, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 31, 2013

Digital decision

Theater owners evaluating end to 35 mm film

AMESBURY — For over two decades, residents have flocked to the Stage Two Cinema Pub in downtown Amesbury for a different kind of cinema experience.

Every night from Tuesday through Sunday, patrons fill the single-screen movie theater to catch the weekly feature. The theater offers a full pub menu and a robust selection of beer, wine and cocktails served right to the customer’s seat, and naturally there are also the usual movie theater staples like popcorn, soda and candy as well.

Stage Two’s atmosphere and affordability sets it apart from the larger movie theaters that dominate the landscape today, but it faces a unique challenge as industry trends and technological changes place a larger economic burden on small, independent theaters across the country.

Within the next 18 months, large film distributors will cease production of 35 mm film and switch over to sophisticated disc technology. In essence, the ubiquitous movie theater film reel and projector will soon become a thing of the past, and theaters will have to upgrade to a new, digital projector in order to stay in business.

That’s going to be a huge investment for independent theaters, which are already fighting off increased competition from large theaters, Netflix and bigger, higher quality home televisions. Each new projector is expected to cost roughly $75,000, and a price tag like that has caused many theaters to contemplate their future, Stage Two among them.

“We’re in the process of evaluating our current model,” said Brian Turbity, whose wife, Donna, runs the theater.

The Turbitys are keenly aware of the challenges that small theaters like Stage Two face. Even if they do invest in a new projector, competitors like Netflix aren’t going to go away, and Brian Turbity noted that even though movie revenue has gone up in the past decade, the number of people actually going to the theater has declined.

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