I grew up in the Blockbuster era, watched their demise, and now participate in the Netflix era. One player in the film industry remained present between the two eras — the classic movie theatre. Despite surges in cheaper viewing alternatives through digital media or simply torrenting, mainstream players like Cineplex seem to be doing fine (thanks, Marvel).
Besides mainstream theatres, I also visit ethnic movie theatres that play Bollywood movies, and it’s a sad sight.
Ethnic media — including newspapers, music, television and film — caters to the cultural markets its created for. The issue is that media typically monetizes on advertising, and the market is far too niche to support a volume play. Sure, ads can be priced higher for given the specificity in targeting, but it’s likely not enough to be profitable over time.
Every time I visit an ethnic movie theatre I’m astounded by two things:
- The fact that they’re still alive
- The amount of real estate they occupy
These movie theatres have up to 6 auditoriums with ~200 seats, but only 4 (extremely long) movies playing at any given time. Add to that, their only meaningful audience shows up on 2 of the 7 days in a week; no half-priced Tuesdays here. And for the active auditoriums, notwithstanding opening night, ~90% of the seats are unoccupied.
The goal for any business heavy on the real estate is to optimize their revenue per square footage. So here’s a radical idea: instead of upgrading seats to be more comfortable — get rid of them.
For movie theatres, that means scrapping the first handful of rows in favour of storage space. Yes, you lose seating capacity, but don’t worry — you only fill those seats once per movie, and no one wants to sit that close anyway. There’s definitely an optimal amount of seats to keep, which will stay occupied and churning out revenue on both tickets and concessions, while saving costs on that massive space in each auditorium.
Investing into converting the front space or unused auditoriums into secure storage space makes each square footage into a sustainable revenue centre for the theatre, while utilizing the biggest asset — which, unfortunately, is not the movie. Now the challenge becomes finding buyers for this secure space… (to be continued)