Friday, August 18, 2006

by Chris Gore

Imagine a world without movie theaters.

No multiplexes. No arthouses. No way to communally experience a film.

That day may be coming sooner than you think. Each year theatrical box office receipts decline as the DVD becomes the preferred method for audiences to watch movies. And coming up just on the horizon is movies available for download — which may eventually become the way we all watch films. (”Eventually” meaning once the major studios choose a piracy prevention method that they can all agree upon as well as a cost per download structure acceptable to consumers.)

If the music industry is any indicator, the film industry will soon follow into the download zone. CD sales dropped 7% last year as downloads on iTunes increased. (Itunes passed the one billion music download mark a while back.) Tower Records recently announced that they are closing all of their stores and filing for bankruptcy. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as their entire business is built primarily on sales of CDs, which are declining far more rapidly than many are willing to admit.

Where did all the people go... they’re busy downloading.

In response to these trends, a recent LA Times story has stirred up a bit of controversy. The piece entitled “Far Removed From the Multiplex” by John Horn, asserts that teenagers would rather watch films on their computers than go to the movies. And who can blame them? Going to the movies is expensive (you can buy about two DVDs for the price of one evening at the movies) and the experience is more often miserable due to the increasing number of bad movies, endless commercials and annoying patrons. The piece brings up some interesting facts from a recent survey including:

Nearly half (47%) of respondents ages 12 to 17 say they would watch a movie on a PC, well above the interest in doing the same on a cellphone (11%) or video iPod and similar devices (18%). A similar share of those 21 to 24 said they would watch movies on a computer, although they are much less willing to do the same on a cellphone (6%) or video iPod (7%).

The distaste for the multiplex accelerates as children become young adults; 44% of those ages 21 to 24 are seeing fewer films. The Times/Bloomberg poll findings mirror a recent study by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which found an even sharper drop-off over a five-year span.

It’s a fascinating read and the industry will have to pay attention or suffer the fate of Tower Records. Read the entire piece on the LA Times site or, if you have trouble getting to the site, I’ve included the entire piece in Film Threat's Blog section.