Survival of the Fittest: Can Cinemas Survive the Digital Age?

Since its conception, the inclusive space of the cinema has played a pivotal cultural role in society. Indeed, during the first half of the 20th century, cinemas became a regularised leisure pursuit, providing individuals with the sole point of access to filmed entertainment. However, cinema-viewing has not only been a tool for entertainment, leisure and social cohesion, it has also provided an important space in which important social, political, economical and moral issues can be contested and deliberated. As Karina Aveyard & Albert Moran (2011) assert, ‘movies have the power to entertain, confront and transform — they can influence our outlook on life, death and everything in between’.

However, while film-watching continues to play a popular and important cultural and social role, the function of cinema specifically, has arguably become less significant in the 21st century, whereby a myriad of options exist for film-watching. Other than enjoying a film at the cinemas, individuals now have the option to watch blockbuster films from the comfort of their own home via VOD (video on demand), the internet or DVD/Blu-ray machines. Thus, in this day and age, with viewing options existing outside the movie theatre, it has never been easier for audiences to access and watch audiovisual content. For example, the film, the Interview made $2.8 million from theatre showings, while $15 million from sales made from VODIn addition to the variety means of easily accessing content, these options are also cheaper. As a result of these endless options of film-watching, a number of different factors come into play, which influence decisions about how and when films are watched – particularly when deciding to go to the cinemas.

According to Torsten Hagerstrand, human activity is governed by three categories of limitations: capability, coupling and authority. Capability constraints ‘refer to the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors’ (Corbett 2011).  Coupling constraints refer to the ability of being in a particular place for a certain length of time with other people. This means that ‘your space-time path must temporarily link up with those of certain other people to accomplish a particular task’ (Corbett 2011). Finally, authority constraint refers to accessibility limitations, imposed by people or institutions who control a certain area or place. 

As an avid cinema-goer myself, I can understand how these factors —and many other factors— come into play when I decide to watch a movie with my partner. My partner and I love watching movies. We go to the movies on average, once every fortnight. If we’re on holidays, then it’s once or twice a week! In fact, we’ve watched two movies at the cinemas in one day before! Suffice, to say, we LOVE movies! Other than our strong love for movies and cinemas, an important factor which influences our decision to go is price. Both my partner and I are able to get $10 Event Cinema tickets through the Telstra Rewards initiative. And because we watch so many movies, we often get enough ‘points’ through Cinebuzz rewards to watch movies in Gold Class for free! If these perks did not exist, then I definitely wouldn’t be going to the movies as often as I do — I can’t justify spending $27.50 to watch a movie at the cinemas.

However, when we become busy with university and studies, it becomes harder to organise a time to go to the movies. A recent example was when my partner and I wanted to watch the movie, the Vacation. Due to the stress of university assessments and exams, we had to reschedule our plan three times! This reflects Hagerstrand’s capability argument on the way in which our movement was restricted due to our physical restraints. Trust me, if I had the ability to clone myself, and have one Jyotsna working studiously through her studies, and the other going off and watching movies, then I would! But unfortunately, Hagerstrand’s assertion holds true as you can’t be in two places at once, and sometimes, studying must prevail. Another constant hinderance to our plans was the fact that when I would be free to watch a movie, my partner would have to study, or when he was free to watch the movie, I’d have to study. Thus this coupling constraint made it impossible for us to be together in one location (the cinemas) to complete our task of wanting to watch the Vacation

Nevertheless, it worked out. When it did, it was relatively easy to organise. This is because we both have access to cars and can drive to the cinemas with relative ease. And of course, because we are old enough to go to the cinemas and watch the movie, no authority constraint was placed upon us. However, in situations where we realise that it will be impossible to watch a movie at the cinemas, we know we can always watch it at home when it comes out on DVD. After all, watching a movie from the comfort of home is also nice.

However, while my partner and I love going to the cinemas, according to Shawn Binder the ‘movie theater experience’ is dying because of VOD taking over cinemas. While this may be true, I think cinemas can still survive if they remind people of the unique experience they get from the cinemas. The reason my partner and I love going to the movies is because of the adventure of going to the movies. It’s a uniquely distinct experience, where you can switch your phone off and forget about reality completely for a couple of hours and enjoy a great movie in the darkness. While I dislike noisy people, I love it when I can share emotions provoked by the movie with other people. Whether it be laughing at a funny scene or feeling fearful and on your toes from a scary scene, its a social experience you do together. I think cinemas need to market this unique experience if they want to survive in this era where technology enables cheaper and easier means to access movies.

What do you think? Do you think cinema culture is dying? Share your feedback below!

Reference List

Aveyard, K & Moran, A 2011, ‘Cinema-Going, Audiences and Exhibition‘, Media International Australia, vol.139, pp.73-79.

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