Operators of Older Movie Houses Must Battle Newcomers

By Parrish, Tory N | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 26, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Operators of Older Movie Houses Must Battle Newcomers

Parrish, Tory N, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Lisa and Tony Brown gave rave reviews to the movie they saw on a recent Sunday afternoon.

"It was excellent, a 10," Lisa Brown said of "Jumping the Broom." She and her husband had just been to Rave Pittsburgh North in McCandless, formerly Showcase Cinemas North.

The couple said they usually go to the Rave because it is convenient, but Lisa Brown said she wasn't sure whether they would continue to do so once a 12-screen Cinemark theater with stadium seating opens in the McCandless Crossing complex in fall 2012.

"Well, we'll have to see when it opens," she said.

McCandless officials and local movie-theater representatives say a new theater doesn't have to mean the death knell for the Rave, even though the building in which it is located and the 33.85 acres around it are for sale for $9 million.

But the 32-year-old freestanding theater is riding the ever- turning wheel of movie-theater competition. It is among older facilities that must vie with new, state-of-the-art venues for patrons.

Julia Kovacs, new general manager of the Rave, said she is determined to market her theater's customer service. "As with any new business, there's going to be competition, but I would like to think that we're going to be able to retain the customers that we do have," she said.

Some movie-theater companies have pursued strength in numbers with mergers, acquisitions and closings. Those factors, combined with a tough economy and competition from consumer spending on movies via smart phones, video on demand and DVD rentals, contributed to reducing the number of U.S. movie theaters by 23 percent since 2002, to 4,014, reports Santa Monica, Calif.-based market research firm IBISWorld Inc.

Among other things, those factors have contributed locally to:

Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures LLC, owner of Rave Pittsburgh North, closing the 32-year-old Showcase Cinemas West in April 2010, citing competition from a 16-screen, stadium-seating Cinemark theater in Settlers Ridge, a retail, dining and hotel development in Robinson that opened in 2009.

In 2004, Dedham, Mass.-based National Amusements Inc. closing Showcase Cinemas East in Wilkins, which opened as a high-grossing facility in 1976, but was unable to compete with newer theaters, such as Destinta Theatres in North Versailles and what is now known as AMC Loews Waterfront 22 in Homestead. The AMC theater is itself an example of movie theater trends. It opened as the Loews Waterfront in 2000, but the AMC name was added after Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp. of New York merged with AMC Entertainment Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., in 2006. AMC is the second-largest theater chain in the country.

National Amusements closing the Northway Mall 8 multiplex on McKnight Road in Ross, which opened in the early 1980s, in January 2007, attributing the move to the expiration of its lease and a decision by the landlord for the Shoppes at Northway to develop more retail space.

The closing of megaplex Loews 20 North Versailles, only 17 months after opening in November 1999.

There are now 43 movie theaters in the Pittsburgh area, compared with 51 in 1998, reports IBISWorld.

Finding a niche

Mergers and closings have created large chains that can more readily afford to invest in state-of-the-art theaters outfitted with amenities that consumers expect, such as stadium seating, digital projection and 3D screens. In addition, food options are expanding beyond popcorn and pretzels.

"We're starting to see a new trend in restaurant and bar service. It's still a small segment of the market, but it's starting to grow," said Patrick Corcoran, director of media relations and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners, a Washington- based trade organization.

The top four movie companies account for nearly half the movie screens in the United States, according to the organization.

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