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The futuristic movie theater: A BaltTech perspective

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I will admit to knowing little about the inner workings of the movie industry, from Hollywood to film distribution to the big screen complexes and smaller screen venues, such as Baltimore's much-loved Senator Theater.

But I think I know what I want as a movie-goer.

As I drove by the Senator last weekend, I noticed that it was closed for renovations. The new owners are planning three screens instead of just one, and a restaurant. That sounds nice. I can't wait to see what they do with the place.

I know nothing about the Senator's plans to use technology. But I started wondering: How can movie theaters be truly revolutionary? So I began dreaming about how I would trick out a movie theater if I ran it and could bend Hollywood, distributors and the viewing public to my will. Here's what I came up with:

1. Make the 21st century digital theater almost completely automated and networked -- so you can have almost no labor costs. I'm talking everything from ticket sales at the door, to secure entry, to concession stand, to ticket validation once you sit in your movie seat. Why do you need a couple workers selling tickets, a couple more accepting tickets, and a couple more selling you popcorn? (No offense to these workers, but technology is indeed disruptive in this way.) Make the entire process of navigating your way inside the theater digital and smartphone-friendly. It's easier for a movie theater to operate 24/7 if it's purely digital and automated, from controlled entry to viewing.

2. Make the movie selection experience social. If you've got three screens and a dozen new movies to choose from, let your theater-goers vote on the movies they wish to watch ... at every single screening opportunity. Why limit it to just three movies at one movie theater location?  This would require easier distribution of new releases to theaters, and many are talking about satellite distribution to theaters. If our cable can be on-demand, why not  our new movie releases on the big-screen?

3. Allow theater-goers to choose and vote on old releases to watch on the big screen. Why can't I organize a 2 a.m. viewing of Braveheart with me and my closest 400 Facebook friends? Many people would love to watch their favorite old movies on the big screen, even if it's at odd hours. I think part of the problem with theaters is that they're these capital-intensive structures, with regular operation costs, but they're only being used, at most, half the day. They're busy on Friday-Saturday-Sunday, but largely empty during the week and during the daytime.

4. Send new movie to smartphone. For every theater-goer who buys a ticket and watches a movie in my new, futuristic theater, they will also have access to the movie -- yes, the entire movie -- on their mobile devices for 24 hours. Watch it, share the trailer, share a coupon with your friends to go see the movie at your local theater. Continue the experience, even after you leave the theater.

5. Why can't we organize people to watch whatever we want to watch on the big screen? Whether it's a gathering to watch cat videos on Youtube, or a big football match... Why not?

Let people watch what they want to watch on the big screen in the off-hours. Let us organize our own viewing parties. Theaters can just provide the big screen, huge sound system, plush seating, and a seamless, idiot-proof on-the-ground experience using the latest tech.

This is my movie theater fantasy (and it's PG!) How would you revolutionize movie theaters?

[And if you want to read someone else's ideas for future movie theaters, check out this blog.]

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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