A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Rural Blog: Many rural movie houses
may close due to costs of digital transition

By Ivy Brashear
Special to KyForward

The film industry announced last year that it would no longer make film copies of its movies, and would only provide digital versions, forcing theaters across the U.S. to retire their 35mm projectors and go digital. That switch is not cheap, since digital projectors cost tens of thousands of dollars, and some small theaters would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the conversion.

(Photo from Pixabay.com)

Most big theaters have already made the switch, but experts estimate that 20 percent of all theaters in the U.S., most of them small, independently owned and in rural areas, will be forced to close because operators can’t afford the changes, Emily Pace of WSPA-TV in North Carolina reports. Some communities, especially those with not-for-profit theaters, are raising money to help them switch. One of those is Capital Cinemas in Princeton, Ky., owned by Heidi Boyd.

In Webster, S.D., The Webster Theatre “was closed for seven years” but Judy Galikowski reopened it “with generous support from the community,” reports Heidi Marttila-Losure of Dakotafire Media, quoting her from the 2008 documentary Small Town Silver Screen: “Ever since we opened, I could be walking down the street and someone would stop and greet me and say, ‘We are so thankful that you opened the theater. It has made a big difference in our community. Keep it open. We want this.” Dakotafire concludes, in its report on similar theaters in the eastern Dakotas, “Whether that will be possible in the near future is still in question.” (Read more)

Sixty movie theaters on military bases will close because the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which operates on-base movie theaters can’t afford to convert. Sixty other military-base theaters will make the conversion, but it’s not cost-effective to convert less-used theaters, The Associated Press reports. Spokesman Judd Anstey told AP that the 60 theaters slated for closure would be at bases where people went to off-base theaters more. Base theaters are limited to showing second-run movies. Their ticket prices are lower, and so is with attendance; Anstey said base theaters have been hurt by streaming services and DVD rental kiosks. (Read more)

Ivy Brashear writes for The Rural Blog, where this story first appeared. The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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