Note: It seems fitting that while we are currently looking for the Best of Canberra cinemas, I was invited by Hoyts Belconnen and Hoyts Woden to try out their new recliner seating with a special viewing of Spectre. Best of Canberra cinemas will go head-to-head on Monday.
In an age when you can watch anything on demand, is cinema dying?
It’s a question that is facing many cinemas, and here in the ACT we are handling it in two ways.
The first way is to start hosting film festivals. Palace Electric in NewActon is hosting, or has hosted in the past, the Alliance Française French Film Festival, the Audi Festival of German Films, the BBC First British Film Festival, Singaporean Film Festival and the Palestinian Film Festival, to name a few. Event Cinemas in Manuka has hosted the Japanese Film Festival and the Russian Resurrection Film Festival.
Cinemas have always hosted film festivals, but going to a film festival is becoming more mainstream. You no longer need to go to an art-house cinema to see independent films or world cinema. They are now available, often, at your local movie theatre.
The second way is to make cinema an experience. This is what Hoyts is doing nationwide, with the first stages being rolled out in the Belconnen and Woden theatres. Hoyts asked themselves the question: what made them different to the home theatre experience?
And the answer, in my view, was not much. The chairs at home are comfy: you can recline back as far as you like without fear of being kicked in the back. The screens are crisper, and often just as big and loud at home. You have as much legroom as you want or need. There is room and space to put down snacks and drinks.
So, why would anyone leave the house go see a movie at the cinemas these days?
The same reason why people buy from the Apple Store when they have a well-designed, effortlessly smooth online buying process. The same reason people take physical books on holidays. The same reason we go to coffee shops for coffee when everyone has a pod machine in their house.
We like the experience. We like talking to the Apple concierges; we like having a tattered book that reminds us of the holiday; we like going out with friends and drinking coffee.
Hoyts is developing an experience for movie-goers. The first stage is to include recliner seating in all its theatres. From a personal observation, it’s about 75% of the size of a Gold Class / Premium seat. The recliner seating has a small wall between the row you’re sitting in and the row behind you – to stop all that kicking nonsense, but also, to make sure no one’s head is in your way when seeing a movie. There is ample room for drinks and even a popcorn bucket sized hole in the side table.
The cinema was so new that you could smell the newly dried paint on the walls, and the seats (Australian-made) had never been used. No scuff marks on the leather; and, the green stitching is still vividly green having never had soft drink spilt on it. When you reclined all the way back, the seats squeaked as if they need a little wearing in.
From the looks of stage one (the new seating), I am very intrigued to see stage two (a candy bar upgrade) and beyond. I live no where near Hoyts Belconnen nor Hoyts Woden, but the seats alone could entice me back to movie theatres.