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Home Cinema: A Nail In The Coffin Of The Talkies?

Aug 7, 2008
Since the Lumiere brothers screened their first cinematograph images in 1895 the world has been involved in a steamy love affair with moving images. It has survived world wars and oppressive regimes, and it has been used for educating and indoctrinating alike. Coinciding with the development of the railways the moving image was always representative of modernity and it is one of the only industries to keep developing its technology constantly through a process of creative problem solving.

It is a unique blend of art and commercialism, with the global industry worth tens of billions worldwide however certain industry professionals still manage to maintain their creative stamp on the films they create within this stringent commercial framework. As the film industry has developed so has many associated industries. As the capture of film became better quality so did the screening processes and it was not long before this was made accessible to the average household.

Starting with 8mm cameras and projection systems home cinema was born in the 1950s and 1960s. This was followed by super 8mm film in the 1970s and then the infamous Laserdiscs and Betamax in the 1980s. These domestic appliances brought the moving images of the cinema into the home and many industry commentators predicted the demise of the cinema or the talkies as they were dubbed post-sound.

Luckily for all home cinema enthusiasts the home cinema industry has developed significantly throughout the last two decades, moving from VHS, super VHS to DVD and pay per view delivering pre-DVD released movies directly into the home at the click of a remote. So how has this affected the film industrys box office takings? The answer is not a great deal.

When scrutinising the British Film Institute figures for cinematic admissions over the last 70 years you can see that in 1946 the attendance peaked with 1,635 million people going to the cinema, however ten years later they had dropped to 1,100.80 million. Then over the next three years the attendances plummeted 581 million, a total decrease of over 1000 million from its peak. When weighing this up against the development of home cinema technology it does not match up.

What it does fit with nicely is the rise of television. BBC 1 first broadcast in 1936 when domestic televisions were not commonplace however by the launch of ITV in 1955 the British economy was recovering and more people had TV sets. Partner this with fact that the majority of the attendances during UK wartime were there to watch news reels which were now being made available through TV then you have a plausible explanation for the drop in cinema attendances.

When examining the more recent cinematic attendances we can see a trough in 1984 at a measly 54 million during the VHS generation of home cinema which was first introduced in 1976. From then on the number of cinema attendances has been on the rise despite massive technological advances in home cinema. Now with DVD, HD, plasma screen and surround sound surely people would have everything they need at home?

The answer is again no. As we see from the Cinema Exhibitors Association, attendances between 2000-2007 have maintained a constant figure of around the 160 million region, a massive increase from the economically turbulent late 80s and early 90s. The fact is that the cinema is so embedded in UK culture and around the globe that it can never be replaced by any affordable home cinema. The psychology of the collective spectator, the confectionary and pure sensory magnitude of the experience will see cinema attendances stretching into the next millennium and beyond.
About the Author
Shaun Parker is a custom designer of home cinema with many years of experience in the home entertainment industry.
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