Premiere Theatres goes digitalIn a time when movie theaters around the country are struggling to draw a crowd, attendance at Cloquet’s Premiere Theatres is going up. Owner/ operator Rick Stowell credits recent upgrades to the popularity of the multiplex.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
In a time when movie theaters around the country are struggling to draw a crowd, attendance at Cloquet’s Premiere Theatres is going up. Owner/ operator Rick Stowell credits recent upgrades to the popularity of the multiplex.
Stowell has invested in both viewing quality and comfort, with the priciest upgrades coming from a switch to digital movies.
The six-screen theater began showing all movies digitally on May 20, the theater’s 17th anniversary. Premiere Theatres is the first independent theater, and only the seventh theater in the state to become 100 percent digital. Duluth has 27 screens between their theaters and only three are digital.
In Phase 1 of the project, two digital 3D projectors were installed in October 2010. Now, the process is complete. Of the six screens, four will be capable of playing 3D movies.
“It is news for Cloquet to have the privilege of being able to see digital movies and digital 3D,” Stowell said, adding that other theaters will catch up soon. “It’s nice to be on the front end of it.”
The change comes as the result of a push by film distributors for theaters to abandon traditional film in favor of digital copies, explained Stowell. The advance in digital technology, similar to High Definition television, has taken place relatively recently. Now that companies such as Sony, Kodak and Christie – the company that Premiere Theatres has chosen to work with – have perfected digital movies. They have found them considerably cheaper to produce and distribute.
“When [the film distributors] make a copy of a film, it’s so expensive, estimated at $2,500 per copy,” Stowell said. “Now they can make a digital hard drive that they send to us at a cost of $100 or so.” In the long run, these companies are able to save up to $6 million dollars per movie by releasing it digitally.
Stowell decided to upgrade his projectors because the distributors have announced that traditional film may be obsolete by late 2013.
“The digital side is here to stay,” Stowell said. “Theaters have to change now ... two and a half years from now, there may be no film made available.”
While a single projector can cost up to $100,000, Stowell has invested a lot of money in the upgrade. However, film distributors have agreed to reimburse around 65 percent of the cost. Over a 10-year period, Stowell is expecting to be responsible for only 35 to 40 percent of the total cost for all six projectors.
The switch from film to digital will bring viewers a whole new experience.
“The picture is clearer; it’s always in frame; it’s always in focus. The picture is brighter,” Stowell said. “Every part of it is better.”
Another positive result of the switch is that now the theater is able to buy a single digital copy of a movie, but play it on multiple screens. In the past, a theater would need to buy two copies of a movie for opening weekend if they wanted to play it on two screens, Stowell explained. They then would have to commit to playing the second copy for at least a two-week period. Now, a single digital hard drive for a particular movie can be plugged into the server and played on any screen at any time.
This will be particularly helpful for big movies coming out this summer such as the last installment of the Harry Potter series. Premiere Theatres would once sell out tickets, sometimes two weeks in advance, and have to turn people away at the door of midnight showings. Now, they are able to play the movie on all six screens opening night, and will not have to turn anyone away.
“We should never have to turn anybody away because of the flexibility that we have,” Stowell said.
Premiere Theatres has undergone some other recent changes including the addition of new seats and updating the entire interior of the theater.
“It was just time,” Stowell said. “It became clear to me 18 months ago that you either have to commit or quit ... After 17 years, it was time to do some remodeling, improve some things.”
The addition of the new seats has reduced the capacity of the theater from 950 to about 900 total seats. However, the seats are wider, more comfortable and have about four inches more leg room than the previous ones.
The response from the public has been “outstanding,” Stowell said. While movie-
theater attendance has gone down about 15 percent nationwide, Premiere Theatres has seen a 15 percent increase in attendance in 2011.
“It doesn’t make any sense that we would be 30 percent above the national average,” Stowell said.
Even with all the changes to the theater, ticket prices have not and will not increase, Stowell said.