Can the Megaplex Survive the iPhone?

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audioIn an era where Video on Demand (VOD), near simultaneous DVD releases and now downloads to smart phones, the question is, can megaplexes survive the iPhone?

There are nearly 600 films released in the US every year. Many end up in the megaplexes. Some end up in your local art house or museum theater, some end up a VOD and some even can be downloaded to your iPhone, so you can see them while ignoring fellow mass transit riders.

Early last summer, the indie market was abuzz when prophets of gloom predicted the end of the independent feature film. Several small or boutique distributors either went belly or were swallowed up by their much larger brethren. The options for filmmakers were getting smaller.

Over at the megaplex where Hollywood’s latest popcorn films or chick flicks vie for the dubious and very transitory distinction of being the “#1 Film in America”, there is also a sense of gloom. Yes, gross sales are up this year. Many exhibitors are thankful for the recession They are convinced hard times make movie going affordable. Obviously they don’t buy their own concessions. But the studios and the exhibitors of all walks are on the same page. The way out of gloom is to look to the future and the future is digital. Economic well being will be assured and in the 3D. Despite the future bravado, actual attendance is at best the same. Inflation is the difference.

This is a quick view of the landscape. Both megaplexes and independent theatres see trouble on the horizon. They see VOD and even new platforms like cellphones as threats. The question asked earlier was, “Can the megaplex survive the iPhone?” The answer is simple, yes.

In the past Hollywood has fought television, then cable television, then the VCR, and then the DVD. They will fight anything new. Hollywood has more conservative thinkers than the last Republican. There will be many voices in La-La Land bemoaning the end of exhibition or the end of indie films, but nothing could be further from the truth.

When VCRs came around, not only did Hollywood find a new economic model spewing cash, new fans emerged. When DVDs established themselves, Hollywood found an amazing source of revenue, nearly twice as much as domestic exhibition with n near the cost. It was found money. They went from gloom to laughing all the way to the bank.

Both factors will come into play with new technologies – new audiences will be found and new revenue streams will flow. The megaplex will survive as will the independent theater. Both just need to be smart about what they do. One word of advice, embrace the new technologies. They are here to stay.
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Garen has been in the dark for years. As a film exhibitor, programmer and reviewer, he has seen thousands of films. Regularly on NE Cable News & NH Public Radio, he produces the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. Besides film, he has a passion for being a Frugal Yankee.

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