The movie theater business model is dead and it’s not coming back

The movie theater business model is dead and it's not coming back

Warner Bros. moved the release date for Dune from December 18, 2020, to October 2021. The studio seems intent on waiting until people are willing to pack movie theaters again before they release big-budget movies. I’m not sure that day will ever come.

Going to the theater to consume media is an antiquated method. It made a lot of sense back in the day when people didn’t even have televisions. It still made sense with the advent of home video. Televisions were small, and the sound they emitted was limited. Things began to change when manufacturers ditched the old cathode ray tube and began making flatscreen televisions with light-emitting diodes. The screens became bigger and the resolutions grater. The price for large televisions plummeted.

The sound got better too. Complete surround sound systems could be purchased for less than $200.

While this was going on, the movie studios were still relying on the outdated movie theater business model for most of its profits. They weren’t totally oblivious. Studios released movies on digital rental and Blu-ray for home viewing, but usually a few months after the theatrical release.

At the beginning of 2020, the only reason people still went to the movies was because of a multi-generational habit. It wasn’t because the movie theater provided a better viewing experience. It wasn’t because it was less expensive. It was none of those things.

I stopped going to the movies even before the threat of COVID-19 made it out of the question. I have a Samsung 65-inch flatscreen LED television. It’s connected to a Yamaha A-S301BL integrated stereo amplifier powering a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 40 series speakers. Why would I want to leave my home to watch a movie? If I wait a couple of months, I can watch theatrical movies in my home for a lot less money than what I would have paid at the theater. My sofa is much more comfortable than any communal theater seat.

The movie theater business model is dead and it's not coming back

If theater seats are so great, how come you can’t buy them for home use? As if any sane person would want to put them into their home.

I can also pause the movie if I need to use the restroom or grab a Diet Coke. I can rewind the movie when I fail to hear a bit of dialogue. 

Then came COVID-19

I successfully broke my habit of going to the theater to watch movies. With theaters getting shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of other Americans have broken the habit too. After months of not going to the movies, will people regress and return to paying a lot more money for an inferior experience?

I don’t think they will. Plus, it’s not like the movie theater experience will ever be safe until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. Until then, going to the movies will be as safe as licking a toilet seat at the downtown Los Angeles Greyhound bus station.

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