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August 6, 2006

The Drive-In Theater and the Experience Economy

When I was on my way home from the aforementioned yard sale yesterday, my wife and I discussed where we could go to relax after having to get up before the sun for the past two days to get everything together for the yard zombies. We thought we might go to the drive-in theater.

Here in Ohio County, we have one of the few drive-in screens still around in this area, which is even more rare for a small town. The Tri-City Drive-In plays two first-run movies each week, along with occasional "Dusk-to-Dawn" features a few times a year. The drive-in runs every night through the summer and then on weekends through the fall before shutting down during the winter months.

But the drive-in is just the type of business that could flourish once again under an experience economy. For instance, last week we were sitting around the office talking about the drive-in. Just as there are certain films that must be experienced in a movie theater with a huge screen and people all around you, there are also types of film that are best as drive-in features.

We were talking about how certain films--like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or films low in artistic quality but targeted toward a specific fan base like Freddy vs. Jason--are only good when consumed in a communal environment with other fans. The only time I've ever seen Rocky Horror was renting it and watching it on my VCR with my wife, and it was horrendous...not the optimal viewing experience.

In the drive-in, you don't have the picture and sound quality that you would with a theater or a home theater system. You also don't have the communal environment that you have in a theater but also lack the privacy of the home. That's why the drive-in does best when it features films that appeal to a few key groups: families with children who enjoy the environment of the drive-in; friends who want to go see a good comedy that doesn't require technical precision or an amazing theatrical experience; and, most importantly, date movies.

When I was a kid, I remember the excitement of loading in the back of a pick-up truck and going to a drive-in (These days, I think you can get pulled over for that, but we always wanted to believe that we could hide in the truck bed and avoid having to pay.). Then, when I was in high school and dating Amanda, the drive-in was a regular destination as well, but it didn't particularly matter the film--it was the dating experience that made the drive-in popular. (And it appeared to also help popularize tented windows among teens in the area).

This weekend, Tony Frizzell and the folks at the Tri-City Drive-In seemed to find the perfect combination for the drive-in--the new Will Farrell film Talladega Nights served as the major attraction, with Monster House as the opener. I've never seen U.S. 231 here backed up like that for the drive-in, and the sky hadn't even started getting dark when the place appeared to be completely full.

We decided to wait until another day to take our visit to the drive-in. But I think that there is something to be capitalized on here and undoubtedly something that has been to a degree. However, I think a well-promoted and revamped drive-in operation could really start drawing in people from all around the area if the experience aspect was stepped up, particularly as a throwback to 1950s culture and the former popularity of the drive-in theater.


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Tracked on August 25, 2006 12:10 AM

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