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Cinema evolution
State’s filmgoing experiences continue to expand

03/31/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 How do you do the movies? In a comfy reclining chair? At a table eating a full meal? While wearing 3-D glasses?

You can buy a ticket to experience anything short of smellovision here in southern New Hampshire, where movie theaters are offering uncommon cinematic experiences to lure in new customers and keep their regular customers happy. And the options are only expanding.
 
Redefining cinemas
Long one of the most unique movie chains in the area, Chunky’s Cinema Pub recently announced it will be moving into the old Lowe’s Home Improvement space on Huse Road in Manchester. It already has locations in Nashua and Pelham and another in Haverhill, Massachusetts. 
Chunky’s CEO Al Coburn says offering food and beverage table service during a movie has helped position the business to better compete against other more traditional cinemas.
“Everybody wants to differentiate themselves a little,” Coburn said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, so this isn’t new to us. We’ve always offered dinner and a movie together with table service so most of the things we’re doing haven’t really changed. … For most of these others, they’re experimenting with other ideas trying to bring customers in.”
Lately, local cinemas have tried to compete by redefining their business model, something Coburn says is a pattern that can be seen across the country.
One example in recent years is the vibrating, rocking-and-swaying system called D-Box seating at the O’Neil’s cinema in Epping and the former O’Neil’s location in Londonderry, now under new ownership.
Regal Cinemas in Hooksett has transformed itself — twice — in the years following the arrival of the massive Cinemagic movieplex in Hooksett. It boasts IMAX, 3-D and digital projectors. Regal clung to business by changing the movies it offers to second-run films that most other cinemas had stopped showing and lowered its ticket prices from the market rate to about $3. This appealed to the budget-conscious and those who might have been too busy to catch that Seth Rogen comedy when it first came out.
Last year, Regal in Hooksett reinvented itself again. Ticket prices went back up (a little over the market rate) and first-run movies were back in the lineup, but this time the old creaky seats were replaced with high-end luxury recliners and assigned seating. 
 
Bedford bidding
The luxury movie-going experience might be catching on. 
As developers seek to build up the multi-use space where the Macy’s in Bedford was recently torn down, cinema companies are vying to provide what’s proposed to be a high-end theater on the second floor of a nice restaurant. 
Mike Nelson, the vice president of Encore Realty, which owns the land, says that since the initial news came out about their plans to have a cinema move into the development, it’s become something of a bidding war.
Initially, Nelson told the Hippo back in September that they were in talks with iPic and Mexico-based Cinemex. Since then, they’ve received active interest from Regal, Cinemagic and O’Neil Cinemas. And since Cinemagic’s parent company Zyacorp is based in Bedford and O’Neil’s is also a New Hampshire-based company, Nelson says they are taking those offers very seriously. As a matter of policy, Encore (which is based in Texas) often prefers to work with local companies for their developments across the country, according to Nelson. 
 
Other changes
O’Neil’s currently runs a single cinema in Epping after selling its Londonderry cinema to Carmike Cinemas in 2014. The entire Carmike chain, in turn, brokered a deal to be bought out by AMC for about $1.1 billion. AMC is the second-largest cinema chain after Regal. Carmike is the fourth-largest.
For Coburn, cinemas have always adapted to the times.
“It used to be, maybe 40 years ago, 50 years ago, there used to be a cinema downtown that would run maybe one or two theaters. … And that migrated into multiplexes that would have five or six different movies and then they went to huge multiplexes that played 15 to 20 and had stadium seating. Then we went from that to doing digital projection and high-grade sound to also offering drinks and food and everything else,” Coburn said.
But he says they aren’t doing this because business is bad. On the contrary, Coburn says, cinemas have been seeing growth in their sales over the past few years. 





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