Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why Disney Wants Your Favorite Movie Theater To Close

My wife, my grandsons, and I all love Disney stuff. My grandsons watch Mickey Mouse all of the time, and they have the usual number of toys related to Disney that one would expect. When it comes to your kids, you swallow your pride sometimes and go with the flow. But that Disney flow is starting to be stained with a putrid stench that is causing me to rethink my lifelong devotion to the mouse. Disney is trying to close down the drive-in movie theaters I love and grew up with. It is my theory that Disney wants my favorite drive-ins closed, and I also believe that the mouse is coming after your favorite theater as well.

The Disney Corporation is incredibly smart and patient. It knows that the older generations cherish the experience of going to the movies, whether it is a hardtop or a drive-in. But the younger generations are most definitely stay-at-home type of people, and the Disney Corporation is making strides to not just cash in on that future audience for home entertainment, but it is looking to corner the market as only Disney can.

Last year, the release of Captain America: Civil War was marked by outcries from theater owners that Disney wanted the highest cut of ticket sales that any studio has ever asked for. When you buy a ticket from a movie theater, any kind of movie theater, the movie studio rightfully takes a large percentage of that ticket price for their efforts. Up until last year, those percentages were not so high that movie theaters could not work around them. But it is important for movie fans to know that every movie theater does rely on concession sales to survive. That tub of popcorn you buy at the movies can mean the difference between the theater being around next week to show more movies, or closing its doors.

This is also why bringing your own food to the drive-in is so damaging to the operation of the drive-in. Many drive-ins around the country are starting to take stronger stands against people who bring their own food to the movies. Customers wrongfully think that drive-in owners are being greedy and overstepping their boundaries when they punish people for bringing in their own food. The truth is that it is the large percentage the studio takes from each ticket that forces drive-ins to be vigilant about concessions. When you bring your own pizza to the drive-in instead of buying it there, you are part of the problem when it comes to drive-in economics. Drive-in owners are more diplomatic when they explain this issue to customers. I don't have to worry about that kind of decorum.

This year, Disney has done it again at an even higher level by making Guardians of the Galaxy 2 the highest ticket percentage ever for movie studios. But this time, theaters are fighting back. According to Rick Cohen (owner of the Transit Drive-in), "There are over 100 drive-ins [around the country] not showing it."

Cohen raised the flag for battle against Disney when he publicly announced on his Facebook page that he was not going to show the movie. In his announcement, Cohen said:

To summarize, the deal being offered to us as "take it or leave it" was the highest percentage of ticket sales that we have ever been asked to pay for any previous movie from any other studio, and would have set a terrible precedent for future negotiations on other movies with other studios. It would also have resulted in higher movie rental fees, which would lead directly to higher ticket prices for our customers.

But why is Disney biting the hand that feeds it? I have a theory, and please keep in mind that this is only my theory. I said earlier that Disney is a very smart company that is targeting younger generations to sustain its profit base. Disney knows how popular movie streaming has become, and Disney knows that streaming is causing a drop in attendance to movie theaters in general. So what is Disney's response? Try and do away with theaters completely.

As Cohen pointed out, Disney's tactics could create a precedent in the industry that will cause every studio to suddenly demand outrageously high cuts of the box office for the rights to show their movies. The problem is that the other studios probably do not have the long-term plan for movie streaming that Disney does, and they will lose out if Disney is successful in shutting down movie theaters.

If Disney is able to convince every major studio to raise their percentages, then movie theaters of all types will no longer be able to show first run movies. That is the equivalent of blockading an island nation and watching it starve to death. The theaters will either have to adjust, or shut down. Cohen knows the draw that retro movies bring, but it is doubtful that someone could run a successful theater business by just showing retro or older movies. Without first runs, drive-ins and hardtops would suffocate and die. Then what?

As theaters are gasping for their last breaths, Disney will start to launch its new way for releasing new movies. It will be some sort of streaming service that will charge people to watch new releases at home. The obvious problem with this plan is that people could pay for the movie once and invite the whole neighborhood over to watch. Disney is a ruthless corporation that doesn't care one bit about the public that supports it. I would not be surprised if Disney creates a network of informers, like the NFL has, that would turn in people for sharing first releases.

Even if Disney does not develop its own gestapo, I am certain that Disney will have some way in place to prevent people from not paying to see their movies. Remember that your smart television can see into your living room (that is a fact proven over and over again). Would Disney use that technology to make sure the head count watching the movie matches the amount that was paid? Absolutely it would.

It is just a theory, but the continuing evolution of technology keeps filling in the gaps and giving my theory some substance. Disney does not care about you. Disney cares about your wallet. Disney wants every penny it can scrape from your wallet, and Disney does not care who gets hurt in the process.

What is more American than going to the movies? What is a more beloved piece of Americana than the drive-in? Disney wants to destroy all of that, and they are already on their way.

Niagara's Watercooler will no longer review Disney movies. That includes Star Wars and any other movie franchise Disney owns. As painful as it is, that also includes Marvel movies. Disney is more intrusive in your life than you could have ever imagined. Remember that idea I put forth a couple of paragraphs back about Disney using smart televisions to watch your every move? Think about that and realize that some smart television manufacturers are publicly warning consumers that their televisions do indeed watch everything the consumers do. If Disney wants in on that kind of spying, it can get in.

It is up to you folks to decide if this happens or not. Will you allow Disney to destroy the entire movie theater business, or will you take a stand with your local drive-in owners and shun Disney's new releases? To some of you, these are just movies. To some of us, this is a way of life. Everyone has been talking about Facebook being a social media monopoly, well it is about time that the shroud be lifted from the idea that Disney is already an entertainment monopoly.

Why doesn't Disney just open its own movie theaters? Why does Disney have to put theaters out of business? Because the new generation of consumers could care less about going to the movies and they would prefer to stay home and watch new movies on their 80-inch high definition television, while the older generations need their movie theaters. So if Disney is going to get a captive audience for its pay-per-view service, it needs to eliminate theaters. Once again, this is just a theory. But this theory becomes closer to reality with every advance in entertainment technology.

It is up to you guys. Do you support your local drive-ins and theaters enough to boycott Disney movies, or would you prefer to see Disney movies no matter who gets hurt? Disney is counting on you not to care. Maybe this once, you can prove a big corporation wrong.

George N Root III is a movie fanatic who loves the movie theater experience. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at