ABC News: No Happy Ending in 2005 For Hollywood

posted by Patrick Crowley on December 30, 2005 at 7:25 am

ABC is reporting the bad news that everyone has been pretty much expecting… ticket sales continued to drop this year:

The bad news is that audiences did not exactly go ape over the rest of 2005’s cinema offerings, making this the third straight year of decline in Hollywood ticket sales — the first such stretch of bad news in 40 years. Because of the continued falloff — sales are down 12.6 percent from 2002 — a growing number of analysts are wondering whether America’s movie habits are changing permanently.

“The industry has to consider whether or not American audiences are sending a message about the quality of the movies they are getting — or just the way and the place in which they get them,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a firm that analyzes box-office trends. “You can bet that producers, writers, directors and studio heads are all huddling intensely to consider what this means and change their behavior to keep it from continuing.”

Comments (20)

pbubny on December 30, 2005 at 8:21 am

Dergarabedian’s comment implies that it’s either/or: that either consumers are staying away from movie theatres (i.e. to watch DVDs for a fraction of the cost of one movie ticket), or from the movies themselves. Actually, it may be that an improvement in either the movies or in moviegoing conditions will not reverse declining attendance unless both of these things improve—and so the studios and exhibitors alike need to look at where they’ve apparently gone wrong. And, just maybe, they need to figure out how to work together toward a solution.

IanJudge on December 30, 2005 at 10:37 am

While it is true that audiences are annoyed by cell phones, advertising, and bad behavior, the fact is that this ‘trend’ is somewhat an example of spin. I think ABC was just looking for an interesting story. Two of the major studios, Fox and Warner Brothers, both posted incredible years, Warner’s with their best year ever. Why? Because they made films audiences wanted to see, to pay $10 for, to withstand advertisements, distractions and so forth, and people responded. There will always be competition for movies and the manner in which people see them will indeed change, but the fact is that if a movie is enough of a draw, people will go. The studios need to make more of an effort in making movies better. My parents are a good example of people who don’t go to the movies as a habit but are more than happy to go (and have a good time) if they really want to see a movie. They would go more often if the PRODUCT was something they wanted to ‘buy’.

This does not mean exhibition doesn’t need to improve – it surely does. It needs to stop cannibalizing the audience through incessant advertising, bad customer service, and poor presentation. It needs to make the movies a more-than-pedestrian experience and bring back how special it can be. Will it? Who knows… but as Paul says above, neither exhibiters nor studios can change it on their own.

jnjeisen on December 30, 2005 at 5:58 pm

My theatre is up this year by 10% over last year. Anybody who reads the book Cinema Treasures will understand that the way to beat the down trend is with value pricing, customer service, quality presentation and good old fashioned SHOWMANSHIP. The problem is that more and more screens are owned by the mega-chains who can surely build a multi-million complex, but they have yet to figure out a way to get a staff of teenagers to provide top-notch customer service on a consistant basis.
Jeff Eisentraut

HornerJack on December 30, 2005 at 8:49 pm

Right on, Jeff! Whatever happened to showmanship anyway?

It seems to me these days that, most of the time, the only showmanship is in the marketing department. The problem with this, though, is that our culture is so awash with mass media, that even the most brilliant TV / Internet marketing campaign is quickly dismissed.

Some of my observations about the biz are these:

I know we can not return to the glory days of old Hollywood, but, as I think you migth agree, everything the old studios and exibitors did
should not be dismissed as quaint or old-fashioned. Certain aspects of showmanship are timeless and date to the Romans and the Greeks – and certainly the Ancient Egyptians. It wasn’t for no reason that many movie palaces reflected / cloned / emulated these cultures.

Understandably, auditoriums in modern multiplexes can not duplicate the granduer of the old palaces, except, perhaps, in their larger auditoriums. But what of the lobbies? We have three huge multiplexes here in the Nashville area – the Hollywood, the Green Hills and the Thoroughbred. All of their lobbies are boring – two are just garish. [i should note that the exterior of the Hollywood, built about 1996, is awash in neon and is very theatrical.]

The entrance to the Green Hills [the best in terms of programming in town] is so lackluster as to be laughable. Absolutely nothing about the entrance says you are going into anything magical. The lobby might be described as High Mall Circa 1990. The only thing the least bit interesting is the 30 foot escalator taking you down to the 14 screens downstairs. But once downstairs, all you see is a concession stand that apparently is never open. To the right is a long, dark corridor which leads to the 14 auditoriums. It’s do dark and grim, you wonder if you might be mugged. I don’t know how much Regal paid the architect, but, what ever it was, they got ripped off. I think Regal would find that a complete upgrade of the facade and lobby areas would be well worth the investment.

Yhe great profits from video and DVD, plus the exhorbitant cost of opening weekend promotion, seem to have destroyed most attempts to build a picture through anticipation. What if certain pictures ignored this pressure? What if, for example, we brought back the idea of the roadshow movie? [Gasp!]

Ironically, roadshows would be easier today than they were 40-50 years ago. Back then, in order to get tickets, you had to go by the box office or MAIL in a form. Today, you could simply go to Fandango on line.

Take any special movie you like in 2005. I’ll use King King just as an example. Instead of booking it on 11,000,000 screens on a grind policy, you open it on one or more screens in a city, depending on the city’s size. It is a long movie. You have two screenings daily, one at 2 PM, one at 7:30 ot 8 PM. Not only are all seats reserved, but [i like this one from the old days], better seats cost a little more.

Naturally, the key has to be that the movie is good. After X weeks, King Kong moves to general release, and the movie you couldn’t get into is now available. And you think, I’ve got to see this, it was sold out for a month.

Aside: One day recently I went to the movies with my cantankerous cousin. She complained that the film as out of focus and asked me to get the problem fixed. I did as she asked, although I asked myself in the process if the manager on duty was still in high school.

Ian on December 31, 2005 at 3:00 am

Also a longer delay before the movie is issued on DVD would help encourage attendances in cinemas.

HowardBHaas on December 31, 2005 at 4:34 am

In my opinion, movie ticket prices are still bargain entertainment, though I recognize that a working class family may view prices as high. Concession prices for popcorn, soda, etc. are way too high, and especially for families! Hollywood studios need work out a better split so theaters don’t depend almost solely on concessions for profit.
Commercials are a turn off. I’d rather see curtains replace the slide show, too, to return elegance & decorum to the experience.
Cell phone signals must be blocked, and block them in live entertainment venues, too. I’ve heard them while attending the Philadelphia Orchestra!
Better companies like Muvico and National Amusements (the Bridge) are designing cinemas with fantasy and upscale architecture.
Megaplexes are better than multiplexes (though not as good as single screens!) but what will also increase attendence are better movies!
One thing I don’t understand is why when studios remake a popular TV show the movie is always poorly written and bombs at the box office? Why not do a better job?
For those of us reading this cite, a reminder: if you like classic cinemas, attend them often & buy the concessions albeit overpriced!

jnjeisen on December 31, 2005 at 7:58 am

I believe the argument ticket prices being a bargain should be evaluated on a case by case basis. The most I ever paid for a ticket was $11.00 at the Arclight Hollywood. It was a bargain for what we received. Reserved seating, outstanding presentation, and also top notch customer service. They even made a personal announcement prior to showtime asking to turn off cell phones etc. (Note to all theatre owners: buy a plane ticket to L.A., go to the Arclight and take your notepad, go back home and copy everything they do at your theatre(s), count your money). In reverse, I have been to Many, Many megaplexes where I had to sit through a commercial for the NBC television lineup along with 5 other commercials. One should not have to consult their banker prior to making a concession purchase. Also, I disagree that we should support high concession prices just because it is a classic cinema. We all need to work to offer a value and maybe sell a higher volume at a reasonable mark-up.

Theaterat on December 31, 2005 at 8:59 am

It is a combination of the places where we have to see these movies AND the quality of the product itself.Also, throw in the rude behaivor of the patrons{Cell phone use,talking, etc} add 20 minutes of commercials NOT including the trailers, bad projection and sound, and a general “public be damned” attitude byn the managers of these so-called theaters and keep wondering why audience attendence is dropping. It`s a real no brainer. All the big movies this year were either sequels or remakes.War of the Worlds and King Kong were not particually too good.

Cary41 on December 31, 2005 at 3:34 pm

I must agree that the issue at hand is a combination of a lack in “showmanship” as well as high pricing. When I say “high” pricing what I mean is that folks do not want to go pay $8.00 a ticket to a theatre where they receive poor service, a sub-quality film presentation including previews for NBC’s “fall lineup”, and have to deal with cell phones ringing, a staff that doesn’t care, etc. However, I personally have no problem at all paying for an $11.00 ticket to the Arclight Hollywood (as my dad mentioned in an earlier post) where the presentation and service is OUTSTANDING! And I believe that anyone who attends that theatre will think the same. I did take to heart what I learned from the Arclight and now before each presentation at my theatre, I walk to the front, dressed in tuxedo, and make an announcement to the audience. The first thing I say is a “Thank You” for choosing to attend my theatre followed by asking folks to take out their cell phones and turn the ringer to “Vibrate” or “Off”, followed by an invitation to visit our website,, and post comments on our brand new message forum…things like what they thought of the film, what they would like see come, what they thought of the presentation, etc. And everytime I finish my announcement with “And now folks, please enjoy the movie” I get an applause. Why? Because it’s something they don’t see in any other movie theatre around, and, they appreciate the personal touch. Patrons of my theatre know that I care and am giving my best everynight to give them an experience unlike any other. In fact, most folks don’t even care if the movie was that great or not, they just had a wonderful night at The Orpheum, sitting in leather couches, enjoy professional presentation of a film, and not having to listen to cell phones going off. And what’s the result? a 10% increase in business from last year while just about every other theatre in the country is wondering if they’re going to survive! Folks, it can be done. It’s all about class, showmanship, and making your theatre different from the stereotypical “multi-megaplex” that a lot of people are turned off by. But even the Megaplexes can do it. Theatre owners, get creative. Do go to the Arclight and see what they’re doing. Become even more involved with your customers and give them an “experience”, not just another night at the movies. And what will happen is when those “B” movies come along, you’ll have people filling up your theatre because they could care less about the movie, they just LOVE the theatre.

HornerJack on December 31, 2005 at 10:50 pm

cary, that was an excellent view on what it takes. Showmanship is NOT an easy thing. You have to work hard at it, knowing all the while that much of what you do will never be appreciated – well. it actually is, but not at the level one expects.

Some may not appreciate you in your monkey suit, but who cares? You accomplished what you set out to do. You absolutely DO know what you are doing!

Grechenka on January 1, 2006 at 5:56 am

All the above posts carry valid content. Cinema attendances here in the UK are also falling (by some 3% in the past year – this figure is without the benefit of any ‘spin’ from ABC)! In this city, We have two purpose-built multiplexes each with eight screens. Therefore, Sixteen identical shoeboxes without an ounce of personality between them. Projection and sound are ……. well adequate. Cleaning between screenings is occasional. The standard of seating depends on your luck for that day and whether you can change seats. I’d rather stay at home with a DVD than go there BUT we’re very fortunate, because locally we also have a single
screen ‘indie’ with a personality all of its own, a member of the
management team always acts as ‘greeter’ in the foyer. Sound, projection, seating and cleanliness are all excellent. They don’t
sell coke or popcorn. There’s a bar (legal here) and a coffee bar.
The range of films shown is enormous, from first run features,
foreign language films, film seasons to hosting various local film
festivals – the Jewish and the Gay film festivals being the best known. After a visit you feel you’ve been to the cinema – not to a
celluloid display factory.

ERD on January 1, 2006 at 6:24 am

In my area, the multiplex theatre is clean and has excellent admission prices-especially during the week. Sadly,I personally find that most recent movies haven’t been good. Now- instead of having to sit through them, I wait for films to come on satellite T-V. If I don’t like the movie, I shut it off or go to something else.

evmovieguy on January 1, 2006 at 3:09 pm

In the words of Marcus Loew “I don’t sell tickets to movies, I sell tickets to theaters”. AMC and Loews, UA, etc. can do as much stadium seating and cafe building they want in some of their theaters, to me it just doesn’t matter. Turning the theater into a mall instead of having a theater AT a mall isn’t the answer. As soon as they learn that people like to LOOK at things the better off they’ll be and maybe attendance will go up. They should know by now that it’s not only the movie that is an escapist activity, it should also be going to the theater itself. Every time I go to the Loews Jersey and look around I always ask myself why it is that that type of effort doesn’t go into the environments of new theaters. Cost effectiveness and lack of imagination come to mind. But that’s exactly it…lack of imagination. How many re-makes were there churned out by Hollywood this year? “Dukes of Hazzard”, “The Producers”, “Fun with Dick & Jane”, “Bewitched”, “King Kong” just to name a few. No wonder attendance is down. It’s absurd how much imagination Hollywood lacks these days! They have nothing new to offer, and have had nothing new to offer for a few years now.

Revenue is low? Hollywood is huddling and biting it’s nails as the ship goes down? Oh well…they had it coming and all I can say in response is BURN, BABY, BURN!

RobertR on January 2, 2006 at 10:26 am

I never have anything good to say about UA, but I was at the UA Westbury Cinemas twice recently and this is one of the nicest UA theatres I have ever attended. It was very clean and the picture was actually projected in focus and the proper ratio. My big complaint was that I wanted to buy refreshments and the lines never went away from the candy stands. Why do they build counters with twenty stations and then open 6 of them? I went out twice during the movie and gave up. There was also lots of promos for TV shows and video games.

On a seperate note I read something disturbing today in the Daily News. They were writing about the DVD release of the Wedding Crashers and it said it will look better on TV then in the cinemas because it was shot for the eventual DVD release and how it would look best in that format. They were more concerned about the eventual TV release and F%$% theatrical. Someone better start making changes in the prodcut and the way theatres are run before they start closing. It used to only be older people who waited for the home release. I know plenty of twenty year olds who don’t go to the movies anymore, they buy them on DVD.

Theaterat on January 2, 2006 at 11:00 am

Irv…. RE the Jersey theater. This theater is a thing of the past that somehow is being preserved to its original glory. Unfortunately, too many of these great theaters are gone. Half the fun of going to the Jersey is just to be in the beautiful theater itself.There were at least 6 of these grand theaters in my neighborhood in Brooklyn at one time. Sadly, every one is now closed, demolished, or being used for retail or other uses.I know that I have to go to some faceless and impersonal multiplex to see a movie- if I can find anything worth seeing- but to call THAT going to the movies simply is not the same experience it was way back when. Prehaps I AM living in the past but, hey, I liked that better.

focus on January 3, 2006 at 10:55 am

Most of your exhibitors in a trade off for theatrical showmanship due to corporate greed, have removed the professioal projectionist from the theatres projection booth. What you have now are ushers or managers who have no training or skills in the art of projection, operating the projection equipment. They do not know what, worn gate pads, rollers, film guide rollers look like, let alone there function in the stabilaztion requirement, for film to pass through the gate and project a picture on the screen that is weave and flutter free.

The only reason for a film print to be scratched, is because the maintenance of the projector and platter system film guide rollers are not being maintained and cleaned. That is just lazy, and there is no excuse for it. This transcends into filthily equipment and scratched prints for the patron to view. The ushers and managers are not able to keep up with all the demands put upon them by their employers, and the majority of them are just incompetent.

A professional projectionist in the booth makes all the difference in your motion picture presentation. A good journeyman projectionist, does more then just lace the projector for the performance. They are constantly checking the film equipment for worn or malfuntioning parts and looking to keep up academy standards for your presentation enjoyment, with no film scratches. They can rebuild equipment right on site, run academy light scans, sound check levels on the digital sound systems to insure quality sound presentations are being meet, and do not cut out film because of platter wraps, so the patron sees the whole film as intended. They are well versed in the theroy of electricity and electronics, so they may make emergency repairs on site, so show loss is keep to a minium. You get a showmanship value for your eight dollar ticket price.

Now you know why, as a theatre patron your experiencing these problems at your local theatre. I have been so turned off by the poor film presentations, I hardly go to the theatre any longer. With the coming of home digital theatre systems and DVD’s, I can enjoy a professional presentation without all the distractions, and that is an acceptable trade off, in seeing the film with an audenace. After all if the exhibitor, dose not care about film presentation quality, then I can spend my eight dollars at home and enjoy the film to academy standars and get quality value for my money.

jnjeisen on January 3, 2006 at 12:47 pm

As a veteran theatre owner and operator, I must disagree with much of what you say. In my experience, we now have fewer disruptions than ever because the new automated equipment reduces the human contact with any given print. It was not uncommon for the operator to miss a changeover or to have a carbon arc flicker etc. etc. It certainly is not corporate greed that prevents me from having a $35,000.00per year projectionist…it is basic survival. I agree that you can find anecdotal evidence of poor booth maintenence and improperly trained personnel. I believe as the market starts to rebel against quality presentations, exhibitors will respond with common sense maintenance guidelines and better training.
As for the experience of going to the theatre, this too will survive. People have a real need to be out in public socially where action is. How many first dates take place at the movies? Movies are a fundamental element of our culture. Sitting at home alone is not the first choice. I agree much needs to be done to improve the situation in theatres. The veterans of this industry know that the solution is as old as our Cinema Treasures…Showmanship.

focus on January 4, 2006 at 8:13 am

Actually, exhibitors did have properly trained personal to maintain and provide excellent quality showmanship presentations to patrons and they abandoned that practice, of having a professional in the booth for greed. How do we know it is greed? Well, the true reason for automation, was not to replace the professional projectionist in the booth with low skilled high school workers. The purpose of theatre automation was to allow the skilled projectionist the ability to operate two, threee, six, ten, up to fourteen screens at once and maintain academy standards.

This gave the exhibitor the ability to expand their business and increase revenues dramaticlly at the same time. Exhibitors did not have to hire several more professional projectionist to operate their theatre complexes. This saved exhibitors hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. However exhibitors became ravenous with greed, and their cost savings achieved, by automation allowing them to hire just one projectionist instead of several, was no longer acceptable.

So exhibitors blindly removed quality showmanship from their operations, as a trade off to pocket more revenues. The exhibitor thought they could have anyone with no skills whatsoever, operate the projection equipment and the audience would never know the difference. Well guess what, after setting in numerious theatres, seeing scratched prints, poor light and sound quality, horrible presentations over and over, the audience did notice. Fact is theatre automation can not change a and realign a xeon bulb to academy standards, can not time a projector shutter, exaime worn gate pads, sprockets, rollers, belts, pullies, clean and oil the projection equipment and film systems and check state of the art digital sound systems for peak academy performance.

With DVD’s the internet and home theatre systems, patrons have a choice now in how they are entertained. If they can not get value and showmanship, for their money at the exhibitors box office, they can get it in the comfort of their home, on these state of the art systems. It is nice to romanticise about how the theatre experience is a social and cultural event. The truth is however, entertainment history felt the same about vaudeville and radio to, but in the end they lost enormous amounts of their audiences, due to new technology. History again repeated it’s self when cable become popular in the 80’s and the major networks lost vast audiences to their new competitors. The same is now going on in the theatre industry, the barn doors are already open.

Major studios already see the new market systems emerging, and DVD’s are now out grossing theatrical film releases. Patrons see value and showmanship in these entertainment options, for their money and use DVD’s and home theatre systems, as a way to avoid going to theatres and fighting crowds, cell phone abuse, talking and poor film presentations. But hey what do I know about the entertainment industry, I have only worked in almost every position there is, over the last 25 years as an owner/operator and for the top ten exhibitors in the country. The sad truth is, every exhibitor is in denial, and refuses to remedy all of these problems they have controll over, thereby continually turning off their patron customer market base. Exhibitors have turned their backs on that old business philosphy of, give the customer what they want and they will keep coming back. Simple truth is, it was not broke, but exhibitors wanted to fix it anyway, for greed!

Showmanship could be brought back to the theatre, by bring back the skill in the booth, but greed is to strong of a motovation for these companies. The truth is, exhibitors do not save money in the booth with low skilled workers. I have personally witnessed three, four, five, six people doing the work of one professional projectionist. The exhibitor is paying them more in wages combined, then they did the skilled projectionist and getting no showmanship value for their money, just like the theatre patron. Exhibitors can’t afford not to pay $35,000 to $60,000 for a professional projectionist to run up to fourteen screens, if they want to survive. Exhibitors could rememdy all of the negitives a patron has to endure at their theatres, but they will not change because of their arrogence. So unfortunally, they will go the way of the professional projectionist and that is out the door and out of business.

jnjeisen on January 4, 2006 at 5:26 pm

I am a small operator. I do not have a “professional operator” in my booths. I do have enough common sense to operate and maintain my equipment and also do the easy repairs. I am experienced enough to know when a major component is going bad and hire a pro to come in.
In two years I have lost two shows, both because of power outage (which I do not control). I have never damaged a print.
My point is that even without a projectionist on staff, showmanship is alive and well at my theatre and I am pleased to say that in a down year industrywide, my ATTENDANCE was up 13%. Further, look at the innovators in the industry and check their numbers up,up,up.
I too have done it all in theatres. I agree that their are some greedy people in the business, but certainly not everyone. Like in every industry decisions are made to effect the bottom line and not every one of them I agree with. For example, on the whole, theatre chains have continued to set concession prices on an ever increasing profit margin to the detriment of volume. Thus fewer and fewer people purchase concessions and those who do not resent the theatre for trying to gouge them. Now we have a whole generation of patrons who no longer consider it necessary to have popcorn with their movie.

It is past time for changes in our industry whether it come from young people with new ideas, or veterans of the industry who remember where we came from. I believe both have valuable contributions and I am excited for the future of our industry.

focus on January 5, 2006 at 2:32 pm

Wonderful, however I doubt your able to maintain academy standards in your theatrical presentations and that is the showmanship difference. A professional projectionist presentation skills, are like night and day, compaired to someone who laces a machine and presses the start button.

Good for you on your attendence figures and bucking the norm out there. That is a great accomplishment, there are theatres that can maintain or increase their attendence figures. Most of them are located in small towns and rual areas of the country, where there is no theatrical competitor, thereby having a captive audience market. Facts are however, box office is down nationally by seven percent. DVD’s sales are way up, up, up, and have out grossed their own theatrical releases. DVD’s release dates are getting shorter and shorter, due to their enormous increase in sales.

Change is always difficult to accept, and I do not belive all theatres will become a entertainment destination of the past, however not all of these theatres, can or will survive due to the way they are operated today.

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