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The Death of the American Drive-in 236

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Claire Suddath writes in Businessweek that the number of drive-ins in America has dwindled from over 4,000 in the 1960s to about 360 today. Since Hollywood distributors are expected to stop producing movies in traditional 35 millimeter film by the end of this year and switch entirely to digital, America's last remaining drive-ins — the majority of which are still family-owned and seasonally operated — could soon be gone. 'We have challenges that other movie theaters don't,' says John Vincent, president of United Drive-In Theater Owners Association and the owner of Wellfleet Drive-In in Cape Cod, Mass. 'We have fewer screens and can only show one or two movies a night. Now we have to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to stay in business.' According to Vincent, only 150 drive-ins have converted to digital so far — the other 210 have until the end of the year either to get with the program or go out of business. It may seem silly to fret over the fate of 210 movie theaters whose business model is outdated, even compared with regular movie theaters, but Honda Motor Co. is offering help with a program called 'Project Drive-In.' The car company is planning to give away five digital projectors by the end of the year. Winners will be determined by voting from the public, which can be done online through Sept. 9 at 'Cars and drive-in theaters go hand in hand,' says Alicia Jones, manager of Honda & Acura social marketing, 'and it's our mission to save this slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for many of us.'"
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The Death of the American Drive-in

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  • Insanity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:14AM (#44599583)
    Poor picture, poor sound, extra traffic headache getting in and out, constant noise and movement from other attendees. The drive-in was never about the film as anything but tinny, poorly reproduced background noise to the party.
  • Drive-In Revival (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:15AM (#44599585)
    At least here in North Texas, there has been a bit of a drive-in revival. Some guy built several of them, and they are really quite nice. So nice, in fact, that any time I want to see a movie, I go to the drive in rather than a regular theater. Their tickets are cheaper, at $6 per person, you always get a double feature (even sometimes one of the movies is garbage), and the snack bar has really good food for the same price you would pay at any other restaurant. Of course, you can bring your own food and drink as well.

    Any drive ins that are struggling are likely mismanaged. They need to look at what the successful ones are doing and mimic them. So long as there aren't competing theaters in smaller towns, they should do just fine.
  • Re:How old are you? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dugancent ( 2616577 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:24AM (#44599609)

    The drive in here is insanly popular and has been for years. It's mainly high school students and has been for years. The age group attending never changed.

  • by TomGreenhaw ( 929233 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:26AM (#44599621)
    My kids are grown up now, but when they were very young is was a great way for us to see a movie without having to get a baby sitter. Next time you hear a child act up in a theater, think to yourself, gee I wish those parents could take their kid to a drive in.
  • Re: How old are you? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:52AM (#44599791)

    My wife and I are 34 and we typically go with friends around the same age. We have a modern drive in that was opened just a few years ago and it is packed every weekend. The demographic mix tends to be pretty young, mostly young families but also plenty of teens. The thing to do is take a nice comfortable chair and sit outside under the Summer sky. Last weekend we went and watched the thunderstorms roll in as we watched the movie. The quality of the picture isn't quite as nice but its good enough. The food is yummy too. I can't see ours going out of business but I know some in smaller towns may be impacted by the change. I hope most of them make the leap and keep this format alive.

  • by zayyd ( 2899959 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @10:24AM (#44600007)

    I do believe I picked up a brand new digital projector not too many years ago, and the charge from the online retailer was about 30 quid.

    So why do they say tens of thousands?

    First of all, there's the significant issue of the massive amount of power and performance that's required from a theatre-class professional projector, rather than the comparatively tiny distance-throw, dimness, and short lifespan of a home or office HD projector. Quality, as a few have pointed out here, is a big factor. Also, to be that bright, these don't use LEDs of course: they use very hot bulbs that need to be cooled down with very loud and large fans and cooling systems.

    Secondly, we're not just talking about the projectors themselves. Most of the major film distributors will not longer be providing films on actual 35mm film, which is what the drive-ins have been using. The major distributors have been reducing the number of "films" that are actually released on film; for some, the move to digital cinema is arguably more about the distribution methods than the viewer's experience. DCP (Digital Cinema Package) [wikipedia] [] —boiled down to MPEG-4 on an encrypted harddrive — is how the films are being sent to theatres. What do you need in order in the industry to run the required DCP drives? You need a server that will decrypt, store, queue, and run everything: trailers, all the films for the week, your preshow, etc.

    The end result is having to buy a very expensive, closet-sized projector and computer server that your projectionists need to be trained on how to use and you can't fix yourself.

    As someone who works for a non-profit film cinématheque, this is a very big deal and worry for independent cinema, who, without access to DCP projectors, are increasingly relying on having to present theatre-class events from a Blu-ray burned in the distributor's office.

    See here for more info about the market changes from 35mm to DCP in this reposted press release []. []

  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @10:28AM (#44600037)

    Your not thinking correctly. You take a minivan or SUV and park it backwards. Lower all the seats flat and spread out.

    you can have people on the ground, etc. you can talk to each other etc.

    the big trick is someplaces limit how high up your tailgate can go so your not blocking other peoples view.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 18, 2013 @10:57AM (#44600223)

    Light output is just one part. The other part is the fact that to play DCP ( delivered content the projector needs to establish secure (encrypted) communications between itself and the server actually playing back the media. I mean, what good is a secure playback system if you can just grab the decrypted content on it's way to the projector? This shit gets really expensive. And scary when it goes awry. Keys get generated so X film can play on Y server connected to Z projector between these hours. After sitting in the projection booth during the (attempted) premiere of a major motion picture, watching the director and a couple of producers trying, and failing, to get ahold of the distribution company to have new keys generated because the keys for the premiere had expired, it makes you laugh

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