Mark Cuban asks “What business are theaters in?”

posted by Patrick Crowley on January 27, 2006 at 8:12 am

In his latest blog entry, Mark Cuban, the spirited owner of Landmark Cinemas, takes a frank and fascinating look at the state of the exhibition industry.

On collapsing the “release window” between theatrical exhibition and other release formats (DVD, iTunes, Cable, etc.)…

How sad is it when the President of the National Assoc of Theater Owners doesnt think his members can create a better movie going experience than what we can see in our houses and apartments ?

Guess what John, I can whip up a mean steak, but I still like to go to restaurants. Because I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out of the house with family, friends, who ever.

On shifting demographics…

The experience that a 16 year old expects is going to be completely different than what a 35 or 55 year old expects.

When a 16 year old goes to a movie, there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with answering your cellphone, talking back to the screen and texting your heart away during a movie. The movie is just there because its better than doing the same thing sitting or walking at the mall, or hanging in your buddys smelly bedroom again, listening to his mom yell at him.

All of the above drives anyone not in that demographic crazy. So when a couple of 35 year olds go to see King Kong, not only can you pretty much bet that they arent going to have a great experience during the showing of the movie, but they probably didnt have a great experience before they even got their seats.

On giving theaters a piece of the DVD business…

Its also probably a good time to take steps to be paid for the role you play in promoting the sale of DVDs and TV. You already know that you platform movies and create demand for future sales. Your problem is that you dont get paid for it. DVD sales now exceed box office sales and you dont get a nickel of those DVD sales. Its time for that to change.

On what business theaters are in…

First of all, I dont think they know what business they are in any longer. It appears they believe they are in the business of showing the movies Hollywood gives them and praying that Hollywood makes good movies and spends enough money to drive people through the doors so they make some money on the boxoffice and concessions. They arent.

So, what do you think Cinema Treasures fans? (Read the full blog post and then comment below!)

Comments (22)

pbubny on January 27, 2006 at 10:46 am

Much of what Mark says hits home, in particular his call for open-mindedness on NATO’s part. In a way, the association’s panicked response to “Bubble” and the movie’s release strategy makes as much sense as TV stations refusing to air ads for, say, upcoming movies or Six Flags, for fear that people actually going to the movies or the amusement parks will then not be watching TV and will enjoy their outings so much that they’ll never tune in again.

However, I’m not so sure about his statement, “It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the multiplexes to tailor the experience to the appropriate audience.” How? Are we talking about multis ONLY for teen or kids' flicks, others only for and others ONLY for over-35 moviegoers (who have in common only the fact that they’re over 35)—or failing that, separate “adult-only” and “children-only” lobbies? And are we talking about doing this in the context of existing theatres, or tearing down the 20-plex to put up three or four 5-plexes? Because it seems to me this kind of “segregation” would be the only way to keep the different demographics from rubbing elbows with one another. Outside of the major city markets where more specialized chains such as Landmark can thrive, the multiplex kind of has to be all things to all people. Or at least try to be.

IanJudge on January 27, 2006 at 9:38 pm

Maybe if he doled out some of his money to pay ushers a decent wage to STOP people from acting so foolishly in his theaters this would not be an issue; yet instead his company pays low wages and let’s the industry lower its standards like every other chain.

I get the feeling he doesn’t really care either way; it is just a game for a rich boy like him.

HornerJack on January 27, 2006 at 10:22 pm

Odd remarks from the owner of a chain like Landmark? Or one should ask this: All the vast money is in the hands of those 35 and older. Why don’t they go out to movies? Could it be the movies themselves? Well, duh, yes.

John Fink
John Fink on January 28, 2006 at 7:16 am

Well Landmark Theaters provides a more “adult” experience, I don’t know if age seperation is the answer. I hate when a cell phone rings during the show (and these days they don’t just ring, they ring to a polophonic impression of Laffy Taffy Remix) – at the same time I’d be sad if the window between theater and DVD vanished. In fact I considered seeing Bubble in the theatres and decided against it – why pay $10.75 a ticket (21.50) to see it at the Sunshine in New York when surly Best Buy will be selling it for $19.99.

But I agree – the movie experience needs to shift, the direction I think we should be going in is diffrent price points. Kids aren’t going to pay $20 bucks to see a certain movie at a high end luxery theater, they’ll opt for a place charging $8 bucks. I think we need high end luxery palaces and low end Regal Cinemas-types of theaters (that charge less than Regal). If you create an experience thats diffrent, that adds the excitement back in to the movies where people are well behaved (sort of like Landmark Theaters) then people will go. NATO has little faith in themselves to create that experience. I have always belived that if a first run theater doesn’t have stadium seating it shouldn’t charge as much as a theater that does, the movie theater industry needs to be more broken up by price points, charging more for high end, first rate experiences and drastically less for lower-end theaters.

anomie666 on January 28, 2006 at 8:28 am

There will always be a certain market niche for the theater going experience. If the window of time between the theatrical release and the DVD release shrinks, there will still be those who want to see the film in a theater. I happen to like to see movies in a theater with a group of strangers and there are many people who do as well.

alex35mm on January 28, 2006 at 8:33 am

Very nicely said. I’ve managed 3 low end theaters and mostly 2 high end. I honestly could not agree more.

I would like to see, especially the big mega’s hiring better staff who have passion and who know how to control a situation with large crowds. It seems at most theaters even the managers don’t no how. As well as, most of all, paying better. At the AMC river east 21 here in downtown Chicago a majority of the staff absolutely hates their job and doesn’t care one bit about quick efficient customer service. And it shows severely. The experience is horrible.

jimpiscitelli on January 28, 2006 at 10:33 am

We need more theaters (like the Landmark) that show Art Movies in the suburbs. Not only do you pay higher ticket prices in the City, along with the concessions, you have to pay for parking also. Suburban theaters the ticket prices are lower and parking is free. I remember when a movie came theatrically and 6 months later came on VHS/DVD. We always have better staff in my local theater (Cinemark Melrose Park) and the (now AMC) Norridge Theater.

CTCrouch on January 28, 2006 at 2:49 pm

As for the attempting to seperate by age; I worked at a chain that emplimented “no children” showings and they were sued for age discrimination. Also, I honestly can’t point the finger soley at teens and children for causing poor theatre experiences. In my fifteen years of theatre work, I’ve had just as many disruption issues with people in the 18 to 35 demographic. I’ve actually encountered more cell phone problems with those who are in their early to mid twenties than teenagers.

John Fink
John Fink on January 28, 2006 at 6:45 pm

RE: CJC – I saw Glory Road in Hartford, CT opening weekend, the late show. Kids were running around the theaters and their phones were ringing. I informed security three times, they kicked them out the second time, then they returned again somehow. The third time did nothing. I probably won’t return but security staff is incompitant as are other workers when you complain about projection problems. They are also less apt to give you a free pass if you’ve had a problem that they could correct (unless you take the time to point this all out to the corporation). The experience at some theaters has been cheapened, and those are the theatres that honestly have no business charging top dollar, wheras I have no problem paying $10.00 a ticket for a top quality movie experience where everything is infocus, aspect ratios are respected, and the audience is clearly there to see a movie. I think the thinking behind going to the movies needs to change.

SethLewis on January 29, 2006 at 7:40 am

Theatre owners still don’t completely get it…At the latest attempt at a luxury cinema experience in London’s West End, the Apollo West End, the outside of the theater is dressed up, the auditoriums are slightly posher with velvet seats, but the service experience is negligible, and the bar and concessions rather basic…I paid over the odds to reserve a seat for The New World, a great picture to see in a theatre, but the 12.50 pounds has to cover more than a fancy rest room

SethLewis on January 29, 2006 at 7:42 am

As a hotelier and restaurateur, I expect my employees to understand and appreciate their product (ie what the chef prepares)…way to few cinema managers bring their staff up to speed on what they are serving ie what’s on screen and really hire outward, engaged people to bring their brand to life…
It may well come down to segmentation, but even when cinema operators try to cater to an older more affluent audience they still appear clueless

Michael R. Rambo Jr.
Michael R. Rambo Jr. on January 29, 2006 at 8:42 am

The theatre owners (AMC, REG, Cinemark, Pacific) and the major film studios wants to keep everything the way they are now, Mark Cuban wants to change the system. I believe the major theatre chains and major film studios are gonna win this war.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 29, 2006 at 12:34 pm

This industry has survived over 100 years without the wimpering bullshit of failed media whores like Mark Cuban. Good Morning and Goodnight.

TheaterBuff1 on January 31, 2006 at 9:37 pm

When the first theaters rose up, I wonder how many new theater owners of that era thought or worried about all that’s being pined over now?

For it just seems to me that this issue has been made far more complicated than it need be. For is it all that big a mystery to us what theater patrons are bound to like, whether having to do with the theater’s design or what movies get shown in it? Or what a fair admission price should be or how the staff should act with regard to the costumers?

If I go out to see a movie tonight, don’t I fully know ahead of time how I want it to be? The answer is, yes, I do. So what’s the difficulty of my turning that around so that I’m thinking in terms of my providing others with that? Whatever became of the simple straightforward golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

On some points I feel Mark Cuban is right, on others I disagree, but then, from my perspective, so what? He doesn’t own the patents on all theaters and how they must operate after all. Let him try whatever he feels is best, and if it succeeds, well, good for him, and if it fails well, that’s on him. And this is a good reason why the more theaters the better, provided each one can be run in whatever way its owner feels is best. That way whoever’s right can make a nice living giving people what they want, while those who have it all wrong can maybe learn a thing or two. And my only complaint is when theater operators, or those who aspire to become such, are blocked from being able to make a go of it however they feel is best. For that’s when it gets to be very Cain & Abel like.

When I go to a theater, I like to feel valued and welcomed. And not in exhange for the movie itself not being all that good. For that much is very important also. But for some theater operators even that’s asking too much. And what am I supposed to do about that other than to say, okay, if you’re unwilling to, how about I try my luck at it? And I shouldn’t have to add, “If that’s okay with you.” And that seems to be all that Mark Cuban seems to be telling us, and I don’t see why anybody should be upset with that. For he’s not trying to pass some new law or something that the rest of us will all have to strictly adhere to. If that were the case it would be very Cain & Abel, and it would make perfect sense for any of us to feel upset therefore, and in that instance I hope we all would. But right now’s not the time to be upset at all. We make things too complicated!

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on February 1, 2006 at 12:37 am

If you check back issues of Variety going back to the 1940’s you will find articles about the lost art of movie-going etiquette, the growing restlesness of movie audiences, and “those damn noisy kids”. Since movies were considered working class entertainment prior to that, I suspect it is a common conceit to pretend this has not always been the case where mass entertainment films were concerned. You cannot expect audiences to sit quietly through WEDDING CRASHERS as reports show show they did not do so for THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, BIRTH OF A NATION, THE GREAT DICTATOR, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, THE BLOB, AMERICAN GRAFFITI or ALIEN. What they won’t do today (and never have done) is buy obscure low budget specialty films sold through tacky gimmicks. No, not even on DVD.

Audiences still sit quietly for good films and get thrown out when they don’t by good theatres. Mark Cuban thinks he is so progressive by attacking audiences and theatres but he comes across as a crotchety old timer upset that kids have burst his BUBBLE.

TheaterBuff1 on February 1, 2006 at 7:49 pm

The movie theater business is such that it puts forth this illusion that it could be made much much better, and very easily at that. And from the looks of things Mark Cuban is the latest to having just fallen victim to that. But the movie theater experience is a creature unto itself. And it has its own set of terms that everybody, no matter who it is, must fully respect if it’s to be at its best.

We can stage the perfect movie theater experience, having actors behave as we want everyday people to. But in a real theater situation, if people are putting forth their own money to come out to see a movie, if they can’t get to be who they are naturally while in that setting, well, there goes the motivation to go out to see a movie in the first place. And a theater operator can either balk at this and wind up not having any patrons at all, or he can run the theater in such a way so that everything falls in place the way he wants it to of its own accord. Case in point, I can remember being in theaters of the past where I acted just as those running the theater wanted me to, but yet where I felt like I was totally being myself at the same time and not under any unfair or unnatural restraints. And rather than it working out this way because I was adhering to a certain set of rules, it was a case where there weren’t any rules, just be yourself is all, yet everything came together the right way regardless. Yet not due to any total laxity on the theater operators' part, which is the totally other way of driving theater patrons away. All those theaters of the past I remember were very well-run. And at the time it looked so easy, and perhaps it was for those theater operators who understood that theaters — that is, real theaters — are entities unto themselves. They’re real life situations, not movies in strict accordance to script.

And Mark Cuban appears to be starting off on the right foot when he points out that many theater operators have forgotten what business they’re in. And that much is very easy to say. But for him to go from that to demonstrating first hand that he can run theaters better, he’s going to have to get past the big “Oh…” first so as to make his vision a reality — the big “Oh…” being accepting people on their own terms while making it all work out at the same time.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on February 2, 2006 at 3:37 pm

I don’t give a hoot what Mark Cuban thinks. Until they make a 75 foot HD Television, I will continue to support my local movie theatre!

If NATO/the studios want us back, 2 things they must do:

  2. MAKE BETTER THEATRES!!! Anyone who sat through King Kong, Star Wars, or Narnia in a shoebox stadium seated auditorium on a 40 foot screen with subpar digital sound (a.k.a. Regal Cinemas!) should agree with me on this point! Forget the digital 3D revolution – put an IMAX in every multiplex! That’ll bring ‘em back!
TheaterBuff1 on February 3, 2006 at 7:04 pm

The movie theaters that came into existence after the Crash of ‘29 and how they were run were a universe different from those before the Crash. And the movie theaters that came into being after World War II and how they were run were a whole lot different than those which flourished throughout the Great Depression and WWII years. And it’s not as if everything right here and now is written in stone and is to be of permanance here ever after. The Beatles began their careers in Hamburg, Germany in the late 1950s. But they sure as heck couldn’t have in Hamburg or any other part of Germany 20 years or so before then. And whoever became a success in Germany when the Nazi Third Reich reigned over it, became branded with that success as a black mark against them after the Third Reich was brought down. Which German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and others can well attest to.

Which is to say…

Anyone who’s having a really difficult if not impossible time operating or launching a well-run movie theater in this particular era we’re living in right now should take that to heart. Meaning that if you’re getting a whole lot of resistence towards your efforts, it probably means you’re doing all the right things, but it’s probably not the most fitting place or time to try to do them. But the right time is coming. But it’s not here yet. And even Mark Cuban, with all his wealth, his pull, his influence, must respect that, too.

logowatches on April 27, 2006 at 11:14 am

After Reading this I feel sad. The big chains don’t care pure bottom line. I am glad I live Near Somerville and Arlington,Ma. The two best Theatres any where bar none The Somerville Theatre and The Capitol Theatre run by F.E.I. They do it the right way what a joy to see movies at either theatre. Fresh Popcorn good clean theatres clean prints. A Great Movie Going Experience. AAAAA++++
Jim Callahan Winchester,Ma.

TheaterBuff1 on April 27, 2006 at 8:27 pm

Here in Pennsylvania, where I currently reside, we’ve had some magnificent success stories of historic theaters being restored to the former glory. The big exception though is Philadelphia where efforts to restore its historic theaters have been fought back tooth and nail. Don’t ask me why. One of the saddest stories at this moment regarding Philadelphia’s theaters is that of the Mayfair Theatre building in Philadelphia’s Northeast portion. You can read the story on that at the following Cinema Treasures link:


Out in western Pennsylvania, meantime, the historic Majestic Theatre in Gettysburg — site of the historic Civil War battlefield and where Lincoln delivered America’s most famous presidential speech — recently underwent a magnificent restoration. However, it appears its success is going to be shortlived. This is the theater that President Eisenhower frequented regularly whenever he was at home at his farm just outside of Gettysburg. But a very sad proposal is currently underway to build an enormous slots parlor casino close to the historic battlefield site. And it appears the Majestic Theatre is being strong-armed into supporting it. And that story you can read about at the following Cinema Treasures link:


However, we have other classic theaters in this state that have been restored very beautifully and that appear to be on solid ground for now. So for Pennsylvania, at this moment at least, the news isn’t all bad. Meantime, those two theaters you describe up in Massachussetts sound fantastic!

TLSLOEWS on May 12, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Now thats a great question.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Cuban is right on.I try and stay from movies that a 16 year old kid would want to see,and have been pretty lucky SO FAR.LOL.

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