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Some Savannah movie theaters close as film industry changes

December 30, 2018

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Savannah has seen three local movie theaters close in recent months, decreasing the number of big screens in the city by more than 20.

Box office numbers are down nationwide, The Savannah Morning News reported . A report produced by the Motion Picture Association of America found that numbers at the box office in the U.S. and Canada decreased 2 percent in 2017 — to $11.1 billion — compared to 2016.

In Savannah, lawyer Charles “Bo” Bowen helped found the Savannah Film Alliance, a local industry group.

“First of all, what you have in Savannah, particularly with the ones that closed, are older, less technologically advanced theaters, unlike the more recent ones that have opened in Pooler and the ones that have really put in the money to upgrade,” Bowen said.

Bowen and others point to several local contributing factors as well as nationwide trends for the closures. According to the 2017 Theme Report, produced by the Motion Picture Association of America, numbers at the box office in the U.S. and Canada decreased 2 percent in 2017, to $11.1 billion, compared to 2016.

“I think the poor conditions and poor customer service are more a symptom of income being down, so they were forced to be short staffed because of the decline in demand moreso than being the cause of the decline in demand,” Bowen said.

Jim Reed, who founded the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah, said there is often no accountability from the corporations that own the theaters, which can result in poor customer service and lack of proper management.

“Most of the movie theaters in this area have been run for decades as they are in other cities. They pay minimum wage and tend to hire, even the managers, fresh out of high school or still in high school. The corporations that own these theaters aren’t monitoring or overseeing what’s going on,” Reed said.

Both Bowen and Reed also point to the shrinking theatrical window and the growing number of online video subscriptions and home theaters as a contributing factor.

According to the MPAA report, online video subscriptions increased to 157 million across the U.S. in 2017, a 21 percent increase over 2016.

“Obviously, this is the age of endless media streaming right to your house and that’s one thing that’s causing the decline of traditional theater, and on top of that, you’ve got the technology behind home theaters advancing by leaps and bounds,” Bowen said.

“People can now have huge screens and amazing surround sound systems that can compete with any older technology found in movie theaters and don’t want to deal with dirty theaters with sticky floors and people talking and playing on their phone and being overcharged for admission and concessions.”

The Savannah theaters that closed this year were the Frank Theatres; the CineGrand; and the Regal Savannah Stadium 10 behind the Savannah Mall.

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Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

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