This could be curtains for many movie theaters

The film industry plans to complete its costly conversion from film to digital projectors by year-end -- which many small movie houses can't afford.

By Bruce Kennedy Mar 6, 2013 9:16AM

Image: Man reacting to a film at the cinema, popcorn flying (© i love images/Cultura RF/Getty Images)It really is the end of an era for a lot of movie theaters and their customers, especially at independent movie houses in areas where the chains like Regal (RGC) and AMC (purchased last year by a Chinese conglomerate) don't operate. That's because the film industry is getting ready to complete its conversion from film to digital movie projectors.

This change has been coming for over a decade, but the switch to digital projectors was slowed by the new devices' expense -- and arguments between theater owners and Hollywood over who would absorb those costs.

Gary Susman at Moviefone notes the film studios "stand to save as much as $1 billion per year on the cost of striking and shipping film prints, once they can simply stream or email a digital file to every booked screen with a single click." But that savings wasn't passed on to the movie houses, which have to pay about $70,000 to $80,000 per screen to convert to digital projectors.

And it's the small-town theaters -- some of them "movie palaces" that witnessed the conversion from silent films to talkies nearly a century ago -- that stand to suffer the most when digital projection is the norm across North America by year-end.

"We're at the mercy of the industry," Linda Epperson, whose family runs Creekside Cinema in Cañon City, Colo., recently told the Daily Record. The four-screen Creekside and Cañon City's other theater, the 95-year-old Skyline, may have to close unless they can find funding to convert their projectors to digital.

The Theatre Historical Society of America estimates the U.S. has between 500 and 750 historic theaters currently showing movies, and it says digital conversion could end their survival as community businesses.

"This is another major threat to these theaters which were largely rescued and restored by grass-roots local efforts," Karen Colizzi Noonan, the society's president, told The Associated Press. "It is so sad that after all that hard work and dedication these groups now face another huge challenge just to survive."

Some small theaters, like Creekside Cinema, are looking to the online platform Kickstarter, which helps fund creative projects. Taking another approach, Ongara Theater in Illinois is appealing directly to its customers to help finance the conversion through the purchase of movie-screen ads, T-shirts and gift certificates.

And some economic help may be on the way for small movie theater "exhibitors." Late last autumn, Bloomberg reported that Cinedigm Digital Cinema (CIDM) and the National Association of Theatre Owners are working out flexible funding, loans and reimbursement from the film studios to help cover conversion costs for some movie houses.

But many small, independent operators wonder if their days are numbered. "We're not trying to scare people," Fred Kaplan-Mayer, executive director for the Hiway Theater in suburban Jenkintown, Pa., told in January. But, he added, "if we don't have a digital projector, we will not be able to participate in the movie industry."

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Mar 6, 2013 4:39PM

The rising cost of going to the movies alongside the plumetting qualtiy of content full of re-regurgitated storylines and carried by CGI and pyrotechnics has made me reluctant to spend any money on what is more often that not a disappointing experience.


Combine this with a decreased number of venues to distribute overpriced garbage and that makes going to a movie even less desirable.  If I had to drive any farther or pay for parking, I simply wouldn't go.  I can wait a few months and watch it at home for $3.  2 movie tickets and a soda in LA cost $30 to $40.


Let's do the math movie studios saving $1 billion a year -- $10 billion over ten years


that is 12,500 digital projectors a year or 125,000 over ten years.


Hmmm 750 historical theaters in danger of closing. That is like 5 percent of the savings for one year.


Seems like Hollywood wants to kill off the historical theaters.  

Mar 6, 2013 5:38PM
My wife and I have been married 13 years -- and have NEVER gone to the movies.  I took my youngest child to a kids movie about 10 years ago -- that was the last time I went.  Both of us feel that most of the garbage they produce in Hollywood now isn't worth seeing.  I'd rather stay home and watch a classic on television.  Saw Elmer Gantry last week -- great movie.  For what it costs to go to the theatre and sit in discomfort for 2 hours, I can buy a couple of steaks, wine and beer, and stay home to watch a good movie in total comfort.
Mar 6, 2013 6:24PM

Go to the movies, spend appx. 40.00 dollars for a family of 4 BEFORE concession stands...

Deal with:

Finding a parking space in lot

Rude movie goers

Long waiting lines

Projector failures

Dirty theateres

Watered down soda/bad tasting overpriced food and snacks.



Watch online, or blu-ray, maybe just a month after release into theatres, in the comfort of your OWN HOME, healthier food, clean surroundings, being able to control BOTH the movie as well as keeping audiences quiet if you want...and the BEST part, spend maybe 1/10 th the money!!!


Yea, makes me want to rush right out and catch the latest "1 up" flicks at my local Loews theatre. 


Kind of like NASCAR racing now.  Notice that the cameras hardly show the infield parking or grandstands anymore?  That's because in this "economic recovery", PEOPLE HAVE STOPPED GOING, IN FAVOR OF BEING COMFORTABLE WATCHING THE RACE ON THEIR 60" FLAT SCREEN IN THE COMFORT OF THEIR HEATED/AIR CONDITIONED HOME, saving money in the process... 


Oh but that's's NOT a factor in this...Noblaba said "the middle class is doing fine" are theatres...


Go figure...



A dis-satisfied customer and voter...


Mar 6, 2013 4:12PM
First, it was the drive-in movie theaters, now small town theaters are threatened. I guess you stock up on movies to show at home...lot cheaper anyway. I agree, the classic films are great, and much more "kid friendly".
Mar 6, 2013 2:46PM
I hope some of them can successfully convert to showing classic films.  Most of them are better anyhow, and so many great films to choose from, but hard to get enough people in the door unfortunately.
Mar 6, 2013 6:32PM
Someone I know took her 3 kids and a female friend to the movies recently.  Total cost $120.00.  That's one reason I've only been to the movie theater twice in the past 3 years.  The other reason - the movies are terrible.  When I've left the movie theater 9 out of the last 10 times seeing a movie I felt like I took a $20 dollar bill and threw it out the window.
Mar 6, 2013 7:05PM

Sorry movie theaters...with the advent of the HD/Plasma/LCD 3d- TV' just looks way better at my house...+ I can smoke out and drink in my own living room and not have to listen to other people I do not know run their mouth.

Mar 6, 2013 8:47PM
When I was a kid I used to go to the movies with $0.50 and that paid my admission, bought a small popcorn, and a small soda.  The last time I went the admission was $10.00 and a popcorn and soda was $17.00.  Really?  No wonder the movies are dying.  They have priced themselves out of the market.  A 98% increase in 55 years would not be so bad if incomes had kept pace but mine only grew by 64% over what my parents were making when I was a kid.  Consequently I don't go to the movies much.  LOL
Mar 6, 2013 7:50PM
Hollywood is all for wealth redistribution as long as it's someone else's wealth.   Come on hypocrites, put your money where your mouth is!
Mar 6, 2013 7:30PM
Mar 6, 2013 7:54PM
This makes me very sad. As cool as it is for older released movies to be readily available for purchase to watch in the comfort of your own home it just cannot compare to the experience of the big screen!  I have a nice television and soun system but there is really no comparison to the theater. Technology advancements are great is some respects and yet killing our economy in so many other ways. Just sad.
Mar 6, 2013 4:15PM
How come the liberal bastards won't give the money to help those less fortunate theaters,,,,Oh wait, I see how that works now, Liberals with money don't give,,, THEY ONLY TAKE!
Mar 6, 2013 8:50PM
I'm guessing a lot of you folks never saw the movie "The Majestic".  One of the themes was saving an Art Deco theater to be a jewel in a small town.  Many of these small theaters have significant local history, but it's okay if we just let them go, right?
Mar 6, 2013 9:11PM

The theater near where I live started renting itself out for kids parties during the day--it's nice for the kids to be able to pick a classic Disney flick to watch with their friends and have a party. The kids' groups locally (like soccer teams and so forth) also go there for parties.  They just had to seriously clean the places up. The facilities make good party headquarters--and then they have movies in the evenings, sometimes. 


One just needs to think outside the box--restructure the front to work for conference meetings and so forth and rent the place out during the day.  Retrofit them to also work for weddings.  If they can make enough money at these ventures, they can get the new projector, and it all works out.

Mar 6, 2013 9:56PM
Years ago most movie theaters had 1 screen, maybe 2. They had seating for many people, with the help of balconies. Then came the Mega- screened era, with too many screens (smaller size). Maybe they have to "Go back to the future".
Mar 6, 2013 7:24PM
Would hate to see that happen, I worked for a Fox  movie house putting up the bill board, then as a usher and then a asst. manager while in high school, it was a good place to work.
Mar 6, 2013 6:28PM
First rule of survival: Evolve, or die....
Mar 6, 2013 8:01PM
Mar 7, 2013 3:50AM
While I do agree that the price of tickets and concessions are ridiculous, there are ways to do it cheaper. I go a couple times a month and NEVER spend more than $8 a ticket. Costco (not sure of all locations but here in SoCal they do) sells movie tickets for AMC and Regal by the pair for roughly $16, so $8 each. They are good for ANY movie at ANY time, just make sure you buy for the correct theater.  As far as concessions go, I bring my own. I bring a bottle of water and popcorn in a ziploc bag or a bag of candy. I also signed up for Regal's reward program giving me free popcorn, sodas and movie tickets when I reach certain points, plus $2 popcorn, soda, or candy every Tuesday.  In 2.5 years I have probably had 4 free movie tickets. The points are for every $1 spent on tickets and concessions you get 1 point...and I still get the points using my Costco tickets.
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