End of Movie Theaters? Right Lipsky...Right...

800px-MovieTheatre_gobeirnen via Wikipedia.orgMark Lipsky has pontificated again--if you've never read his previous posts on The Wrap, he's made the claim a few times before--that theaters are destined to be virtually extinct in less than two decades. Technology he argues, along with multiplexes' lack of personality--i.e. they're not the opulent movie houses of old--will hasten the culling. What this reminds me of is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when three cryogenically frozen people from 20th century Earth were revived in the 24th. One of the 20th century folk, marveling at all the techno-advancement, asks where's the television? I believe it's Riker or Picard that intimates with their answer that Federation society has evolved beyond television.

When I was 14, I bristled at the idea that ST:TNG would make such a claim, not because I was a TV watching teenage fiend, it was because it sounded arrogant. It was one of those elements that demonstrates why some people have never warmed to Star Trek's utopian undertones. Gene Rodenberry's egalitarian vision of society aside, Trek could often feel more exclusionary than evolutionary.

In imagining the theatrical landscape of 2025, Lipsky makes the same mistake. By ignoring the actual social component and artificially separating the film experience into "then" and "now" he never takes into account how audiences actually consume, participate and engage in the movie experience. The Grand Movie House experience may be what Lipsky wants exhibitors to aspire to, or ultimately not, either way it isn't what modern audiences want. And technology may change many things, but creating an experience that only folks like Lipsky will enjoy won't be one of them.

Lipsky does try to address the social side of film watching with this bit here: "the coming metamorphosis will not only provide a superior and untethered AV experience, it will enhance the communal aspect of "moviegoing" to an almost unimaginable level." However I suggest you should never underestimate the power strangers sitting together and enjoying the same event has. It is one reason why, among many, plays, concerts and sporting events have existed and thrived for thousands, not hundreds, not dozens, but thousands, of years.

All Audiences want to be pulled into a movie, and to feel the entire endeavor from credit card transaction to final credits was worth it. Ask the folks who saw Inception or Toy Story 3 this Summer. However, I'm pretty sure the multiplex itself isn't the prime culprit for audience dissatisfaction--that would be horrible movies and poor scripts (and I'm pretty sure it isn't since the multiplex has been king for the last 30 years plus). Nor, do I think that home theaters are going to totally replicate what it feels like to hit your local theater to laugh, cry or recoil in anticipation--nor do I think it's the only, or best way to see a film, or any film for that matter.

That all being said, IF studios, and exhibitors, do not adjust their business to meet audience expectations, to give audiences films they'll respond to, except for when they are at home watching those same films on a flat screen in HD with surround sound, then yes, theaters will be dead.