4D movie theaters to stimulate dwindling 3D market

Bobby and Barbara gear up for a 3D movie at the Thanksgiving Point Megaplex Theaters. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)
Bobby and Barbara gear up for a 3D movie at the Thanksgiving Point Megaplex Theaters. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)

The first 4D theater in Utah recently opened, which incorporates vibrating chairs, mists, wind, scents and other synchronized sensations combined with a 3D screen.

According to recent market research done by Guitammer, 3D movie ticket sales have been steadily declining over the past few years. Based off a survey given to moviegoers between December 2013 and February 2014, the solution for theaters is to take 3D movies and turn them into a 4D experience.

“People like spectacle, and this adds to the spectacle,” said BYU professor Kelly Loosli, from the media arts production department. “There is a lot of current interest, but I’m not sure how long that sort of thing will work.”

Loosli said he believes a 4D trend might eventually follow in the path of the 3D market by showing popularity at first but eventually falling into a decline.

“3D movies, or what we call stereo vision, are kind of gimmicky to begin with,” Loosli said. “So adding more gimmick to it may just play in the same way — die out over time.”

Some Utah theaters are testing the waters with 4D movies by adding moving chairs but have yet to incorporate extra elements that appeal to other senses.

Thanksgiving Point Megaplex Theaters spokesperson Hudson Marshall said with the lack of enthusiasm over its moving chairs, the theater isn’t likely to create any complete 4D theaters any time soon.

“I think the 4D experience is going to be too expensive for people to really catch on,” Marshall said. “I’m sure that it might be a future possibility, with the technology advancing so quickly, but for now I think it is just too costly.”

While adding new chairs might be a quick solution, an entire 4D theater would be a difficult and expensive investment.

“There is a lot that goes into the software for the screen,” Marshall said. “And the seats themselves are very hard to maintain. Adding hardware that would allow for blowing air, water and smells and then programing it to coordinate with each movie would cost quite a bit; and people just don’t want to pay the extra money for their tickets.”

Although there are doubts about the benefits of 4D theaters, the survey conducted by Guitammer showed that 4D movies would generate more customers, revenue and loyalty among moviegoers at a relatively small expense. These results were based off questions about the amount customers would be willing to pay, the extra distance they claim they’d drive and their overall opinion of a theater company that offered it.

Putting this theory to the test is Draper’s Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, which recently opened Utah’s first and only 4D theater. Access to these 4D movies about marine life is granted with customers’ purchase of an aquarium day pass, priced at $20 for adults and $15 for kids; an admission ticket to only the movie is $4 for all ages.

“I think people are absolutely going to love it,” said aquarium spokesperson Suzy Broadbent. “The 4D theater is something they have not experienced, or if they have, it’s probably been in a place like Disneyland. So it will be fun for them to get that opportunity here in Utah.”

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