What to Know
- With the rise of streaming services it has been known that the movie theater industry has been struggling.
- While some may consider the threat of streaming services collapsing movie theaters as real, it is far more of a threat for independent mom and pop businesses who before streaming had to compete with big chain movie theaters to begin with.
- These local movie theaters have started to think outside the box when it comes to engaging the public to bring more customers through their doors.
When was the last time you went to your local movie theater to watch a movie?
Walking in and smelling the popcorn, catching previews before the actual movie, laughing or screaming collectively at a scene with other moviegoers -- all these form part of the experience of going to the movies.
Cinema has been a popular form of entertainment for decades, so it is hard to imagine that this industry could ever disappear. However, with the rise of streaming services it has been known that the movie theater industry has been struggling.
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"I would say that there has been a general decline in the foot traffic since streaming has become available," Movieland Cinemas General Manager Nicole Rapp said.
With the recent pandemic the world was forced to make changes -- perhaps sooner than planned. The use of technology at home increased exponentially as it became the main source of schooling, entertainment, communication and escape for many, particularly during the height of the pandemic when the economy was on lockdown. Movies even began to be released on streaming services due to movie theaters being closed.
While some may consider the threat of streaming services collapsing movie theaters as real, it is far more of a threat for independent mom and pop businesses who before streaming had to compete with big chain movie theaters to begin with.
“Streaming was around prior to the pandemic but blew up when COVID hit. I don't blame anyone for streaming films while we were closed but now so many films are going straight to streaming and skipping a theatrical run," management for Bellmore Movies and Showplace, located in Nassau County, said in a statement to News 4 New York.
Aside from the economic fallout ramped up by the pandemic, the ongoing inflation has also impacted these businesses according to Bellmore Movies' management.
“There's so much that goes on before they walk in the door so much they do not see," according to Bellmore Movies, which originally opened in 1915, survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, as well as the COVID pandemic. "There's constant upgrades of equipment along with repairs of equipment. The challenges of heating these big buildings when prices for oil and gas are at their highest. New laws that affect everyday operations. Employee shortages and supply chain issues. We had to roll up our sleeves and start searching for items normally easily provided by our concession vendors and cleaning suppliers. I'm sure other theater operators are doing the same thing.”
These businesses have started to think outside the box when it comes to engaging the public to bring more customers through their doors. With this is mind, managers and owners of independent movie theaters got creative. Movieland Cinema, for example, recently joined the food delivery app Doordash to bring people popcorn and other movie theater treats, they also rent out movie theaters, and even partnered up with a production company to bring live events that tie in with iconic movies, like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
"We have so many people that come in just for popcorn and go home," Rapp said. "That is one way we are dealing with the streaming because if they come in for the popcorn at least we can make it accessible...and still have that movie theater experience at home."
Social media is another way for local mom and pop movie theaters to engage with the public. Rapp also said that Movieland Cinema, located in Suffolk County, hosts sensory friendly showings the second Saturday of every month.
"This is when we do dim lights, lower volume and extra-caring staff...to accommodate so that the environment is not overwhelming to our more sensitive viewers," she said.
Rapp went on to say that a way for movie theaters to be helped is for distribution companies to allow for movies to be shown during a longer stretch of time exclusively at movie theaters before heading to streaming services so "people can have that [movie theater] experience."
"If people go right to streaming nobody is coming [to see that movie] in the theaters," Rapp said. "We have a movie right now that is streaming online and the attendance in person is so low it's almost not worth it."
However, Bellmore Movies also went on to say that a recent blockbuster showcased there is still a want and need for the movie theater experience.
"I have to hand it to Tom Cruise. He insisted his film Top Gun: Maverick wait for cinemas to reopen. When we all were permitted to reopen he gave it a little time and boom he released TGM on Memorial Day weekend to a strong turnout. He made the studios aware of the strength of a theatrical run. We hope this thought process holds true in the future,” Bellmore Movies' statement to News 4 New York went on to say.
While independent movie theaters may be struggling, there are a number of people who prefer to go to the movies, if not for anything else, for nostalgia's sake.
"People come for the nostalgia," Rapp said. "Sitting in the theater and laughing with other people during the funny parts of the movie or jumping at the scary part...so all those little things are things that we pride ourselves on and we really try hard to share that experience with other people."
Management for Bellmore Movies shared similar sentiments.
“There's nothing like sitting in a darkened cinema with a room full (or half full at least) of strangers," Bellmore Movies management said. "You have that commonality of all wanting to see the same movie. You laugh together, cry together, scream together and ultimately finish the experience of the film together. Then as you walk out you are all talking about it with your companions and continue the experience right out the door."
WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY
Here is what News 4 New York audience have to say about independent movie theaters, when we asked them about the topic on Instagram:
- How do you prefer to watch newly released movies?
25% prefer going to theaters
26% rather wait until movie is available to stream
50% depends on the movie
- What do you like about going to the movies?
9% fun activity to get out with friends/family etc.
29% better to watch on big screen
4% enjoy experiences with others around them
49% all the above
- What do you not like about going to the movies?
21% waste of money
20% don't have time
29% rather be in comfort of own home
30% all the above
- How do you feel about movie theaters struggling?
42% are not bothered by this
58% are upset by this