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Theaters Going Home

2 Aug, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

Valet parking, day care, sushi, beer and wine: Theaters are offering anything and everything they can nowadays to get people out of their living rooms and into movie theaters.

Yet Landmark Theater's new flagship cinema in Los Angeles — which opened June 1 — has done something different: it brought the living room into the theater.

Three of the theater's dozen screens are intimate “Living Room” cinemas, with loveseats, ottomans and sofas, making the front rows the best ones. The screens show some movies from Sony SXRD 4K digital projectors. Moviegoers can buy exotic Australian snacks, a YogurBerry, in-theater merchandise or a glass of wine.

More than two months in, Landmark reported a record opening compared to other Landmark theaters.

“[Theatergoers said] ‘This is amazing' and … ‘Now I know how Hollywood big shots watch movies,’ Landmark co-owner Mark Cuban said. He added that if those numbers stay up, other Landmark theaters may go the same route.

It's all part of getting back the customer theaters have lost the most over the years: adults. Although there was a dip in movie attendance in 2005, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reported that a jump in box office attendance in 2006 was mainly led by a 7% increase in attendance by people ages 25-39.

However, people ages 12-24 continue to represent the largest share of admissions, according to the MPAA, and nearly 40% of men over 25 and nearly half of women over 25 surveyed said they preferred to watch a movie at home.

“The trend is toward attracting the adult market,” said Patrick Corcoran, the National Association of Theatre Owners' director of media and research. “That's the audience that falls off the most, after they get older and start having kids.

“Landmark is aiming at those niches for different adults. With all the disagreement we have with him in day-and-date releasing, Mark Cuban is a real showman. You're going to see more experimentation.”

Cuban and Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner launched their “super-release” idea in 2005 — an experiment met with mixed reviews.

But the experiments in luxury accommodations are growing, Corcoran said, because the results have been promising.

“There were customers who attended several different films in these auditoriums simply because they said the experience was unlike any they had previously had in a theater,” said Ted Mindroff, COO of Landmark.

Corcoran said that theaters don't need to get fancy with summer blockbusters. Auditoriums will fill for those no matter what. It's the fringe, ‘B'-level titles that can be made more attractive with luxury seating, he said.

“You want the flexibility to take titles that have fallen off a bit, and move them into a smaller theater,” Corcoran said. “A lot of theaters have realized that the mass market is always there. What you have to work harder on is attracting the audience for the middle-range products.”

“We will book all kinds of movies in the living room,” Cuban said. “Since they can be rented and ‘bought out,' we expect to even customize the film playing when we can.”

Cuban also added that the ability to have an alcoholic beverage while you watch a movie was a big draw. While Landmark isn't the first California theater to offer alcohol while you watch — Los Angeles' ArcLight Hollywood and The Bridge Cinema De Lux have been doing it for years — it's becoming a trendy move across the nation, according to Corcoran.

“There are quite a few that are getting alcohol licenses,” Corcoran said, pointing to the success of the Alamo Draft House chain in Texas. AMC Theaters spokeswoman Sun Dee Larson said the few theaters in her chain that offer alcohol bring in big crowds every week.

But not every theater is able to obtain an alcohol license. CinemaStar's 13-screen theater in Oceanside, Calif., was vying last year to be the first theater in San Diego County to have an alcohol license, separating five of its 13 screens to a 21-and-older crowd. But the local Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control deemed that the theater couldn't properly address concerns about minors' access to alcohol, and the theater dropped its bid this year.

Calls to CinemaStar president Kim Zolna were not returned. However she told a San Diego newspaper the reasoning behind the theater's alcohol license bid: “We've lost that guest who's more comfortable sitting at home on the couch, watching a movie. This will be more sophisticated than other movie theaters, with a nice meal, no crying babies, no cell phones ringing.”

Moviegoing is the traditional form of out-of-the house entertainment for adults, and doing it in an adult setting is attractive, Corcoran said.

“Adults don't want to be in the same theaters as teens, who are texting and shout out plot points,” Corcoran said.

Theaters may not be able to compete with home theater systems — people still spend nearly four times as many hours per year watching videos compared to seeing a film in theaters, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

But a beer and a comfortable couch can go a long way toward keeping theaters attractive and relevant to mom and dad.

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