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1,000 small movie theaters may close due to the high cost of digital conversion

As many as one thousand small movie theaters may close as a result of digital conversion, according to theater owner Michael Hurley. The figure, that accounts for almost 20 percent of all movie theaters in North America, is a very real possibility due to the high cost of digital conversion.

Hurley is the owner of the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine and the Temple Theatre in Houlton, Maine and also runs movie theater owners’ website BigScreenBiz. Despite the fact that his theaters will convert to digital, he is still very worried about the number of small theaters that will fall by the wayside, as he shows in an article for Indiewire.

According to Harley’s article, the CEO and president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, John Fithian, has set the seemingly severe terms “convert or die.” Harsh terms indeed, but with big movie studios such as Fox stating that within the next two years they will “no longer release product in 35mm” it does indeed seem that “convert or die” are the only options available. He goes on to say that in other countries the conversion is being funded by government grants as it is considered a national priority and that while this isn’t the first evolution in cinema history, previously theaters were allowed to update when it suited them, giving smaller theatres a chance to survive on handed down, second hand equipment. But not this time.

Some of these theatres are historical buildings, with some having been around for 100 years, some are perhaps the only theatres available to the public for miles around. How many Hollywood industry insiders have come from small towns, realizing the childhood dreams that began in their local theater? And has Hollywood considered the cost of losing 20 percent of their potential ticket venues? It would seem they have, and they don’t seem to care.

I understand the need to move forwards, and I support it, but at what cost? Some will lose their businesses, some will lose their jobs, but many will lose places that they have held dear to their hearts for years. Is “convert or die” the only way forward? Is it the right way forward? Please feel free to comment.


(Photo by Bob Jagendorf, Flickr)

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