NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Why aren't people going to movies as often as they did a few years ago?
People have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why box office sales have slumped so drastically this year. And one popular theory is that a slowdown was inevitable because of technology. Yup, it's Silicon Valley's fault.
Why should someone leave the comfort of their home when they can have an unlimited number of DVDs delivered to their home via Netflix (Research) for just $19.50 a month?
What's more, people can watch said DVDs on their fancy flat-screen plasma TV that's hooked up to an elaborate Dolby 5.1 surround-sound home theater system.
Heck, you don't even need all that. Just go to BitTorrent and download the latest new releases for free on to your laptop computer.
But guess what? A recent survey of blogs and chat rooms and e-mails from moviegoers done by market research firm Brandimensions showed that better technology is not the number one reason why people are not venturing out to the theater.
How do we put this delicately? Movie fans are staying at home because they think that most new movies STINK!
Tech is a convenient scapegoat
According to the study, which looked at 1,350 online references to this year's movie schedule, 44 percent of moviegoers said that the number one reason they are going to the movies less frequently is the poor quality of the films.
Yes Hollywood, the fault lies with you. Unnecessary big screen versions of TV shows "Bewitched" and the "Honeymooners", derivative action movies like "Stealth" and unwanted sequels such as "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" are keeping people like me from heading to the multiplex. Not Netflix. Not illegal downloading.
Sure, "alternative viewing methods" was cited as the number two reason people are staying home...but by only 19 percent of those surveyed.
Bradley Silver, chief operating officer of Brandimensions, said that movie studios are using tech as a scapegoat, particularly the issue of online piracy. He said that his company's survey showed that the principal downloaders of movies are males in their late teens and early 20's.
Yet, that's not the core demographic that Hollywood has lost. He argues that it is people like me, those between the ages of 25 and 49, who've lost their love for new movies. And that's bad news since this is a demographic with plenty of disposable income and a history of seeing films in theaters.
What about Netflix? I'm a loyal customer and I will admit that the convenience of this service is one reason why I haven't seen a movie in a theater since "Star Wars: Episode III" way back in May.
But Michael Coristine, a project manger with Brandimensions said his company's study showed that the DVD issue is also tied directly to the perception of quality. Coristine said that many people are willing to just rent a movie a few months after it comes out simply because they would rather not waste the time and money to go see a film that they expect to be at best, mediocre, if not downright awful.
"When people are on the fence about a movie, they may say 'I'll wait for the DVD.' The problem is that there aren't enough 'event' movies," he said.
Scott Hettrick, editor-in-chief of DVD Exclusive, a trade publication and sister magazine of Variety, agreed that it's silly for Hollywood to blame the DVD for this year's poor box office. In fact, he said that movie DVD sales are relatively weak this year for the same reason that there is a box office slump: the quality just isn't there.
"The irony of all this is that this year is the slowest growth rate ever for movie DVDs," Hettrick said. "The more people consume movies in general the more they want to see them in every form. Movie theaters still are the engine that pulls the train and there is just not as many good movies."
Better movies are the solution
But most people still enjoy going out to see a movie. To that end, only 18 percent of users surveyed in the Brandimensions report said that an unsatisfactory theater experience is keeping them home.
What could Hollywood do to get fannies back in the seats? Would some sort of variable tiered-pricing structure like the ones that some sports teams use work? For example, the New York Mets baseball team charges more for tickets to games against top rivals like the Atlanta Braves than they do for games against say, the Cincinnati Reds.
So would it make sense for movie studios and theater owners to charge a premium price for something that they know is going to have strong demand, something like "Star Wars", "Batman Begins" or "War of the Worlds" and charge a lower price for something that either hasn't tested well or will likely be panned by critics?
Silver said that idea has some merit but that it wouldn't solve Hollywood's biggest problem. After all, his survey found that only 8 percent of moviegoers cited higher prices of tickets and concession stand items as their primary reason for staying away from theaters.
"At the end of the day, it comes back to quality. Hollywood has relied too long on the aura and mystique of Hollywood," said Silver. "But if the content is not appealing, people are not going to flock to movies anymore."
In other words, Hollywood needs to stop blaming tech and take a look in the mirror. People will go to see more movies when the industry stops churning out tired "reimaginings" of TV shows and lazily rehashing old ideas. (Ooh. I got it. How about we put an Alien-like monster in a cave and we'll call it "The Cave!")
To that end, it's worth noting that the surprise hits of the summer are a documentary about flightless birds, a comedy about two cads who go celebrate nuptials they weren't invited to and another comedy about a middle-aged guy who's never had sex. Originality? What a concept!
Sadly though, I think this just means that all we can expect from Hollywood in the future is "March of the Emus," "The Funeral Crashers" and "The 47 ˝ Year-Old Virgin" coming soon to a theater near you!
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