In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Theater Distribution, Part 1

Over the course of the year, and as I learn more, I will have a lot to say about theater chains and distribution trends.

I'm going to make an estimate, which I hope to improve/substantiate at a later date, that with its 11 Bay Area locations, Landmark Theaters shows 100+ movies each year not exhibited by the larger chains (Cinemark, Regal, AMC) in the same area, who, between them, probably control more than 50% of the screens (another number I hope to substantiate when I have more data).

My estimate takes into account Cinemark's CinéArts chain, which specializes in independent film, and disregards films shown under limited engagement for a film festival.

At present, Landmark is showing 9 films not being shown by the big three (though it's possible some were shown by those theaters in the past): Crazy Heart, An Education, The Hurt Locker, The Maid, The Messenger, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Red Cliff, A Serious Man, and What's the Matter with Kansas?. I'll assume about half of these turn over each month (~60 per year), and round up to 100 to account for some that come and go within a matter of weeks. It will be interesting to see if I can justify these numbers.

I give my praise to Landmark and all the smaller chains and independent theaters for bringing us more and more varied options; these theaters provide a great service to the Bay Area.

This is not an affront to the big chains. There are many ways in which the corporate theaters are superior to those run by the little guy, perhaps the most important of which is providing a centralized place to see a lot of different mainstream movies. I'll need to research if this is true, but I wouldn't be surprised if the growing presence of chains in the past three decades has forced the surviving independent theaters to show rarer fare, to capture a new market. Thus it's possible that we now have available to us more film titles than we did thirty years ago, thanks in part to megaplex domination.

Before you get too lost in my speculation, here are some verifiable statistics I've culled from The Numbers and NATO (National Association of Theatre Owners). The below chart shows the number of films earning at least $1 in a U.S. or Canadian theater between 1995 and 2008. A film is double-counted if it earned dollars in multiple years. In this time period, the number of different films shown per year rose from 322 to 735 (up 128%). For contrast, the chart also shows a decline in overall theater locations in the U.S. (excluding Canada) (note: theater numbers are shown divided by 10). During the same period, the theater count dropped from 7744 to 5786 (down 25%).

What this chart doesn't show is that the total number of U.S. screens actually rose during this period, from 27,843 to 38,834 (up 39%). Small, single-screen theaters have been closing, with large, multiplexes taking their place. However, a quick survey of multiplex offerings reveals that the multiplexes tend to offer opening movies on multiple screens, and hold movies over longer. More screens does not mean more variety; a typical 16-screen theater might still show only as many different movies per year as does an 8-screen theater.

And yet the number of different movie titles available in the U.S. has more than doubled in thirteen years. I think this is strong evidence that the smaller theaters, in response to the changing market, have repurposed themselves as art houses, thus diversifying the overall movie market.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks,Will. But while some smaller theatres have diversified, they do not always find success. Going Art is often a desperation move, trying to play a new game than the majors that they haven't been able to otherwise win.