Drive-ins fighting to survive switch to digital – Columbus Dispatch

DAYTON — The drive-in movie business in the Dayton area is not dead. In fact, owners of the
Dixie Drive-In said they are thriving.

Times have become difficult for drive-in theaters since they were forced to go to expensive
digital projectors if they wanted to run first-run movies.

Three Dayton drive-in theaters, all owned by Chakeres Theatres, chose not to open this summer
because of the large expense — digital projectors range in price from $100,000 to $150,000.

The iconic grassy gravel lots, once fields of everlasting nostalgia for community members, will
be empty at Melody Cruise-In in Springfield, the Skyborn Cruise-In in Fairborn and the Wilmington
Drive-In this summer.

Chakeres Theatres did not intend to close these locations for the summer, according to general
manager Mark Booth, but they were forced to do so because of the hardships associated with the
digital revolution that has occurred in the film industry over the past three to four years. As
35-millimeter film reels have been pushed aside for digital film, drive-ins across the country
simply have not be able to afford the transition.

Chakeres converted its Melody 49 theater in Clayton to digital, a switch that cost over
$150,000, and it is open this summer.

“We did not want to do all four drive-ins at the same time,” Booth said.

Dixie Drive-In has been in operation continuously since 1957. Since switching to digital two
years ago, Dixie’s attendance has risen and its revenue has grown more than 30 percent, said Greg
Dove, president of Levin Service Company, which owns the outdoor theater. He would not give
specific revenue numbers.

“Three or four years ago, the film industry announced that they were going to be heading to all
digital and that they were going to be eliminating all film,” Dove said. “At the first notice of
this, we began discussing how we were going to move forward, and we began our research in switching
over to digital.”

The change has been fruitful for Dixie Drive-In.

“It was quite an investment for us,” said Lisa Edwards, marketing director. “Especially when you
consider that a lot of these drive-ins used to be mom-and-pop, local things.”

There are many benefits that come with going digital, Dove said. Dixie gets first-run movies,
which draws customers who want to see the newest flicks at a low price. It costs just $8 per ticket
for viewers 13 years or older, and $2 for those younger.

“If you didn’t go digital, you were going to have less choice to offer your customers,” Dove
said.

The picture is also sharper, and the audio, which is broadcast through a radio frequency at
Dixie so that listeners can listen in their car, rather than through outdoor speakers, is clearer
as well in the digital format.

“With the 35-mm films, we’d have to put them on these giant platters, then there’d be multiple
reels, and we’d have to splice all of those together to make one single movie. That would all have
to be broken down and sent back, and you needed a professional to do that,” Dove said.

“Now, it’s programmed, and the manager of the drive-in goes in and he can put any trailers in
between any of the movies that he wants to. There’s a tremendous amount of flexibility, and it’s
incredibly easy to operate on a day-to-day basis.”

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