The Last Picture Show?

The ‘soon to be happening demise’ of movie theaters has been a consistent subject of interest to column writers for decades now. With the rise of each new home entertainment technology, newspapers and magazines have published the movie theaters obituary time and time again.

Say goodbye to The Biograph, The Regal and The Rialto. It was a good run of memories, popcorn and balcony smooches but the fun was ultimately done in by:

Television: 1955 VCRs: 1985 DVDs: 2000 Blu-Ray: 2006 Digital Pirates: 2008 Streaming: Oh, the horror…

Granted, with each new advancement in technology, movie theaters have had to adjust to the various impacts of new market realities.

One of the oddly consistent innovations to combat audience loss over the years has been to introduce a more immersive 3D experience. Hopefully that’s been purged from our collective cinema/Pavlovian response by now.

What was always missed in the new technology killed the movie house epitaph was the fact that the consumption rate of entertainment product went up with each new innovation. Going to the movies once or twice a week was not replaced as much as complemented by the additive experience of watching television. The same can be said for VHS technology that opened up whole new genres and sub-categories of films beyond the typical big studio releases to millions of home viewers.—Simply put, people watch more films than ever before.

That’s not to say that movie theaters aren’t under various market pressures as they respond to everything from audience tastes to shortened release windows. But the collective group experience of watching a film is also a basic human one. Leaving your dwelling to bond with neighbors in a shared cultural event, by definition, home viewing can’t replace that.

We’ll see where it goes but meanwhile there is plenty to be optimistic about when it comes to enjoying a movie at your local cinema.

Also, keep this in mind: (NATO) The National Association of Theater Owners reports that in 2018 there are 40,313 indoor screens in the U.S. at over 5,463 sites and 524 drive-in screens. Some estimates put the total number of screens at more than 164,000 worldwide. That’s a big business but the number is relatively modest when you consider a planet with over 7 billion souls.

You can tell a lot about a world where people gather in public spaces to be transported and entertained. Our natural desire for some form of escapism combined with a light-touch social experience will always conspire against the cinema doomsayers.

That being said, I’d be remiss not to mention that Saudi Arabia (pop. 32.9 million) is home to exactly one movie theater. It seems, like with many things, when it comes to movies you can’t please all of the people all of the time.