Movie theater industry dying -- what now?

Chains upping their game with options such as gourmet food, bar, lounge area

By Andrea Slaydon

HOUSTON - A box of gummy bears and popcorn isn't doing it any more as a way to attract eyes to the movie theater screen.

In this "Netflix generation" of get it right now, less people are going to the theaters, opting to get their movie-watching fix at home.

"People used to go to the movies because it's the top box office and I can see people at work are going to be talking about it next Monday, so I want to see it this weekend," said Betsy Gelb of Bauer College of Business U of H. "I want to see it this weekend so I can be part of that conversation. Now, not so much of that and more conversation about a series that I can see on my TV set."

This past summer was one of the worst ever for United States theaters. The country's largest theater operator, AMC, saw attendance drop 16 percent compared to last year.

"This is a declining model," Gelb said, "Revenues have stayed the same for the last 20 years and ticket sales have fallen in half, but the price of the tickets have doubled."

The basic problem: Streaming services, viral TV series and quick DVD releases make watching at home easy and less expensive.

"Their competition is doing more than they have done before in letting you watch interesting stuff at home," Gelb said.

Another potential blow for theaters is a service called Movie Pass, which allows you to see one film a day in theaters for a $10 monthly membership fee. Some theater chains are looking to fight it, others are just hoping you will buy concessions when you are there.

"I like it 'cause it's different from all the movie theaters. You can eat and have a good time and relax," moviegoer Daniel said.

"People can always watch movies at home, but this is an experience, and they get to go out and do this," said John Walsh, vice president of operations for Star Cinema Grill.

Specialty movie chains like Star Cinema Grill are upping their game, adding gourmet food and table service to the menu.

"I think we as consumers are always looking for that next thing and we really, we hit on that," Walsh said.

The bar and lounge area also is a popular draw.

"I love that I can sit down and hang out with my friends," said Kristen Ayala, Star Cinema Grill fan.

"You can actually meet friends out here. With the bar, people really do congregate there," Walsh said. "It's a social kind of an event, you know, especially for big premiers and things like that."

AMC Entertainment is investing $20 million in virtual reality arcades to try to attract more moviegoers. Customers would be able to walk around in a virtual world and use their body to play games. I-Max Corporation has similar technology.

Other theaters are being creative with the use of their space, even if it's not to watch a movie. Theaters are renting out their rooms for church services, business conferences and even for college classes.

AMC in Houston is live streaming the Metropolitan Opera in select theaters.

There are also kid-friendly movie showtimes with lower volume and lights.

Kid Friendly movie options:

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