Movie Theaters Adapt to Attract Customers


Movie theater seats | Image by Mr.Music

Now that more and more people have large, high-quality televisions at home capable of streaming movies, cinemas are tasked with adding a little something extra to the movie-going experience to lure cinephiles back to the theater.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when theaters were not allowed to operate, streaming services saw a massive surge in subscriptions. Once the theaters could resume operations, many struggled to regain their footing, causing some to close altogether while others consolidated. The U.S. has lost about 3,000 movie screens since 2019, CNBC reported.

According to Rolando Rodriguez, the chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners, consumers seem to prefer smaller cinemas. He told CNBC that today’s movie-goers are no longer attending large theaters with over 30 screens but rather smaller ones with a little over a dozen.

Rodriguez thinks larger theaters will eliminate excess screens in favor of adding other activities for those attending the movies, such as bars or bowling alleys.

Some theater owners are seeking to improve the overall movie-watching experience by investing in high-end equipment to provide better sound and picture quality.

Larry Etter, senior vice president at the family-owned regional chain Malco Theatres, told CNBC that many theaters, including his own, are switching from digital projectors to laser ones.

The laser projectors will produce a better picture but will be an investment at first. Etter told CNBC they are “a little bit expensive,” but they will be cheaper to maintain and more sustainable than digital projectors.

Other theaters are bringing customers back by upscaling their menu offerings, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. Besides the classic popcorn and candy, many theaters now offer made-to-order food, cocktails, and beer.

Cinepolis CEO Luis Olloqui told CNBC that “food is crucial for local experience,” at his theaters. The luxury dine-in theater offers items such as lobster tacos and truffle mushroom pizza, and the menus are updated twice a year.

Cinepolis and the Alamo Drafthouse both offer specialty movie-themed menus. When Alamo Drafthouse screened Everything Everywhere All at Once, the kitchen served gourmet hot dogs, in reference to the infamous hot dog finger scene in the movie.

Some cinemas are offering alternative events in addition to the usual blockbuster new releases. These alternative options could include nostalgic films, live streams of concerts or sports events, or filmed Broadway theatrical productions.

The numbers show that the movie industry is recovering from the devastating hit it took during the pandemic. So far in 2023, ticket sales have been up nearly 50% since 2022, although still 25% lower than they were in 2019, according to data from Comscore obtained by CNBC.

Rodriguez hopes theaters can remind consumers that COVID-19 is behind them, and “theaters are fine,” he told CNBC.

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