On cinemas and fleapits

Khoi posted this earlier:

"An idea to help increase theater attendance: customers pay a subscription fee for movie passes at theaters of their own choosing, creating a relationship between the moviegoer and the theater. I’m not sure anyone will ever do this, but it’s intriguing, and as a fan of the in-theater movie experience, I hope something like this can reverse the downward trend in attendance."

It struck me as odd that he'd be suggesting this, as it already happens in various ways across the UK (Khoi is a New Yorker). There are simple pay a monthly fee, see what you want schemes, and there are more sophisticated ones. For example, I’m a member of City Screen in York, undoubtedly one of the best cinemas in the country (I take some credit for this myself, as I worked there when it first opened and helped put bits of it together). For a small annual fee, you get a bunch of complimentary tickets, invites to free preview screenings, discounts on all tickets (and food and drink in the bar), and a monthly programme sent to your home. Plus discounts in local shops and restaurants.

And Khoi's right, it creates a definite relationship, a bond, between the cinema-goer and the the cinema. It’s amazing that in a town full of museums and galleries and historical sites, the community treasure this cinema as one of the best things in town. It helps that they bother to put on an amazing array of films and live screenings. They only have three screens, but some weeks they'll show a dozen different films.

It's sad that City Screen is an exception, not the norm. On a recent trip down to my folks in Kent, we planned to go to the pictures, but between the three nearby multiplexes, each with at least ten screens, there was a selection of eight films. Ridiculous. And the other week, Dr B and I ventured to the other cinema in York – Reel – to see Limitless. The auditorium was hazardously dark and tiny, the picture was pixelated, most of the trailers were projected at the wrong aspect ratio, and the sound was buzzy and boomy. We won't be going back there again! Good experience = weekly visits. Bad experience = one visit ever. Surely someone in charge must have figured this out by now?

If cinema attendance is dropping, the fact is that it’s entirely the fault of the cinema chains, not videogames or telly or whatever else is being blamed this week. It's as simple as this: stick a sweet shop on the front of a big screen, and no, people won’t care. Make an effort to create an enjoyable, rewarding experience, and people will love it.