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Movie Attendance Stalls/Film Companies Innovate with Digital Projection and Enhanced Cinema Experiences, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Box office receipts are a vital part of total film industry revenues.  Additional revenue streams come from pay television, cable and broadcast TV, while the rest comes from video rentals, DVD sales and video-on-demand.  The Coronavirus pandemic decimated the movie theater industry.  According to Gower Street Analytics, global box office receipts reached $21.3 billion in 2022. 
After experimenting, during the height of Covid, with releasing major films directly to streaming services such as Disney+ and HBO Max in 2021, studios are generally waiting 45 days after a theatrical release to allow content to stream.  Every major film studio is now attached to a streaming service.
Movie theaters are showing films from streaming sources such as Netflix.  In 2021, several U.S. chains premiered Netflix’s Army of the Dead for a week before it streamed on the Netflix platform.  This may be a good strategy, since Netflix is now one the world’s largest producers of new movies.
Before the advent of the Coronavirus, China was a major market for American films (there was also a rapidly growing domestic film production industry in China).  In 2019 alone, seven U.S. blockbusters garnered more than $100 at the Chinese box office.  However, by 2022, China’s many months of “zero Covid” policies in most cities kept cinemas empty.  The Chinese government blocked a number of Hollywood films from release in 2022.  While the nation was opening up again as of 2023, the long-term results on the film industry remain to be seen.
Luxury Seating and Dining Concepts:  Before the Coronavirus pandemic, movie theater companies were investing heavily in a high-end new concept called Cinema De Lux (CDL) which outfits theaters with features such as martini bars, Starbucks coffee counters, concierge desks, private party rooms, and theaters that boast luxurious leather reclining seats which are assigned (as opposed to open seating), live performances before showings and escorted seating service.
Another new concept in a growing number of theaters around the U.S. is restaurant service meals to enjoy during films.  Theaters are being refitted with room for dining tables for each seat and food selections such as Caesar salads, steak sandwiches, pizza, burgers and desserts, and in some locations, beer and wine.  While the trend began with independent theaters, major theater chains followed suit.
One of the most innovative theater companies is Alamo Drafthouse (, which originated in Austin, Texas and as of early 2023 had theaters in 22 U.S. cities, including Austin, Charlottesville, Denver, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York.  The firm’s founders are extremely innovative and aggressive marketers.  Alamo Drafthouse shows new releases, but also brings back widely followed recent classics, such as Pulp Fiction and Rocky III, presented in their original 35mm format.  The firm has also been known to show vintage movie trailers and music videos during these classic showings.  Made-to-order food, drinks and beer are served directly to patrons’ seats, which feature tables in front of each seat.  Celebrity guests and live musical appearances are frequent perks for customers.  A “Sommelier Cinema” event featured fine wines carefully paired with classic films.
Another twist on movie theater experiences is iPic, a luxury chain of theaters with 13 locations around the U.S (  Each iPic multiplex has about eight theaters with between 50 and 90 seats only.  Premium seats are semi-private, reclining pods with push-button food and drink service. 
IMAX Giant Screen Theaters:  Before the onset of the Coronavirus in 2020, the popularity of the giant screen IMAX technology spurred a significant expansion in the U.S. and promoted the growth of theaters with enhanced viewing experiences.  Cinemark Holdings introduced Cinemark XD—Extreme Digital Cinema in 2009 with custom sound and giant screens.  Likewise, AMC opened ETX (Enhanced Theater Experience) in such locales as Toronto and Quebec, Canada, and in California, Texas, Florida and Missouri in the U.S.  Some theaters chains such as Regal are going so far as to equip theaters with undulating seats, scent machines and 270-degree screens to enhance movie experiences.  Its 4DX Regal LA Live Stadium 14 in Los Angeles charges a premium for the experience which can also include rain, fog, wind and mist.
The fact that IMAX can be distributed digitally is a big help, since the cost of one celluloid print of an IMAX film is about $25,000 compared to the few hundred dollars necessary to deliver a film digitally.  IMAX also has a huge following in China.  IMAX was also expanding aggressively in the Middle East and Brazil.  IMAX also offers its larger-than-life experience to home theaters.  For $2 million, wealthy households can enjoy IMAX entertainment at their home with systems built in Ontario in Canada.
Virtual Reality in Theaters:  Yet another technology on the horizon from Hollywood studios is virtual reality (VR).  In 2014, Facebook acquired VR startup Oculus for $2 billion.  More recently, Lions Gate Entertainment and 21st Century Fox agreed to sell films through Oculus’ online store, and Netflix offers its streaming service available on VR headsets.  Popular headsets include the Oculus Quest 2, Longlu VR Headset and HTC Vive Cosmos.  A VR experience was embedded into the film The Martian, while director Steven Spielberg completed filming Ready Player One with Virtual Reality Co.  Other films, including The Hunger Games and Wild are being reworked and released as VR experiences.  IMAX partnered with Google and a Swedish VR developer called Starbreeze AB to collaborate on a camera that captures 360-degree images.  Production costs for VR content are exorbitantly high, as are the individual viewer units.  It remains to be seen whether or not the concept will become popular enough to justify the costs.

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