Movie Theatres 2.0

A little known fact is that I have a private, full-sized theater. Actually five theaters. I don’t technically own them… Regal Entertainment does and is gracious enough to operate them exclusively for me and my family.

Or at least that’s the impression I get. In nearly all movies we go to, we seem to have the whole theater pretty much to ourselves. I might be missing something in Regal’s business plan, but it seems to me awfully hard to sustain that huge operation just for an occasional visit of the 4 of us (well, I admit – the price we pay for a single bucket of pop-corn does probably cover a month’s rent and then some).

There are 100 reasons why theaters are bleeding audience (DVD’s, TiVo’s, VOD, Netflix, etc, etc). But I think at the core it all boils down to the fact that the scheduling of movies in theaters totally sucks. The movies playing in theaters at any given day are determined by some anachronistic distribution structure that was conceived ~80 years ago, an era in which content (and film reel distribution) were in short supply, and audiences were abundant.

This is flipped by 1800 today: content (and distribution means) are abundant, and audience attention is extremely scarce. This requires flipping the distribution model by 1800 too.

Here’s an idea that I’m hereby contributing to the movie theater industry, free of charge:

  • Launch a website where people can signup with their zip code.
  • Hook up to IMDB (or the likes), and let people browse a catalog of movies.
  • Let each registered user check the movies they’re interested in seeing in theater format.
  • As soon as a movie reaches X number of interested viewers, the system will find an open screening slot for the next 1-2 weeks.
  • An automated email would go out to all those that signed up for that movie.

There are probably about 50 movies I can think of which I missed when they were first playing in theaters and I’d love to see on the big screen. Probably about another 100 which I’d be happy to see again in theater format. And probably about 500 others that I can’t even remember right now.

Imagine being able to go out to the movies and see Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix or even Citizen Kane… Or taking my kids out to see ET or Charlie Chaplin or Disney’s Fantasia… How cool would that be?!….

(I know – there are probably a hundred technical and legal reasons why not to do this… whatever… I guess the Regal’s of the world will just have to die while babbling those excuses before someone like Mark Cuban does this…)

[1] Photo by bubblestar over at Flickr

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  • Nathan Milford| April 10, 2009 at 12:00AM

    Sounds like a great plan.
    I don’t know how a chain would implement it, but it would be easy in an art house environment.
    Crowd sourcing the program at a theater might a be great for a place like Anthology Film Archives or at the Two Boot’s Pioneer in the east village.
    At a small multi-screen theater, it might be worth beta testing on a single screen to a subscription crowd.
    I bet you could get screenings of some really great films that you don’t see often theatrically. And I think it would be better than having the screen programmed/curated by some snobby cinema studies mfa with a Tarkovsky fetish (not knocking Tarkovsky…) or being force fed whatever the studios think they can market to us.