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If you could watch 'Superman' right now, how would you choose to do so?

Posted on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006 and updated on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006 2:27 PM

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USA Today has a well-done article that talks about the movie industry and the struggles that movie theaters are having attracting audiences due to the wide range of choices we have for how to watch movies. 

It addresses that paradox of why audiences are tending to be drawn away from movie theaters (the reasons for which are most often cited as cost and convenience), but yet are willing to spend their time and money going to music concerts:

Techies describe fidelity as the total experience of something. Seeing a movie in a packed theater, with its wide screen and the social aspect of a crowd, is a higher-fidelity experience than watching a movie on a home system. Seeing a movie at home is, in turn, a greater-fidelity experience than viewing a movie on a cellphone.

In music, a concert is higher fidelity than a CD playing on a home stereo, which is higher fidelity than an MP3 player.

In the fidelity game, two laws, when put together, drive all kinds of changes in media — from the downloadable music boom to Hollywood's desire to make a 3D version of Superman Returns:

Engineering. Digital technology can constantly push greater fidelity into smaller and cheaper packages.

Thirty years ago, music in your pocket meant a transistor radio with tinny mono sound. Fifteen years ago, you'd have a Walkman cassette player with stereo headphones and tape hiss. Now, thousands of clear, digital songs fit on an iPod Nano the size of a credit card.

Every form of media experiences the same transition: fidelity that starts out expensive and big gets cheaper and smaller. And those transitions are happening faster than ever.

Consumer behavior. As Netflix's Hastings says, "People will trade fidelity for convenience."

We love high-fidelity experiences: mega rock concerts, widescreen movies, live NFL games. But those tend to be expensive and inconvenient. So we make trade-offs.

If we can't go to an NFL game, we watch on TV at home. Eventually, we might opt for an even more convenient yet much lower-fidelity experience: watching on a cellphone. Video is available on cellphones now, but major league sports don't yet offer live cellphone broadcasts.

"Consumers began to vote in favor of increased control over and customization of media, and have consistently proven they're willing to sacrifice fidelity to get it," says Trip Hawkins, who founded mobile-game maker Digital Chocolate based on that premise. The company makes low-fidelity games that take advantage of cellphones' strengths.

Cost is part of convenience. The lower the cost, the more people consider something convenient. A home theater system for $10,000 isn't a mass-market threat to movie theaters. A $1,000 home system is.

The two concepts together — fidelity in smaller packages and consumers seeking convenience — become a powerful force.

(Click the read link below for the entire article) 

This is probably the best article I've seen in quite some time that provides a thorough examination of the situation, at least from the perspective of the point the article is trying to make. Too many articles predict doom and gloom or try to sugar-coat the situation without actually digging into why things are happening. It's probably a confluence of many factors rather than one or two, but the fact remains that movie theaters are facing challenges like never before.

Using the concept of "fidelity" as portrayed in the USA Today article, I feel it is more important than ever for theaters to provide a high-fidelity experience to their customers. We encourage them to provide a high level of showmanship and make sure that every part of the customer's experience is the best it can be.

Not only should the sound and picture be top-notch and flawless, they need to provide complete information on their showtimes (digital sound, etc.), the popcorn should be fresh and tasty, and the lobby, theaters, and bathrooms should be spotless. Without these elements all working together to provide the ultimate movie-going experience, customers feel like they can get a better experience at home, and the slippery slope just gets more and more slippery.

It's up to us, the paying public, to hold theaters to a high standard and let them know when they are doing a good job, and when they need improvement. Many of our Featured Theaters offer comment cards, so you can contact the management (see example) and provide them with your valuable feedback. Then, patronize the theaters that do get it right! We're working on a way to make it easier for you to identify those theaters -- stay tuned!

Thanks to reader Ron H. for passing this article to us!

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