Getting Arses In Seats. Will cinemas survive?
I have always been interested in the idea of reactive versus proactive. When a business is leaning towards reactive, then more often than not, it is too late. A scramble to fix things. Too many problems left unchecked for too long. A customer or audience base ignored and unappreciated for too long. I remember seeing mobile phones for sale in my local DVD rental store and I knew they were out of ideas. They didn't survive much longer. Are cinemas now reaching this point?
I have always loved going to the cinema. The moment those lights go down. The opening advertisement for the latest sound system the cinema has to offer. The world disappears for the next couple of hours and I couldn't be happier. I have purposely used the word "loved" here as it is beginning to feel like a distant memory. Covid aside, going to the cinema has not only lost some of that magic but it is now becoming an unpleasant experience.
I frequently hear the argument that what makes cinema great is the collective experience of watching a film. Outside of cinema events (film festivals or the midnight showing of a new star wars epic etc.), the collective experience is not all that great. One of the more recent experiences I have had of this was when I went to see The Irishman. I was excited to see all those icons of cinema back on the big screen together. To watch the master, Scorsese at work once more. In reality, when the end credits rolled, I just thought I wish I had watched it at home. I had booked seats but some other people sat in them. A packed screening meant a lot of late comers, many after the film had started. The aray of visible phone screens dotted around the room accompanied by the dead eyes looking away from the big screen. The talking. The people coming in and out. I am also someone who can't leave once the film starts, if I need to pee then I just gotta wait. The Irishman is over three hours long. That last half hour was painful but if I was at home I could have pressed pause... but that's got nothing to do with the cinema, it just added to my discomfort.
I have been to the cinema hundreds of times. In most cities I have lived in, I have had a cinema pass so I can see everything that comes in. I have loved the cinema for so long but that love is waning. Besides the example above, the cinemas themselves tend to be dirty. The tickets and food are crazily over priced. There is little to no monitoring of the screens during showings to ensure that all is well. And probably one the biggest issues they face, noise bleed. As more and more big action films come in, the small independent (often quieter films) get a fair bit of bleed from the explosions off the latest franchise next door. I don't see how they fix that particular issue.
Times and tastes are changing and if cinemas don't follow suit, then I fear they will be a distant memory. I would be heartbroken to see them go but at the same time, if they continue provide a substandard experience for people, then I can't say that it will be a shock.
I know that we are now seeing the emergence of the smaller, boutique cinemas that are offering a far better customer experience, Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin is one fantastic example but if the bigger chains were to falter and disappear, then would the cost of distributing films to these smaller cinemas be worth it or would straight to online be the new normal? Who knows. Disney, Netflix and Amazon Prime are clearly feeling confident and growing in prominence with each passing day. Some home television set ups are beginning to match some of the smaller cinema screens in terms of quality.
Cinemas will only survive with arses in seats so what will they do post covid to entice those arses in? There may well be a post covid surge. People desperate to be in each others company. To catch up on all those postponed released. How long will that last? Only time will tell. If you see mobile phones for sale in the foyer, then the writing's on the wall.
Thanks for reading.
Have a good one.
Brian Benjamin Dwyer
Creative director @ Madra Mór Productions