It’s been said over and over for years; cinema attendance is in decline. With the rise of sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and free streaming sites, people are less willing to go out and pay cinema prices. Personally, I love going to the cinema but the prices for tickets and food are just a bit too much sometimes – especially if I know I’ll be able to watch it online for free. That being said, I do still try to make it to the cinema with friends when I go home because it was how we would always spend our holidays growing up (even if this was mostly due to the fact there wasn’t really much else to do at 14).
These reasons can all be seen as part of geographer, Torsten Hagerstrand’s theory of time geography (Corbett 2001). His theory shows that there are certain constraints that affect how people live and travel through time and space. These constraints (cited in Schonfelder & Axhausen 2010, p.39) come under one of three groups: capability, coupling, and authority.
Capability – these refer to the biological or physical factors that limit human movement, such as sleeping, eating, and access to transport. Can I get there?
Coupling – these refer to the allocation of time needed to fit with location, schedules, and other individuals involved. Can I get there at the right time?
Authority – these refer to the limits that may be in place on when or where certain activities can take place set by external authorities, such as closing times and age restrictions. Am I allowed to be there?
I haven’t been to the cinema in a while, but my girlfriend and I decided one night to go see a movie. We encountered some issues with the constraints and ultimately our cinema trip failed.
The cinemas near us are Event Cinemas in Wollongong and Shellharbour and the Hoyts in Warrawong. We both have a car so getting there was not an issue for us. And since we are both over 18 we knew that the age restrictions wouldn’t be a problem either.
The issues came with the coupling and capability constraints. The first issue was deciding on what movie to see. It took us a while to decide on a film as I wanted to watch a comedy or an action movie but Claudette wanted to see the new Annabelle. I hadn’t seen the previous one so I didn’t want to watch it because I don’t like watching things out of order. This created a capability constraint.
I compromised anyway so we decided on Annabelle, however, it wasn’t playing at any of the cinemas near us until 9pm. Our decision to go out was very spur of the moment in the early afternoon, and we didn’t want to wait. The earlier movies didn’t interest either of us, so the timing became the second issue under the coupling constraint. As a result, we gave up on going out and ordered a pizza and watched Suits instead.
Due these kinds of problems, it’s clear why people are turning to sites like Netflix for movies in recent years. For me, it’s easier to pick something to watch with Claudette when there’s more than 10 or so options. With cinema, the limited range often causes conflict between us as there’s not always something that we both want to watch. However, with online streaming we have a larger variety of genres and titles to choose from.
The rise of online streaming sites does not appear to be the main cause in cinema-going decline, however. According to Tim Richards, the CEO of UK movie theatre chain Vue Cinemas, “it’s sporting events, it’s bowling, it’s nightclubs”. He said that 2014 was a bad year for the movie industry globally, but not because of the internet: it was due to the movies being made.
The statistics show that despite ticket sales dropping in 2014 by around 72 million (from 1,339,874,282 in 2013), by 2015 these numbers had risen back up to almost the same level (Nash Information Services 2017).
Last year was a record-breaking year for the North American box office, as revenue surpassed the $11.14 billion threshold – a record that was only established in 2015. Despite this success, global market revenue remained flat and the international box office fell for the first time in over 10 years (MPAA 2016).
I agree with Richards, in that online streaming does play a part in the cinema decline but I don’t agree that it is the main cause. I know that a lot of my friends at home prefer going to the pub or a club on a Friday or Saturday night to going to the cinema. Even my 16-year-old sister seems to prefer hanging out with her friends or going to dinner over the movies.
Although there are other factors, I do believe that the ticket and food prices are a large part of why younger generations prefer streaming sites as you can get Netflix for $10 a month with unlimited access to their titles. A student ticket at Event Cinemas is $14.50 which is $4.50 more for a one-time viewing.
In conclusion, I think that movie theatres need to look at new business plans to encourage more people to attend the cinema. For example, increased advertising, showings of different live events, and working with film companies to produce and distribute souvenir merchandise for those that attend big movie screenings.
Corbett, J. 2010, Torsten Hägerstrand: Time Geography, Centre for Spatially Integrated Social Science, accessed 25 August 2017, <http://escholarship.org/uc/item/2t75b8sj#page-2>.
Motion Picture Association of America 2016, Theatrical Market Statistics 2016, Motion Picture Association of America, accessed 25 August 2017, <http://www.mpaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/MPAA-Theatrical-Market-Statistics-2016_Final.pdf>
Nash Information Services, LLC 2017, Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2017, The Numbers, weblog post, accessed 25 August 2017, <http://www.the-numbers.com/market/>
Schonfelder, S. & Axhausen K. W. 2010, Urban Rhythms and Travel Behaviour: Spatial and Temporal Phenomena of Daily Travel, Ashgate Publishing Company, Surrey, UK.