On the front page of the Marketplace section of The Wall Street Journal just a few days ago was an article titled: Fewer Americans Go to the Movies. The primary focus of the piece was that although revenues reported by the Motion Picture Industry were up, attendance was down. The reason quoted was the continual rising price of a ticket. The Association is lobbying for lower ticket prices. Hollywood wants people to go to the movies, see newly released films on the big screen, and not wait until they can be streamed to their laptop or television. Theaters want those same people to come and buy popcorn and enjoy the entire experience.
I think the article has missed an important piece of the puzzle. It ignores a major reason why attendance is down; the lack of the customer experience. While I have not conducted a formal survey of former or current moviegoers, I hear many stories of why people prefer to watch a movie on the small screen instead of going to a theatre. All of these have nothing to do with the ticket price but with the lack of service and quality and the ideal customer experience. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Ticket sellers and ushers who are not welcoming, act robotically and don’t understand that going to a movie should be like attending a Broadway play. Theater agents should be taught to engage patrons and get them excited about the entertainment they are about to see
- Dirty seats and some that are even covered with plastic bags because they are broken. When I see that, I just want to cringe
- Bathrooms that are messy, look like they have not been remodeled in more than 30 years and don’t have enough toilet tissue or paper towels. Add the broken mechanical hand dryers and overflowing garbage cans to make everything even more unpleasant
- Little or no staff to answer a question. My wife and I went to a movie a few weeks ago and all of the previews were in black and white. Locating someone in the lobby to voice our concerns was like finding a needle in a haystack
The Motion Picture Industry and the theaters they represent should develop more quality standards. In New York City, every restaurant is rated with a code of A, B or C. Believe me, nobody wants to eat at a restaurant with a B or C sign in the window. There should be ratings for theaters, as well. Even Trip Advisor and Yelp have very few comments on the quality of the theater itself, but there should be.
The price of a ticket is important to the consumer but just as decisive is the environment and service in the theater. When these are absent, the enjoyment of watching a movie is taken away. Instead of, “ I can’t wait to return, the thought is, next time I’ll wait until the film is released online.”
Going to the movies used to be the great American pastime. The theaters were magnificent, finely appointed with chandeliers, staff dressed in freshly pressed uniforms who ushered you in for an experience. I remember getting dressed up to go see a film at the theater. Those days are gone, but I wish certain parts of that by-gone era would be a pathway for the future. As with any industry, the customer experience is key. Certainly an industry whose mission is to entertain should realize that part of the editing should include the customer experience.