Mission: Getting People Back to the Theaters

3d.jpgI recently read a post over at HDBeat about the fact that Mark Cuban is mulling over ideas about how get people “back to the theaters”. For those of you who don’t know, Mark Cuban is owner of the Dallas Mavericks and more importantly a good businessman. He took the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise from being pretty poorly regarded to being known as one of the best sports franchises. He updated the arena and gave players the best and latest technology equipment. In a past life, he started a company streaming sports broadcasts and sold it for a pretty profit. (Can’t do his accomplishments justice here, but let’s just say, “he’s a smart guy.”)

Part of me thinks that he’s trying to solve the wrong problem — I think great content would get people back to theaters. But pondering on the issue a bit more, maybe he’s onto something. The advent of peer-to-peer services, Netflix, Pay-Per-View, Cable and Satellite TV and the DVD market has given consumers many viewing options, leaving theaters as one option among many.

Anyhow, Mark wants suggestions on his site (found here) regarding how we can get people back to the movie theaters. And, oh yeah, he’s willing to give you a job if you come up with an idea that tickles his fancy. Hey – I’m not working at the moment. And being a bit of a movie afficionado myself, why not offer my suggestion?

I thought about the issue and posted my response (among about 600 other responses.) Here’s an expanded version of my plan to get movie goers back to the theater. In a word – tchotchkes.


There’s one sure fire way to get folks to the movies. Something that “waiting for the DVD” can’t necessarily give you. Well targeted promotional giveaways. Well defined items for the movie’s target audience that are given out after the credits have rolled, one per movie goer, in exchange for your ticket stub, would create a much closer bond to the film and get people to the theaters.

Often I walk out of a film that I didn’t like looking down at a hand holding a ticket stub and I feel completely robbed. Now, replace that ticket stub with a quality item featured in the movie, and suddenly I don’t feel like I was robbed. I’d have something in exchange for my $9.50.

To illustrate an example of what I’m talking about, perhaps a “golden key” that bad guys were chasing after throughout a film could be given out? Maybe on a commemorative keychain? Perhaps for “The DaVinci code” it would be a model of that cylinder-shaped puzzle that held one of the secrets? Perhaps in the next Matrix movie (God forbid) the theater could hand out one of five collectible figures? Or perhaps one of three collectible books featuring artwork from the movie? Even if I hated Revolutions, I might go back again. Maybe I would force my girlfriend to go so that she can give me her item. And if she doesn’t go, I buy three tickets in hopes of getting three different books, each featuring a different character of the film. Even if the film sucked, it seems like more of a fair exchange. I hated the movie, but again, I have something to show for my $9.50.

NOTE: The logistics of how this is done are very important. I propose that the featured items be such that people can’t request what they want. They get a
white box with one of three items inside. Also the distribution of the items is key. Perhaps a movie rep sits behind a desk and hands them out with each ticket stub? Also, the items can only be handed out at the completion of the movie. (People should be forced to watch the film to get the item.)

Considering all of the ideas that I’ve read above involving the remodelling of movie theaters, this is an idea that will cost significantly less money, but it will be money well spent since this is money tied to the performance of the film. If millions of people come out to see the film, then you pay more, but you also see more revenue from the film.

(One obstacle I didn’t consider when I first presented the idea was the fact that sometimes opening weekends are significantly more than studios expect. I can see myself being yelled at across a boardroom because there are 500,000 cases of Fletch 4 afro wigs that nobody wants. Or because kids are crying because we ran out of Spiderman masks. This is a shortcoming that might need to be “worked out”. But I see the advantages far outweighing these small obstacles.)

The key to the success of this idea is that the items needs to be of a high quality such that they are worth making the trip for. I think this can be achieved by having the items be subsidized by advertising. Instead of having Superman pick up a Coke or Pepsi can, give people a plastic crystal (no sharp edges) like the one in the movie. Put a green LED light in and put in in a box with an inexpensive plastic stand and and now people have a piece of Superman history that they can put on their bookshelf at home. (Ideally the item wouldn’t have a bunch of advertising brandings all over it like some sort of “baseball shirt day giveaway”, but this is somewhat negotiable.)

Looking at this idea long-term, I see movies deliberately planting items in the script as part of the plot. “In the next Indiana Jones movie, let’s have Indy search for a secret artifact and then give away the model as part of the promotion — IN THEATERS ONLY.” This is a sure fire way of providing an incentive that bit torrent or peer-to-peer services can’t compete with. People love tchotchkes. They go to trade shows and sit through half hour presentations for products they know they’ll never buy just to get the cool umbrella.

Picture leaving the Lord of the Rings and getting a well crafted “One Ring” on a metal chain? You could stuff a bunch of coupons and free samples in the box to subsidize the cost of the item.

Well-scoped promotional items do more than draw people to the movies — they can act as a bridge between just seeing the film and then going to the website, or joining a fanclub. Often I’ll see a film that I can’t stop raving about. But after the experience is over, I feel as if I want to extend that experience, and other than fansites with people arguing over movie details, there are few ways to do that. In this scenario, you can perhaps give out a DVD that has the making of the movie featured. The DVD could also contain a few deleted scenes? (Of course well subsidized with a bunch of trailers targeted at that demographic.)

This is no different than what McDonalds or cereal companies do. “Buy a meal and get one of 5 commemorative glasses.” I think movie studios can do a much better job at this same marketing tactic.

This is naturally most applicable to action style movies. I heard that the Iron Man movie was in production — perhaps a well crafted (but cheap enough to be mass produced) model of an Iron Man mask can be given out at the conclusion of the movie?

But this idea is by no means exclusive to action movies alone. Creativity is a huge part of the idea. Perhaps for the next Bridget Jones movie, you could drawing the core audience by handing out a diary that is exactly the same as the one she uses in the movie. Instead of putting the camera on Pepsi cans as cross promotion, show Bridget holding the very specifically styled diary –something that can’t be easily found in stores — and then hand them out. Or maybe one of five short books that continue Bridget’s story as she’s living life after marraige? Inside the packaging, I see advertisements from Loreal and samples and coupons for products females would be interested in. Perhaps a promotion where three special boxes contained tickets to meet Hugh Grant? Or a trip to London?

My point is that a strong promotional item, just like “A free T-shirt to the first 10,000 fans in attendance”, can be a huge draw. Not only would children be dragging their parents to watch Spy Kids 5 to get the special spy device that saves the day that is featured in the movie (maybe even asking mom to go back 5 times to get each of the 5 toys).

The items would be collected and traded and sold on eBay among people like Pokemon.

This is a core idea that can be tweaked until it reaches the desired result. Perhaps you change the giveaway after the movie has been in theaters for a few weeks? (And people go back to see it again.) The key is that you’re not only drawing people to the theaters, but you’re insuring that they watch the film, you’re building an emotional attachment between the film and the moviegoer (through the item) and you’re building the relationship by drawing them to a website.

Ideas of your own? Post them. But this is the rare time that I’ll advise you not to post them here — at least not only here. Go on over to Mark Cuban’s website and post your best idea. And if you get hired, I want some kind of publicity. 🙂


5 Responses to “Mission: Getting People Back to the Theaters”

  1. 1 Jeff T
    July 26, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    I have a few comments about your ‘tchotchkes’ idea.

    You touched upon a few of these in your article

    1.Small/Independent films – Does your plan include small/independant films? Their budgets are already so tight that they may not be able to spend any money on the 500,000 or so tchotchkes they may need to giveaway. Let’s not even mention shipping costs to x number of cities. I think the plan would be to have a set amount of items to give to the first x number of viewers, thus inflating opening week numbers. The larger movie studios would benefit from your idea due to larger advertising budgets but the smaller ones may even get overshadow if the larger studios deployed tchotchkes.

    2.Unused Items/Litter – If all of the items are not given out what happens to them, do movie theatres ship them back somewhere or just give them away for free? What happens if some of the people don’t like the item they were given and just leave them in the parking lot, who’s gonna clean that up. And what happens when people dislike a movie and uses the tchotchkes to voice their disgust. Can you see the news segment – a person is seriously hurt when someone threw their plastic crystal at another person because they hated Superman…

    3. Additional Theatre Costs – If half the movies adopted the idea of tchotchkes it would mean they would have to be stored somewhere for all the movies utilizing tchotchkes. Then they would have to be handed out, which require at least an additional person and if not, it would slow ticket lines down have the ticket person hand them out even if just for 10 additional seconds.

  2. July 26, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    OK – the short answer ironically is a quote from the movie that probably brought about this question…
    Lex Luthor: You’re-not-looking-at-the-big-picture. 😀

    Independent films are probably left out of this equation. I don’t think those are the films that Cuban is going after anyhow. I’ve seen some interesting grass roots promotions for independent film with creative websites and weird viral marketing. Those folks are probably seeing o.k. margins. It’s the big budget films that don’t recoup that I think Cuban is asking about. He mentions how companies dish out all this marketing money and nobody ends up seeing the movie.

    I kinda like your idea about only the first 1,000 people or so getting a gadget. That would draw folks too, but I don’t want to upset people who come and get nothing. Or who, like me, figure they’ll never be in the first group, so they just won’t go. I think everyone should be eligible and if they don’t get through some shortage issue, they should be mailed one after sending in a valid ticket stub or something….. still thinking it through.

    I don’t see the litter problem. This is why I said it’s all in how you market things. If you give away one of 10 or let’s say 20 unique items, people won’t be so quick to toss them. When stadiums run promotions, it’s usually the undesirable stuff that gets tossed. Nobody’s tossing beanie babies. You can fetch $100 or more for stadium issued beanie babies online. Perhaps these aren’t quite at that level, but if it’s a MacFarlane-quality item, I estimate that scavengers will handle the left behind goods. (I do see the possibility for coupons and stuff to be scattered all over the parking lot, but it’s a necessary evil. You bring back people to the movies in large numbers and the garbage issue will be a welcome problem.)

    Also related to the litter – nobody’s forcing it in your hand. You need to give your ticket stub to a rep at the END of the movie (this avoids in-theater garbage) in exchange for a “spider man collectible” or else you don’t get one. And if you don’t stand in the line, you don’t get anything. Excess stuff HAS to go back to the studio. This is why the studio needs to supervise this effort. Kinda like they do with the post-movie surveys that you fill out. Actually I think we should use the same folks. I don’t trust the low paid movie folks…somehow the distribution would need to be worked out, but I can see paying a few movie reps from a studio to work a booth maybe?

    Re: the cost issue, read the Cuban article. He’s not asking for free ideas – sounds like he’s willing to make it a fully funded idea.

    Let’s hear some better ideas than mine — I know they exist. Let’s hear about stuff totally different from what I’m suggesting.

  3. 3 Jeff T
    July 26, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    I was commenting on you’re article not Mark Cubans article. You mentioned if we have any ideas not to post them here but instead to Mark Cuban.

  4. July 26, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    I did say that (sorry). But I want to hear other ideas also. I just didn’t want anybody’s great idea to sit idle on my lonely message board.

    Even if you don’t decide to post, don’t miss the opportunity to check out his site — people are really REACHING! One guy said that they should have LCD screens in the bathroom! (???) Another guy wants to make restaurant-theaters. Lots of people are focusing on the content (which I agree is the correct source of the probem) but they’re not dealing with the constraints of the challenge. Most people agree that movies are pretty bad, but given all of the challenges, how do we get folks to start doing E.T. type numbers again? *Can* we get folks to do E.T. type numbers again? It’s an interesting thought. I wonder if our lives are so different now that you could make the movies free (and some people are suggesting that also!) and you still wouldn’t get the numbers like they were back when movies were one of only a few forms of visual entertainment (before gaming, VCRs, the Internet, more than 13 channels, DVDs, etc.) Wow – how boring was it back then?

    There are some good ideas, though. Check it out.

  5. 5 mina
    August 1, 2006 at 3:51 pm

    So…after reading your blog and going to the Cuban blog I decided that I would post my own solution/s to the challenge. I figure what does it hurt. I am one of the people who definitely complain about the cost of movie tix and the poor content so this is my chance to put my ideas out there.

    My comment is #1021 and it is long so grab some popcorn and sit back and enjoy the show!!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: