[Peter Suderman]

I'm a pretty big a booster of seeing movies theatrically, but these days even I tend not to go to the theater much except for early critics' screenings. The lines are too long, the time it takes out of a weekend is too much, and, especially at the big multiplexes, the crowds are busier talking and texting than watching the movie. Add even a moderately good home theater into the equation, and the reasons to head out to the movies are rapidly decreasing.

So I was interested to see Techdirt's Mike Masnick point to this Variety report on how some movie theater owners are finally reacting to competition from home theaters and looking at ways to add luxury elements to the theater-going experience.

Each complex will sport theaters featuring 40 reclining armchair seats with footrests, digital projection and the capability to screen 2-D and 3-D movies, as well as a lounge and bar serving cocktails and appetizers, a concierge service and valet parking.

But the circuit will especially push its culinary offerings -- made-to-order meals like sushi and other theater-friendly foods from on-site chefs (a service button at each seat calls a waiter). Moviegoers will have to pay extra for any food they order, however.

The Burbank-based company's hoping to attract 10 million "upscale and affluent" consumers per year to its theaters that will be housed in high-end shopping centers and malls. Each complex will typically house eight screens.

This sounds like a step in the right direction; the last decade or so has certainly proven that stagnating businesses can be reinvigorated by adding a veneer of luxury. The problem in this case, though, is that you can't fully disentangle the theater-going experience from the movies that are being shown. So to attract "upscale and affluent" consumers, presumably adults, you'll also have to find films they're interested in seeing.

Right now, the biggest audience for films is suburban/exurban teenagers — kids who can't go to bars, but still need and want to get out of the house. Consequently, that's the demographic at which the largest portion of studio movies are aimed. Are that many adults really going to want to pay $35 — the cost of a ticket at one of these high end theaters — plus food, parking, babysitter, etc. to see the new Harry Potter film, or even, say, bland romantic comedies like Fool's Gold? No matter how nice the theater is, I kind of doubt it.

That's not to say the business model is all wrong; I think it's a good start. But anyone investing in a theater like this should also think seriously about partnering with filmmakers to produce films that will appeal to the same affluent, adult demographic. You could start with the indie divisions at the big studios—fare like Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men might prove more successful in this sort of venue. But the first place I'd look would be the pay-cable networks. In specific, I mean HBO, which has been more successful at creating content that appeals to that upscale demographic than any other studio in the last decade. Were HBO to regularly put out theatrical films, this would be a classy way to expand its brand, and exclusive content from a known and trusted source like HBO would offer a compelling reason for those tough-to-reach upscale viewers to give luxury theaters like these a shot.

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