Although not surprised, I am ashamed of theater owners right now. With 3D movies bringing in record audiences – see AVATAR and ALICE IN WONDERLAND's box office totals for examples – theater owners suddenly got the bright idea to raise the price of the 3D movie premium dramatically. So now instead of $3 you could be paying up to $5 extra to have the movie pop out at you. Audiences want the big picture, but they also tend to stay away when the price starts going up. Do theater owners really want to drive their audiences out of their cinemas and back into the living room?
The extra charge affected the box office take for Dreamworks Animation's HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, a family-friendly animated feature that performed under expectations on its opening weekend. Ok so say you're a family of 4, money is tight and you want to take the kids out to see a movie. In that scenario, paying the extra $$$ which really adds up when you factor in that with kids you are probably going to be hitting the concession stand pretty hard as well. Now you've just driven away the target audience for a big family friendly movie (which are often hard to come by) and let's face it, these days American families are struggling to make ends meet.
The charge also came right before Warner Bros.' CLASH OF THE TITANS hit 3D screens, a film which has been blasted for its poor 3D conversion as it was a 2D movie that Warner Bros. decided to convert to capitalize on the 3D craze only a few months before it came out (greed strikes yet again). Critic Roger Ebert enjoyed the movie in 2D, but thought otherwise of the 3D version – a common thread that I have been seeing from many critics. So now audiences can watch a crappy looking 3D movie and pay more for the privilege of doing so (although it didn't hurt CLASH's opening weekend totals as it took over $65 million). I personally noticed the price increase when I went to see ALICE IN WONDERLAND (it was $3.50) then later saw that my cousin had paid $4 extra to see CLASH OF THE TITANS in 3D. That is 2 price increases within a 3 week period.
A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how I was impressed by the fact that 3D was re-energizing movie going, and leave it to human greed to ruin a good thing by jacking up the price. I'm pretty sure that people are going to notice that their 3D movie ticket has suddenly gone up as much as $2, especially in our current down economy. So I take it that theater owners would rather have fewer seats filled at a premium price rather than more or all of their seats filled at a lower price.
In early 2009, Netflix made a similar move by raising the price of a membership if renting Blu-Rays was involved ($1 - $4, depending on the amount of discs out at a time). This move came at a time when Netflix was enjoying soaring popularity during the worst months of the recession. However Netflix backed it up by stating that they were using the extra money to purchase more Blu-Ray discs, making the wait times for Blu-Ray titles shorter thanks to more availability therefore not losing very many customers. So what are theater owners going to be using their newly earned $$$ for?
The studios are frequently fighting back in terms of their promised "windows" which is the amount of time between which a movie is released theatrically and when it is released for home viewing (Blu-Ray, DVD, VOD, etc.). Recently, Disney shortened the theatrical window for ALICE IN WONDERLAND by a couple of weeks which irked some theater chains in Europe who then threatened to not show the movie. Judging by the box office take that would be a loss for theater owners because suddenly their cinema would be lacking the big hit that everyone wants to see which would result in driving their customers away to a theater that is showing it. Customers don't care if a theater is boycotting a title; they just want to see the movie. Theater owners are scared thanks to the online streaming revolution and increased rise in piracy, they see their audience numbers dwindling so it doesn't make sense then to turn around and gouge their already fragmented customer base by raising their prices so dramatically. Customers already have a beef with regular 2D prices, let alone paying an extra $5 for 3D. Perhaps theater owners think that 3D is indeed a fad that will gradually disappear over time and they want to recoup the large investment that is necessary to convert a screen to handle the 3D process. Of course by raising the price, they could be creating their own doom and quickening the pace for its arrival.
I missed CLASH OF THE TITANS opening weekend and am planning to go see it today – in 2D. I had originally intended to do so anyway thanks to the 3D conversion issue, but I am unsure that if the movie had been made with 3D in mind whether or not I would pay the extra $$$. This is coming from a guy who likes to see a movie in the best possible format regardless of how much it costs.