Could We Crowd-Source Cinemas?

I was talking last night about how much of our home media consumption is time-shifted. We pretty much only watch shows that I’ve downloaded or recorded on the PVR. I only listen to radio via a few podcasts. I discover music on my own schedule, as opposed to MTV or the radio.

I started thinking, then, about how we could time-shift media we enjoy outside the home. I wondered if the digital distribution of movies to movie theatres meant that they could display the movies when I wanted, instead of according to their schedule?

Couldn’t they open up their schedule to voting? For example, what if I had twenty people from my office who wanted to attend a summer blockbuster at 4:00pm, but the movie is scheduled to run at 3:00pm and 5:30pm. Couldn’t we, hypothetically, visit the cinema’s website and vote to change the movie schedule for that day?

Once digital distribution is commonplace, a cinema should run entirely like any other shop at the mall. It has no requirement for a skilled and scheduled projectionist, so the movie schedule could change daily based on the whims of its patrons.

And seeing as we’re changing movie start times, why can’t we vote on which movies the cinema runs? The real answer is that the producers, distributors and cinemas have this farcically baroque system for scheduling movies and dividing up box office revenue. That could change, though. Just as MP3s, Napster and iTunes has tranformed the music distribution channel, technology shifts could change the way movie sales work.

A vote-for-upcoming-movies model would reduce the amount of guesswork that cinemas have to undertake when scheduling movies. Combined with the crowd’s ability to adjust the schedule, these changes might, in theory, increase the average attendance per showing.

Surely some independent cinemas have tried this model. Have you heard of any?


  1. A blockbuster movie would be playing at multiple cinemas, so if one cinema isn’t playing your movie at the time you like, another one probably is.

  2. A fine idea – if people actually showed up (which they don’t, by and large) – and you could prevent script kiddies from competing cinemas from goosing your portal (which they will).


  3. The audience does currently vote in a way (at least from the perspective of the distributors) with their dollars on the weekend a film gets released – the opening weekend. That first weekend is CRUCIAL. I don’t know about start times, but if you want more independents at your local theatre, go see ALL the independents on OPENING WEEKEND with ALL your friends. Then they’ll pull more movies in like those.

    That’s a great “how-stuff-works” article by the way!

  4. If only something like this would work!

    I wonder how many customers theatres lose on opening weekends because they don’t have enough theatres for the popular movie…

  5. Interesting thought. But I feel consumer determination works really well when the mode of delivery is distributed. While it’s true that there is no need for specialised projectionists, a cinema hall (the seats more specifically) is not distributed, but centralised.

    It’s one thing if a whole group from one office choose to attend at a certain time. But if you’re talking about a 200-seater or say 500-seater cinema hall, the sample size may be too less to really come to a conclusive decision. Of course, I am assuming the average group size is 4members or even less.

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