Noovie Commentary: How to Easily Rent a Theater, Part II

Here's our breakdown on how to turn the movie theater into your own private super-sized living room.

By Chuck Walton

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in "Hocus Pocus."

© Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

Good news, moviegoing fans! New York state will finally open some of its theaters starting this Friday, Oct. 23. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Saturday that theaters can open in his state, county by county, where COVID-19 metrics have been met and health protocols are in place (similar to how California has been reopening). Deadline has a great rundown of the details for NY reopening here.

Next step: the entire movie industry looks forward to when (hopefully soon) New York City and Los Angeles County, the lead markets for theaters, also reopen in safe fashion.

As we've commented here on theater rentals, we believe exhibition can do a couple more things: one, advertise and market widely on their own that they are open in a lot of places, and two, let consumers know that using theaters as a space to watch movies only with the folks they feel comfortable around has never been easier or cheaper.

[also, Deadline has another good article on how Cinemark is already having great success with private "Tenet" screenings]

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki in "Tenet," now available for private screenings.

Right now, AMC, Cinemark and the Alamo Drafthouse chains are all offering great, specific programs for rentals. Once Regal reopens, they might offer something similar? We hope so. Here's a breakdown of the current options:

AMC Private Movie Showing

Up to 20 people, in AMC's trademarked Safe & Clean auditoriums, and there's an easy fill-out-form to reserve a space and time. Movie options include new releases like "Tenet" and "The War with Grandpa," or classics like "Jurassic Park" and "The Conjuring" and the currently retro-hot "Hocus Pocus." Price starts at $99.

© Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in the 1993…er, 2020, Halloween hit "Hocus Pocus."

Note to exhibitors and studios: Open up those studio vaults! There's a hundred years of IP there, and consumers would love to program your space with whatever comes to mind.

Note to online ticketers: Make this an easy option for consumers to pick their favorite theaters and create their own movie screenings, or see others' events (if the hosts are willing to share their limited capacity screenings).

Cinemark Watch Parties

Private screenings up to 20 people, price ranges from $99 - $149. Current releases are available like "Tenet" and "Honest Thief." Classics are available including "Beetlejuice" and "Back to the Future"…and of course, "Hocus Pocus."

If you've never seen "Back to the Future" on a big screen with awesome sound alongside your family, friends…or maybe just yourself…now's the time.

© MCA/Universal Pictures/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future," perfect for big screen spectacle, holiday movie viewing.

Note to streamers, theater owners and tv, music, gaming industries: Where you can, if you can, we're certain fans in your community would love to use an awesome theater and sound system as a regular place for experiencing content together.

Alamo – Own an Alamo Drafthouse

Reservations for a screening room start at $150 (higher for new releases), and require each person to buy a ticket, and there's a $150 food and drink minimum overall. 20 – 30 people are allowed in the theater. The movie selection is diverse…"E.T.," "The Big Lebowski," "The Iron Giant"…plus all the current box office flicks…and "Hocus Pocus."

Note to the theaters and online ticketers: Why not let creative programmers propose potential screenings to the community and see who else out there is game? Once they hit that 20 – 30 people maximum, done, the event's a go.

Right now, movie theater rentals are big for the chains because the theaters are thinking of all the ways to get folks into their business so that the industry itself will survive.

However, there's an opportunity here that can help theaters even post pandemic. Besides just the regular moviegoing for big tentpoles, which hopefully will return at some point, theaters would be wise to evolve and innovate, and allow those who cherish community and experience (and yes, movie theaters, too) to participate in the space by programming it -- in a way that complements how they navigate everything else in our modern world, including their choice for streaming and subscriptions.

AMC has their A-List subscriber program, but the streamers themselves could also consider higher-tiered subscriptions that allow those subscribers to view or propose viewings (with other subscribers) of their content on the big screen (again, post pandemic) – which can fuel more viewing online and off. Also, higher-tiered subscriptions could include quick data surveys/reviews for those who watch in cinema, post screening…more money and data for streamers...what's the downside?

Theater owners should also be more proactive to align with other industries and consider more direct advertising straight to their local communities (seriously, have any of the chains ever produced their own television ads?). One thing the pandemic has proven is that exhibition is extremely reliant on the movie studios for product and marketing. Does it have to be that way?

After all the work that has been done to upgrade theaters for safety and comfort, they are deserving of the most bold and creative solutions to support them.

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