Like an aging film star, the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol has recently undergone a notable facelift to keep up with demands of a fickle audience.
The nips and tucks are evident from the new entrance area with subtle Art Deco undertones to the old movie reels used as sculptures. There are two new bar areas with craft beer and wine and a menu that features items such as bruschetta with Genoa salami, stone-ground mustard aioli and fresh chive.
“We are trying to do more than burgers and fries,” said Ky Boyd, the proprietor of the nine-screen theater since May 2012. “We had a lot of people say, ‘I have never had wine or Prosecco with popcorn and it’s really good.’”
With the 11-month makeover complete, Boyd said he wants to increase attendance by 15 to 20 percent, even after a banner 2015 driven by hits such as “Jurassic World,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and the highest grossing movie ever in U.S. cinemas, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
In a local industry with 10 commercial complexes in the county, business can be as competitive as a Hollywood casting call. If you don’t keep up with the latest amenities, you could find yourself as the latest box-office bomb. Other theaters will undergo renovations this year, some that could total as high as $3 million.
“Amenities make the desire for coming back again,” said Milt Moritz, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Theater Owners of California/Nevada. “Once you have a taste of something you like and enjoy, you will buy it again.”
No matter the upgrades, theater owners interviewed stressed the main driver in their business is content: Good films translate to good revenue. And 2015 was a very good year.
Ticket sales in the United States and Canada totaled a record $11.1 billion in 2015, a 7.5-percent increase from the previous year, according to comScore, a national research group that tracks box office data.
“The summer was awesome,” said Ryan Hecht, owner of the four-screen Clover Theater in Cloverdale. “Then finishing up with ‘Star Wars’ was pretty great.”
Boyd agreed and noted that his theater had about 150,000 patrons for the year, up from 138,000 in 2013.
That marked a turnaround from a mostly thumbs-down 2014, when the combined U.S. and Canada box office totaled $10.4 billion, down 5 percent from 2013, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Admissions (1.27 billion) and the average number of tickets sold per customer (3.7) both dropped 6 percent in 2014 from the previous year.
Movie theaters typically have a sliding-scale arrangement with the film studios on revenue splitting. During the first week of release, the studio will keep a much higher percentage of revenue, usually 70 percent, according to one estimate, and it gradually drops over time. Incentives can also be placed into contracts for some releases — big-budget movies known as “tent poles.” For example, The Walt Disney Co. had such leverage when it released the “Star Wars” film this winter.
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore, estimated a movie theater may keep about 50 percent of its overall ticket sales for a year.