ABC / IMAX
It might seem like a weird time to write about this subject considering that the decision to release the ABC show Marvel’s The Inhumans onto over 350 IMAX screens this past weekend didn’t fare particularly well. I don’t think that’s a reason to give up on this idea, as much as it is to maybe rethink and rework it.
Normally, the fall television season signifies the death of the box office, especially on weekdays as everybody would rather stay home and watch the new seasons of their favorite shows. While Sept. and Oct don’t always offer a ton of strong movie offerings, this year seems to be a major exception as we have a number of strong contenders to set new box office records.
Even on slower weeks, there’s definite potential to get audiences into theaters when the movies in theaters just aren’t cutting it. It’s not like watching television with a group is a particularly strange thing either. Just think of how many people come together and gather at bars to watch their favorite sports teams. These days, many television shows have a similar level of fandom fervor.
The first time I really got a feel for what watching television with an audience was like was at New York Comic-Con a few years back when I first saw Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a packed theater. It was a very different experience than watching the generally lackluster show by myself at home. You could tell how much the people in the audience loved the characters, and they were right there laughing and cheering along with fellow fans.
It made me think that instead of trying to find better ways of watching movies at home, we should be looking at ways to get people out of their houses and make watching television more of a communal experience.
Not everyone has the biggest or best systems at home to watch shows, while movie theaters are already tuned for optimum performance. There are still a lot of people who don’t have cable or specific channels and would be paying a monthly fee for those channels anyway.
Could you imagine watching the latest season of HBO’s Game of Thrones in the same theater where you watched Wonder Woman or The Lord of the Rings? It would be pretty awesome.
The most important thing is that you need to offer television content that people might want to pay to see with an audience in such an environment. You need to give couch potatoes a reason to go out and pay to see the content they normally watch for “free” at home. In some cases, it might be just a matter of getting out of a potentially noisy house to watch a show with a theater full of fans who will focus silently on the latest developments to their characters.
I’m pretty sure that premiering Marvel’s The Inhumans as an IMAX release was not the best way to do that. The sad fact is that few people, other than maybe comic book readers, are familiar with the characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and there’s no reason for them to spend $15 to 20 per ticket to figure out if the show’s for them.
On the other hand, if IMAX had a relationship with Netflix, premiering the recent Marvel’s The Defenders a few days before its premiere on the streaming network could have been quite huge, especially if it was for one night only.
There are already regional theaters that have started to do this with shows like Doctor Who, but if a chain teams up with a network, they could theoretically get people to come into theaters on weekday nights to hang out with other like-minded individuals.
Of course, it would have to be the right show and HBO and IMAX have already experimented by showing the final two episodes of Season 4 of Game of Thrones theatrically in 2015 with an early preview of the fifth season. Again, it did okay, making $1.9 million while playing for a week on 205 IMAX screens.
Obviously, that didn’t do well enough for IMAX and HBO to do it again, but if you’ve seen any of the seventh season, you know that the scope and scale of the show continues to get bigger and more apropos for a theatrical setting.
Maybe The Inhumans experiment didn’t work as a theatrical experience, but there are a lot of opportunities for other popular shows to be ported into theaters even cult shows like Twin Peaks: The Return, which would be amazing to see with an audience, considering that David Lynch isn’t directing movies anymore.
A show like AMC’s The Walking Dead still has a big enough fanbase and quite a bit of scope that premiering the first episodes of the new season in movie theaters is one way to get people into out of their houses.
Maybe it would even be worth it to create some sort of subscription service where you pay a reasonable set fee that allows you to watch an entire season of your favorite show in your local theater, and you can decide how many episodes you want to watch in public.
Of course, some people will complain about how awful the moviegoing experience is these days with people talking and texting, etc, but that is likely to change when you have an audience seeing a show they’re really invested in. They’re likely to pay more attention and not put up with talkers, and honestly, it’s becoming the norm for theaters to try to enforce rules about talking and disrupting other moviegoers.
In that sense, showing television content does have a lot of potential to bring people into the screens where you would normally be showing a movie in its fourth or fifth weekend probably to one or two people at most. If you can get 20, 30 or more people to commit to coming to your theater every Monday or Tuesday or whatever day their favorite show is on, it’s likely to help make up for the slow months like the one we just had.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor