No Place Like Home

Amy and Greg Husfeld love movies, so it’s a nice perk to live about 10 minutes from a multiplex cinema with stadium seating and an IMAX screen.

But the Husfelds are among the growing number of American moviegoers who prefer watching films at home. Fans of home-theater system- which generally involve big-screen televisions, high-fidelity speakers and a DVD player – say the practicality and convenience of the format appeals to them.

Amy Husfeld said if they took their 5- and 8-year-old children for a movie at the Mall of Georgia Regal Cinemas, the family might spend $50. She would rather rent or buy a DVD instead, saving the hassle of driving from her Hamilton Mill home, fighting traffic or dealing with long theater lines.

“I bet we watch 50 movies at home to every one we go see at the theater,” she said.

The glitz and glamour of Hollywood stars still shine, but the appeal of going to the theater is losing its luster. A recent AP-AOL poll found three-fourths of Americans would prefer to watch a movie at home, helping send the industry into its deepest slump in decades.

Hollywood has numerous problems to worry about, including the quality of its films of late, industry analysts say.

But the rise of home theaters is among the biggest challenges to movie box office receipts. It’s one reason the movie industry is shifting to a home-entertainment model, especially given that more than half of its profits are coming from DVD sales, said Jeff Greenfield, executive vice president of the entertainment consulting firm 1st Approach.

It once took at least a year or longer for a major film to make it to DVD, but it now takes about three months, Greenfield said. More films also are going directly from the studio to DVD.

Meanwhile consumers are embracing home theater systems, which average about $8,000 to $12,000 for components, including plasma televisions, speakers and sub woofer- all to reproduce the sight and sound quality in the multiplex cinema.

Rudy Pardue, president of Gwinnett TV in Lilburn, said home theater technology has been around for more than a decade, but business really soared starting in the late ’90s. Pardue said he’s seen a nearly 100 percent increase in home theater sales since then.

Pardue said the high costs of going to the movies is one reason his customers buy home cinema systems.
Tickets for movies after 6 p.m. in Gwinnett usually cost at least $8 at the big theater chains like Regal and AMC. Average U.S. ticket prices stand at $6.21, or more than a dollar higher than five years ago, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.

But prices for new releases on DVD can range from $8 to $15. Manufacturers also are making “home theaters in a box,” that can cost less than $400.

Analysts such as Greenfield also see another reason home cinema is taking off. People don’t like going to the theater the way they once did, he said. Concessions are not only costly but unhealthy. Favorites like Junior Mints have been eliminated in some theaters. And the big cinemas feel more like an impersonal giant chain.

“Theater going is simply not the great experience it used to be, and it’s a big problem the industry is going to have to fix,” Greenfield said.