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13 Years and Counting!

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2008 5:49 PM

At the end of January, The BigScreen Cinema Guide finished its 13th year of delivering movie information, theater information, and showtimes.

It was in January of 1995 that I began publishing this site, which was then called "The Penguin Cinema Guide." Back then, I was hand-entering showtimes for theaters in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area every Thursday night from the Thursday newspaper ads. It took hours to transcribe tiny 8pt type for just a few dozen theaters.

Jump forward to 2008, and we're listing showtimes for almost 900 theaters in 48 states, totaling about 10,000 screens! We're averaging over 500,000 visitors each month and delivering over 2 million page views on a monthly basis.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading The BigScreen Cinema Guide, writing movie reviews, joining our VIP Service, and providing us with your feedback. Without you, I would have no reason to publish this site, and without the generous and loving support of my family and close friends, I would not have been able to sustain this operation and make it the success that it has become.

So, where do we go from here?

Like a shark in the ocean, web sites thrive by continuing to move. Those that cease to improve themselves risk suffocating, and getting run over by the competition. The flip side to that factor is that web sites that go off in directions that do not properly serve their readers risk alienating those readers and losing their attention to the many other resources that are available. (Such was not the case back in 1995 -- there weren't too many web sites back then, much less movie web sites)

By maintaining our focus on what brings value to our readers, I like to think that The BigScreen Cinema Guide is unique, even in the crowded field that exists today. There are portal sites that carry more theater showtimes and offer more features, but none of them will respond personally to E-Mails, and you certainly won't see your suggestions turned into features!

Generic portal sites don't care if a particular movie is appearing at a particular theater ahead of its scheduled opening date (a result of a data entry error). These sites don't hunt down the voice phone numbers for theaters, so that you have a way of reaching a human if you have a question that can't be answered by the information on the web site or on their phone recording. These are just some of the things that we do that I think makes The BigScreen Cinema Guide the best of its kind. I'm also humble enough to realize that adding value to the site by adding features that are truly useful is a really good thing, so that's why we've never stopped adding new features.

Frequent readers know that we don't hold to any arbitrary time frames for releasing new features. Late last Spring, we added theaters across the country, as well as in Canada, Ireland, and England. A quick look at our Milestones and Site News Journal Entries will show the many improvements we've made to the site over the years. Our most recent improvement was made just yesterday as I enhanced our Coming Soon page as a result of an E-Mail from a reader.

The complete list of improvements and enhancements I'd like to make to this site is long and mostly distinguished, but here are some of the high points:

Faster, Stronger Server

Since our country-wide expansion, our server has been groaning under the load. Optimizations to code have done wonders to not only reduce server load (which increases the reliability of the site and the speed of page delivery), but also to increase the performance of the site overall, allowing more people to visit. We have seen a 40% increase in traffic in the past few weeks over our usually busy period during the summer blockbuster release months.

While that's great to have more people using the site, it's not so great if it means that the site crashes when things get really busy on Friday afternoon. Given the fact that we were so busy in January (normally a slow month for the movie industry), I'm figuring that this summer will be even busier, with the release of so many blockbuster movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Dark Knight, and more. We want to be ready to welcome new and returning visitors alike!

That's why I just signed on the dotted line for a bigger, faster, and stronger server from a top-tier web hosting company. The transition to this new server will be happening this month and the result will be increased performance, increased reliability (no more slowdowns or crashes on Friday afternoons!), and plenty of room for expansion of more features on the site. With our current server, I could not implement some of the features I want to add because of the additional burden such features would cause on a server that is in need of replacement.

More Theater Showtimes

Currently, we cover every theater in Wisconsin, and select theaters across the country in every major metropolitan area. We're going to continue expanding the number of theaters for which we list showtimes, beginning in the very near future. My logic for this expansion involves looking at expanding our coverage geographically so that we can cover locally-relevant issues (like the expansion plans of a theater in Orland Park, Illinois) and  to watch when showtimes just don't seem to make sense for a particular theater.

I also look at the zip codes used by our readers who have taken the time to register on this site, and to a lesser extent, the zip codes entered by those who do not customize the site. If there are areas and/or theaters that are popular with our readers that we do not yet carry showtimes for, I'll consider adding them.

Watch for the first of these expansions in the next few days!

More Reader Involvement

Currently, we offer our readers the ability to write reviews for the movies you see. Called "Reader Reviews," this feature provides you with a way to write your own review and give advice to others that are interested in seeing a particular movie. We added this feature way back in 1996 and it's been a great way to offer a fresh perspective to the professional movie critic reviews that we offer for each movie. (My favorite example of this is Titanic!) If you haven't written a Reader Review yet, please do so today!

In 2008, we're going to be looking for ways to expand how you can be more involved in The BigScreen Cinema Guide. Call it Web 2.0, community-based features, whatever you want, the main idea is to give our readers a way to voice their opinions on a variety of topics. The first such feature will probably be comments in response to our Journal articles, and another feature that I've been wanting to add is one that will let you be heard when you've had a particularly bad (or good) experience at a theater.

As always, I want to make sure that such features add value and not noise. It's easy to throw together a feature and not think it through first, but proper planning should result in features that will only need a small number of adjustments once they are released in order to be a valuable addition to the site.

More Features for Registered Readers and VIP Members

Our new server is also going to allow us to add more customized features for those that have registered their information on our site. Did you know that by registering on this site, you are able to write movie reviews, have your favorite theaters listed conveniently for you, and save a list of movies that you are planning on seeing? Look for more features like automatic E-Mails of your favorite movies when they open in theaters, filtered lists of just those movies playing at your favorite theaters, and more.

VIP LogoSome of these features may fall under the umbrella of our VIP Service, but the plan is that will be the exception rather than the rule. Some features require much more effort and/or expense, and as such, are offered to those readers who support our site directly through the VIP Service program. If you are not yet a VIP member, please consider doing so!

Expanded Home Theater Coverage

You may have noticed an increase in the number of posts in the Journal about home theater issues, such as the high definition media competition between the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.

I was bitten by the home theater bug back in 1993, and as a huge movie fan, I believe that excellent movie experiences can be had both in the commercial movie theaters and in our own home theaters. After all, most movies are in theaters for a few short months, but they can live on forever on DVD and now HD DVD and Blu-ray disc.

As more and more people are buying HDTV's, they are discovering a whole new world of possibilities that they may not have been aware of previously. Never before have we been able to produce such high quality movie presentations in our own homes, and it's an exciting time to be a movie enthusiast! Expect more such coverage and home theater-related features in the future!


While not a complete list, this gives you an idea of what we have planned for the next year. I'm sure that there are some features that we'll add that I'm not even thinking about right now, and some of them will most likely come from our readers!

Again, I would like to thank you for allowing us to serve you these past 13 years, and I look forward to continuing our tradition of providing the best possible site of its kind on the Internet!

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