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Holiday movies may spark slow ticket sales

Theaters compete with cable television, DVD vending services

POSTED: November 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Sara Guevara/The Times

A line forms outside of the Hollywood 15 Cinemas on Friday afternoon as patrons purchase movie tickets. Today people are more selective with the movies they will see at the theater because of the economic downturn.

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Batman is a fictional superhero to most, but to movie theater managers like Austin Nichols, he’s a real hero for bringing customers to theaters this summer.

"If ‘Dark Knight’ did not come out ... our industry would be very, very hurt right now," Nichols said. "It definitely saved a lot of the industry."

Nichols said the theater business has been very rocky during the last year and has been affected by high gas prices and the state of the economy.

"It’s been really rough," Nichols said. "It’s making us go a lot of up and down."

He said while years ago, people consistently went to the movies, they are now more picky about the films they choose to pay for.

"Ten years ago, people just went to the movies on Friday and Saturday night. Your business would pick up, but you were never just dead slow," Nichols said. "‘Dark Knight’ just broke (a) $500 million record. It’s a good piece this summer. (It) made a lot of revenue going all around, but when you don’t have something like that that pulls all the people in, it definitely hurts."

Nichols said right now it is hard to determine for sure if business is slow because people are trying to save or because they are not interested in the movies that are currently out in theaters. But he expects business to go up over the next two weeks with the release of what he referred to as "the holiday lineup" — highly anticipated movies like "Twilight" and the new James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace," which reeled in $70.4 million last weekend.

Nichols said his theater also is installing a 3-D projector next week, which he expects also will bring in more customers.

"We’re expecting our business to pick up dramatically for that," Nichols said.

Ann Hollifield, head of the telecommunications department at the University of Georgia, said regardless of the economy, there is always a market for entertainment.

"The demand for entertainment will not go away," Hollifield said. "But the choices are likely to be somewhat different as people try to find ways to economize."

She said people may be decreasing their trips to the movie theater due to the cost of the whole experience. Because most people go out to dinner first and then buy popcorn or drinks, the cost of a night at the movies ends up being much more than just the cost of the tickets.

People still will watch movies; they may just watch them at home more often.

"It may not be as satisfying for many people to stay at home and watch television, but certainly if you’re having to watch your budget it’s much more economical," Hollifield said.

She said while it’s too early to tell, people may be choosing other options, such as movies on TV, because of how much entertainment a cable subscription can provide.

"In some instances, you may see that demand go up simply because they need a distraction," Hollifield said.

Besides television, there are a number of other cheap ways people are watching movies.

Many local grocery stores have started carrying DVD vending services, like Redbox.

Gary Lancina, vice president of marketing for Redbox, said the popularity of the kiosks has risen over the last year.

"Redbox has been well-received among consumers who appreciate the $1-per-night price point and convenient retail locations that we provide," Lancina said in an e-mail.



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