaged in a tug-of-war for eyeballs with the likes of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube that’s resulting in an aging crop of avid moviegoers. The expiration date on this group of dependable ticket buyers was brought to life by a photo Evole showed depicting a line of cinemagoers dominated by a sea of white-haired senior citizens.

“I don’t see those guys here giving us much revenue in the years to come,” said Evole, who runs a circuit of theater primarily based in Spain.

Hollis was less existential in his remarks, but he did acknowledge the challenges that the movie industry faces by using his three mobile-device loving young children as an example of shifting tastes. The exhibition business and the major studios need to “lean in” to these connected consumers, he said, borrowing a phrase from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

He noted, in addition, that over the last five years, attendance has declined among moviegoers ages 18 through 39.

“It doesn’t take much of a leap to think that the technology advances we’re seeing outside of the theatrical space are some how connected to these trends,” said Hollis.

He took theater owners on a two-decade tour of some of these evolutions, noting that in 1995, VHS was still a thing, Blockbuster a juggernaut and the foreign box office a sliver in the revenues of Hollywood studios. Today, the foreign box office accounts for more than 70% of global ticket sales and a panoply of Internet-enabled devices are changing the way that people watch movies and TV.

The solution is to improve the theatrical experience, both Hollis and Evole argued, by offering souped-up sound, 3D, Imax, more comfortable seating and amenities. Keeping business growing also demands a steady stream of so-called event pictures that push people to leave the comforts of the couch.

Hollis argued that a “mobile device can’t replicate the incredible feeling of seeing ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Avatar’ or ‘The Hunger Games’ on a giant screen.”

Cinema owners and studios must work more collaboratively, he said, to show “there is nothing like going to the movies, there has never been anything like going to the movies. It’s on all of us to keep that a truism.”

He closed his remarks with an image of two hands clasping, a fitting illustration of the theme of CinemaCon — a four-day lovefest between two factions of the entertainment space that often lead with their elbows.

For his part, Evole indicated that theater owners should demonstrate more flexibility on the issue of windowing. That’s historically been a sticking point. Exhibitors have viewed any attempts to reduce the traditional 90-day period between a film’s theatrical premiere and its home entertainment release as a threat to their business.

He suggested embracing different release strategies for different types of films and what he termed “window segmentation.” There may also be more cross-marketing opportunities.

“We can’t change the future and we can’t fight changes,” he said.

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  1. Steve K. says:

    One reason I go less to the movies is the ever increasing prices, but the most important reason is the lack of courtesy by other moviegoers…. Loudly chomping snacks (put the popcorn in your mouth and close your mouth before chomping), talking, playing with cell phones… WHO NEEDS IT!!

  2. srvwp2013 says:

    As even Peter Bogdanovich would testify, there has already been a “last picture show.”

  3. Lex says:

    My prediction is kids today will be mutants who won’t be able to speak a common language and won’t understand that you can’t download your dinner from the computer. :)

  4. Macd says:

    All of the below comments are spot-on. I have only to add that what prompted me as a child in the 1950s to want to see which movie depended on who the “stars” were: i.e., “the new Fred Astaire movie”, “the new Doris Day movie”, Natalie Wood in anything! I know, the studio contract system is long dead, musicals are no longer made on a regular basis, yet HBO offers on a monthly basis the best quality entertainment around (for a mere $15 per month). There are still some superb young actors/actresses around, but they’re not being properly utilized. Derek Hough, 29, is currently filling all 6000 seats at Radio City Music Hall, often twice a day, but he’s only been in one movie (and its indifferent distributor made sure it flopped). Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort were a revelation in “The Fault in Our Stars” (made for $12-mil, with a worldwide gross of over $300-mil); and when are we going to see the amazing Jennifer Lawrence (a deserved Oscar-winner before 25) in a non-franchise movie NOT teaming her with Bradley Cooper? And the ageless Jacqueline Bisset remains the most gorgeous woman in the world, but good luck finding a theater showing her performance-of-a-lifetime in “Welcome to New York”. And when franchise-film-fatigue sets in (as all fads eventually do), what’s Hollywood going to do then?

  5. cadavra says:

    Mr. Evole seems to be of the standard industry mind-set that 50 is the new dead. (Did anyone bother to tell him that last year’s biggest-grossing film was produced and directed by an 84-year-old?) We’re more active than ever, have plenty of discretionary dough and don’t live with our parents. Perhaps if the studios made a few more films directed at people who don’t subsist on Hot Pockets and Red Bull, they might not find themselves in such a predicament. And if history teaches us anything, it’s that no trend lasts forever, and the day will come that the Marvel logo no longer guarantees a blockbuster. (I’m old enough to remember when the dominant genre was the western.) Yeah, you can still make the two-hour toy commercials, but a little more diversity (and not just in the racial sense) wouldn’t hurt.

    “All audiences.” What a concept!

  6. EK says:

    You cant change the future? Of course not metaphorically but you can influence it by working towards better product, flexible windows and an enhanced cinema experience. And make the ticket price attractive, not prohibitive, especially with things like 3D premiums. Cinema has become an event-oriented business so make it an affordable, entertaining experience on all demographic levels. The greying audience can only shrink and the younger generations don’t make movie-going a habit. They want a REASON to go and on a case-by-case basis. Encourage social media usage, especially when there is a compelling message to get out there. Peer to peer is the key once the right product is in place. Just watch how “Star Wars” explodes this summer and note how “Furious 7” has killed globally. Peer-to-peer marketing across all demographics is the driver.

  7. Toby Leonard says:

    Its the movies, stupid.

  8. James Heckel says:

    Having worked in the exhibition business for 36 years I have seen the steady march of technologies that exhibitors saw and see as a threat to their business. From the advent of television and home video to today’s mobile viewing devices, the competition for eyeballs, especially young ones, continues unabated.

    The home theatre experience is better than ever, and younger viewers simply don’t want to wait 90 days to see a hot new film; nor can many of these viewers afford to spend $15-20 dollars per ticket for the ” shared theatrical experience.” The value is just not there for them.

    Mainstream exhibitors will have to rethink both the 90 day release window as well as their pricing strategies if they aren’t to suffer a major contraction in the coming years of demographic change.

    • Neil Blatt says:

      If you’ve been in the industry that long then you realize that Exhibition is clinging to the old theory that they, not the movies are the locomotive that generates revenue in all revenue streams. How absurd that sounds today. Desperation.

  9. Neil Blatt says:

    No one addressed pricing? Calculate the cost of movie going and you might find the problem and solution. Competition is supposed to benefit consumers but all it’s done in this arena is to force Exhibition to continually raise ticket prices as attendance declines. This defensive attitude of Exhibition is suicidal as younger audiences seek out more economic ways to view filmed entertainment by alternative means. Wake up! Look at the music industry, it’s changed, but still thrives without record stores!

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