Will Movie Theaters Survive the New Entertainment Tech?

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For the first century or so of their existence, movies were something that people would “go to,” as the only technology for viewing them was a 35mm projector in a commercial movie theater. People considered it a real treat when, with the advent of television, such shows as “Saturday Night at the Movies” would broadcast an edited, commercial-filled film.

Nowadays, people go to the theaters only for the newest releases, and bring the movies home the rest of the time. Some people don’t go to theaters at all, as there is a brisk trade in pirated films on the Internet, featuring studio “screener” DVDs, digital copies of same and low-quality camcorder movies of the film being shown in a theater. It’s hard to measure these changes, and the movie industry is still making big bucks from ticket buyers. But there is a growing sense that, within a generation perhaps, home TV screens will grow large enough to satisfy a majority of viewers.

Death of the theater?
The length of time between theatrical release and the availability of the movie on DVD (or, less commonly now, on VHS tape) is getting shorter all the time. And the number of ways that movies can find their way home is increasing all the time. There are DVD rental stores, online download services, Internet movie rentals that send discs through the mail and, of course, pirated films that show up in the dark corners of the Web or in cheap copies at flea markets. The point is, the public’s appetite for films is voracious, in no danger of diminishing and has led more and more people out of the movie theater and into the living room for film enjoyment.

The film industry, although famous for complaining about lower ticket sales, has had several years of record profits recently, and continues to produce a tremendous variety of motion pictures, something for everyone, it would seem. In recent years, children have enjoyed a number of animated blockbusters, young adults have flocked to spoofs of scary movies and more mature viewers have discovered serious themes of love, loss and hope in movies from Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese.

Special delivery films
The renewed interest in 3D movies and IMAX oversized screens may herald the evolution of a new specialty film market. The entertainment industry needs to offer viewers something that they cannot get at home, and that would be sheer size, volume and specialized displays. If 3D movies did not require wearing ugly cardboard-framed glasses, it could catch on even faster, but we will know more about this market when the receipts are counted for the 3D blockbusters planned for 2009-2011.

What is most likely to happen is further stratification of the film viewing market. There will be IMAX events for nature films and other documentaries needing the huge scale, and entry into that special theater market of mainstream “hit” movies. TV screens will continue to grow, and movies will be enjoyed at home by an increasing number of people. Whether you want a high-octane Hong Kong martial arts film or a fear-mongering tale of an upcoming apocalypse, the filmmakers of Hollywood (and everywhere else) are ready to give it to you, and there are plenty of ways for you to get and watch whatever it is that you like, too. There are some interesting (and entertaining) times ahead, that’s for sure.

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