Bring on the winter blues! Movies make a great escape in cold-weather months

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It used to be that going to the movies in January and February was not all that common, once the public gorged on the holiday films. Everyone, including the industry itself, just didn’t expect much to be happening. But over the last decade, the release of good movies and a trip to the cinema in the winter have become an easy sell, both within the industry and to the consumer.

Why? For lots of great reasons that are easily marketed to the general public: It’s warm, it’s cheap, and it doesn’t ruin your New Year’s diet! We have also learned to tee it up properly—the consumer gets blown away by a good movie in the winter. People pay more attention and notice good films that don’t get lost in the summer pack.

In the summer and over the holidays, we raise the film hype so high that we can barely reach our mark. When a movie does break $100 million in one weekend, we expect it and question why it didn’t do $110 million. In February? We get giddy when a good film brings in $50 million—and we should, because it costs half as much to make and market as the $100 million film. The bonus is that the consumer boosts the film through word of mouth and the exhibitor is rewarded financially because it plays longer than one week.

Why does this matter for the concessions side of the business? Because they work in tandem—if people don’t come in the door, we can’t sell to them. If they come in for a good film and want to enjoy a night out, we have a good, fighting chance of selling to them. Fall has proven to be difficult, because everyone is so caught up with the return to school, making that last vacation trip, or just enjoying the last few weekends of warm weather that the movie theatre is not as appealing.

Going to the movies is an indoor sport! Just like a refuge in the summer heat, when it’s ten degrees across most of the Northeast, a movie theatre is a good place to go to get out of the house, but then get back inside very quickly. Family members and teenagers in particular do not just decide to spend more time together in the winter. The weather forces them to be in confined places. The movie theatre offers them an alternative to the living room and to each other.

It’s also not going to break the bank. Everyone spends money over the holidays on gifts, charity donations, parties, decorations—the list goes on and on. In January and February, the movie theatre offers up relief from the house and the chores and the bills, a chance to just escape for a small amount of time and a small amount of money. We know that this industry offers one of the best values in entertainment that money can buy, dollar for dollar, hour for hour. It’s very hard to find two hours of entertainment outside the home that will be lower-cost than the current average ticket price of $7.18 (per NATO).

Going to the movies is also much easier on the waistline than going out to a restaurant. The average movie customer will buy a drink, perhaps a salty or sweet snack, or maybe both. If you bought all three, the caloric intake would be approximately 600 calories, depending on size and choices.

The caloric intake for an adult eating at a restaurant for the same time period of roughly two hours is much higher. Yes, this is comparing apples to oranges in one sense, since the typical movie concession experience is a snack and the restaurant experience is a meal. But if you are comparing the two as a means of entertainment, the movie is a very attractive alternative to eating out. The National Restaurant Association recently published its 2009 Industry Forecast, which declared that “Americans are looking for healthier options when they dine out, including healthy kids’ meals among the hottest trends” (NRA press release, December 2008). The caloric intake from dining out can be very great, and when the January crowd is working to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy, going to the movies instead of to the restaurant is a healthy choice.

Box-office statistics for 2009 have just started tallying, but for the first weeks of January 2009, both box office and attendance were up over 2008. This is welcome news, considering the state of the economy and all the news coverage surrounding the new President. There has been much discussion in the news media about the cinema industry being recession-proof. We like to believe this ourselves. But the simple fact is that product and availability drive attendance. The job of the exhibitor is to provide an overall fantastic customer experience around the movie. Together they make the winter months melt away, as customers see a great movie in a great social environment. The cinema provides an easy way to just get away, at least for a few hours, and this is a great time to market that flight.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.