From the birth of film in the late 19th century, man, woman and child have enjoyed going to see the ‘pictures’, ‘talkies’ or ‘flicks’ that the eponymous ‘cinema’ has offered since its conception. Now, in a digital age where television shows are ‘on-demand’ and users can upload content to the ever expanding alternate reality of the internet, it seems the amount of people going to the cinema is in decline. The question is, is this finally it? Are the days of going to the cinema coming to an end?
Two-thousand and two, arguably the year of the sequel, saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Stuart Little II, all burst onto the silver screen to great success. This was a culmination in a decade long rise in admissions throughout the 1990′s. In the UK this year bore the highest peak, in recent times, of cinema admissions at 176 million visits. This has dropped more recently to 164 million, in 2008, a decline of 6.7%.
Interestingly, according to the UK Film Council, UK box office takings were up 62% on those of 2000, standing at 944 million in 2009. The conclusion being (given an attendance drop, yet a taking increase) that it is, in actual fact, a rise in ticket prices that has lead to the bulging of profit margins.
Herein lies an issue. With the recession hitting homes across the UK from 2007, the amount of disposable income that could be used to go to the cinema dwindled. As such, a rise in ticket prices which are already (according to some experts such as Danny Boyle) too much, meant that even less people would attend a screening. With the rate of inflation increasing, it seems the companies that financed film and the cinema chains themselves wanted to recoup a probable loss in profits by raising the standard price of admission.
Across the pond, in the USA, this resulted in a considerable drop in admissions in 2010. An increase of $100 million in revenue was confounded by a decline in attendance to 552 million, the lowest since 2005, when the figure was 563.2 million. This is alongside an average increase in ticket prices of around 5%, from $7.18 to $7.50, demonstrating a clear trend. On the other hand, it may be argued that the films released were simply not up to the expected standard, and so the public simply chose not to go to the cinema.
Additionally, the film industry has been hit by an ceaselessly increasing barrage of piracy. This is no longer just the dodgy bloke that wanders in the pub offering DVD’s; there are a whole host of file sharing and bit torrent client websites that offer peer to peer distributions of films of varying quality, available even pre-cinema release.
According to the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the total loss to the whole audio visual industry through copyright theft, including file sharing, home burning and borrowing other people’s fake DVDs is 486million. Although this statistic also takes into account post-cinema-release DVD’s, this is a staggering figure considering the gross cinema total earlier stated of 944 million. However, the inclusion of home-burning and the estimation of damages to the industry thereof seems to be spurious at best, and I’d be tempted to claim that this statistic can be referred to in conjunction with the statement attributed to Bejamin Disraeli; there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Regardless of the statistics, this is a war that it seems cannot be won; the founders of a torrent site known as ‘Pirate Bay’, having been arrested in 2006, yet the site still runs without hindrance today in 2011.
The argument is compelling; why pay eight pounds or more to go to a cinema and watch a film when quite simply you can stay at home and treat yourself for free? Obviously there are those that will argue against this claiming a moral stand point, and the need to pay the makers of the film for the temporary right to its content and a brief session of memory-making.
As such, for those who appreciate the advent of the internet and the home-based entertainment it can provide, there have emerged companies happy to supply a film for a small charge directly to their laptops or PC’s. Love Film, for instance, offer a range of free films that they’ve bought the right to, for members to download, as well as all general release films a few weeks after cinema release, available for purchase. Apple’s iTunes Store also offers an extensive collection of film releases to be downloaded for a small fee. Yet again, in a time of economic hardship, it seems a matter of common sense that people will stay at home to watch a movie in the comfort of their own living room, rather than paying an exorbitant amount at a cinema for the same privilege.
That aside, there seems, in the last few years, to be an emergence that could save the cinema experience, or at least rejuvenate its ageing status. The massive success and hype surrounding 3D film technology has proven to be rather more than the ‘fad’ it was first considered to be. The year 2010 delivered twenty-three 3D film titles and 2011 boasts forty-one, evidence of its commercial success and viability. So far, home-based 3D technology is lacking, and at best expensive, so the only real way to experience the full effects of 3D are at the cinema. Therefore we ought to, at least for the next few years, see cinema admissions rising instead of declining as they have been.
What is clear, given the rise in availability of film online, and increase in the price of cinema admissions, is that the public are still going to the cinema. It seems the overall experience of sitting in a dark room, in front of a beautifully broad silver screen is attractive enough to drive those even suffering the brunt of a recession, to part with money.
Maybe it’s the communal aspect; the joining of strangers in the appreciation of art. Or maybe it’s the mouth-watering smell of popcorn that floats through the aisles, and maybe it won’t last forever. But one thing is for certain; the cinema, a magical place that millions upon millions flock to each year, and millions upon millions have done so for over a hundred years now, is in its most precarious position yet, and still doing well.