How To "Save" 3D Movies? Take Away 2D Theaters, Of Course!

Posted on 27 Sep 2013 at 13:01PM

RealD CFO Drew Skarupa gave a speech at the MKM Partners Investor Day Conference yesterday, where he discussed the declining numbers in terms of 3D ticket sales over the last few years. Skarupa's suggestions, reported by Deadline Hollywood's David ...

RealD CFO Drew Skarupa gave a speech at the MKM Partners Investor Day Conference yesterday, where he discussed the declining numbers in terms of 3D ticket sales over the last few years.   Skarupa’s suggestions, reported by Deadline Hollywood’s David Lieberman, on how to boost 3D attendance aren’t just filmmakers making the 3D more effective  or studios making more of an effort to market 3D, fair points they may be.  But the noteworthy statement is that he believes 3D attendance will go up if only theaters offered more 3D theaters.  Yes, I suppose that’s true.  Eliminating 2D options most certainly will boost 3D ticket sales.

Yes, I suppose it’s true that moviegoers will opt for 3D if you force them to do so by removing 2D options. As of today, Lieberman notes that overall attendance for 3D-enhanced films are down to 33%, compared to 43% from 2012, which followed further declines from the obvious Avatar-fueled peak of 2010. As early as summer 2011, theaters started pulling back on 3D showtimes versus 2D showtimes.

Studios and theaters realized that the very core demographic likely to line up for animated features and comic book action films, families with small children, would be less willing to shell out that extra $3-$6 upcharge per ticket for a family outing at the movies. As such, finding a convenient 2D screening became much easier. The consumers spoke, and the industry listened.

While 2010 and part of 2011 saw moviegoers perhaps struggling to find a local 2D showing of the newest release, the opposite is true today. With many 3D releases, especially ones not expected to pull in massive box office (think Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), theaters will split a single screen with half of the available screenings in 2D and the other half in 3D.

Even today, my local AMC multiplex has ten showings for Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 in 2D versus just three in 3D. The consumer has spoken and Hollywood is doing it exactly right.  3D is still a viable option for those who wish to shell out the extra money. But they are also not punishing or driving away consumers who prefer 2D.

It’s understandable that executives like Mr. Skarupa would like to increase the percentage of tickets that are sold in the 3D format, since his livelihood depends on it. But what he suggests is basically removing choice for the consumer as a means to increase the purchase of his specific product. It is disingenuous for him to suggest that denying consumers the 2D option, which is clearly the preferred choice for domestic box office, amounts to an honest increase of 3D tickets being sold.

If you remove 2D options for moviegoers and/or make 2D the inconvenient option for moviegoers, yes it is true that a larger percentage of moviegoers will reluctantly pick 3D. But it’s also possible that they’ll just wait for home viewing, which ironically 3D was supposed to prevent in the first place.  And what Mr. Skarupa and others like him suggest is indeed similar to what is happening in the home viewing industry.

Consumers are basically being driven by force into the online Video On Demand arena via the increasing inconvenience of procuring a DVD or Blu-Ray for casual viewing. Blockbuster stores are closing left-and-right, local DVD rental stores are all-but extinct, and rental outlets like Netflix and Redbox are under contract with many studios not to rent out new releases until well after the VOD and sell-through release dates, thus putting the DVD rental consumer at a disadvantage. If you offer cold, tough and badly tasting chicken alongside perfectly-broiled USDA prime steaks, of course consumers are going to opt for the steak even if they prefer chicken.

Even if consumers prefer 2D to 3D, they may well opt for 3D if 2D options are unavailable or relegated to the smallest, oldest theaters.  There are movies that truly should be seen in 3D, such as next weekend’s Warner Bros.’ Gravity (which ironically is a post-conversion) and any number of releases where 3D does no harm (most animated films from studios like Pixar or Dreamworks). But consumers have shown over the years that they will chose 2D over 3D for films like Thor: The Dark World or World War Z and theaters have responded accordingly.

It is amusing at best that the executives believe decreasing the availability of the consumer-preferred 2D option is a fair way to increase 3D ticket sales. At worst it’s frankly an example of an industry trying to force their product on the consumer even after the consumer has politely passed. 3D is here to stay, as a optional supplement to the conventional moviegoing experience. But if executives get greedy instead of taking their respective piece of the marketplace (as well as a foothold in IMAX), they might just chase it, and general moviegoers away.

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