The future of the cinema experience
Image by Alexandre Chassignon on Flickr

While the cinema has historically been a social and ecstatic experience, streaming services have created a new ‘lone spectator’ experience. A trip to the movies has also become interchangeable with visiting a sports match or playing videogames. To retain its edge, theaters create luxurious experiences, provide live entertainment, or try to bring the appealing elements of streaming services to the cinema.


  • Generally, global box office takings continue to rise steadily, but in mature markets such as the U.S. and Canada, numbers are falling. Furthermore, after years of explosive growth in China, revenue was essentially flat in 2016, which significantly brought down global box office numbers.
  • Netflix’ chief content officer notes that watching a movie online is like seeing a sports game on TV rather than being at the stadium. His views are reflected in Netflix’ home-grown content, which is entertaining or informative, rather than cinematic.
  • The ‘Attention Economy’ dictates that all forms of entertainment continuously compete with each other. Moreover, people can absorb TV as background noise, while their real attention is directed towards their smartphone.
  • The Hyper Experience Economy allows immersive experiences like IMAX and VR to trigger altered states of consciousness. New technologies enable cinemas to make sound and picture even more ecstatic.
  • Movie theaters increasingly focus on enhancing the cinema experience. AMC is converting half of its 600+ theaters to be dine-in. Luxury theaters have helped AMC increase attendance by 80%. Half of the 340 Cinemark theaters feature enhanced food options.
  • Vue Cinemas is teaming up with Ourscreen, a platform that lets people vote for a movie to be screened.



The cinema, as old as film itself, is constantly evolving. Movie theaters have served as social venues for over a century, and the sense of awe that triggers an altered state has been a defining feature of the cinema experience. In one of the first screenings ever, the audience reportedly panicked as an approaching train appeared on screen. The cinema will also keep evolving in decades ahead. For instance, cinema history shows that new forms of audience engagement spawn new genres and content. The rise of the drive-in cinema culture in the 1950s created the teen-movie genre, as the car had liberated teenagers from their parents’ homes.


The rise of streaming services drives movie theaters to focus on enhancing the cinema experience, similar to how e-commerce drives physical retail to focus on improving the shopping experience. Hence, cinemas increasingly create an experience that cannot be digitally replicated, just like high-end retailers do. For instance, luxury theaters, with comfortable seats and waiter service, create a full dinner and movie experience. In addition, similar to the music industry, streaming services drive cinemas to focus on live entertainment: film screenings augmented by live performances have achieved significant box office success. These events also fit a certain type of movie, namely movies with little dialogue, similar to how drive-in culture fit the teen-movie. Moreover, we can distinguish between the cinema experience and the lone spectator experience of streaming services, that both fit certain content. Indeed, Netflix focuses on informative documentaries for the lone spectator, whereas the cinema is better suited to epic adventures, action-packed thrillers, and comedy. However, the cinema essentially competes for consumers’ attention with all forms of entertainment.

To retain its competitive edge in the Attention Economy, cinemas enhance experiences, create new exhibitions and bring the appealing elements of streaming to the theater. Luxury theaters, dining options, crowdsourced movie suggestions and altered states enhance the cinema experience. Besides live performances, VR provides a new exhibition for the cinema experience, which will also fit a certain type of content (like horror). Whereas some directors aim to stream movies on the same day of their release in theaters, this will lack the social, ecstatic and luxury elements of the cinema experience, especially in the face of smaller homes. Meanwhile, cinemas can bring the appealing elements of the streaming experience to the theater, for instance by creating digital platforms with archived content that people can vote on.