Berkeley’s last independent cinema on why ads matter

Elmwood Rialto Cinemas: the last remaining independent movie theater in Berkeley. Photo: Keoki Seu

Yesterday we ran a story about the closure of Oaks Theatre on Solano Avenue. The cinema’s failure to thrive prompted an interesting discussion among our readers on the difficulties of running a successful independent movie theater.

Among the subjects under consideration was the need for advertising. Reader Larry said he was a fan of local theaters, but that he felt “thwarted” having to watch ads before the screening of films. “This is insulting, taking advantage of my being a captive in my seat at that point to make a few cents more selling my eyeballs to Louis Vuitton and the like. Between a chain that treats me with respect (as a paying customer there strictly to see movies), or an independent who sells me out as a target for advertising, I choose the chain,” he wrote.

Ky Boyd, the proprietor of Rialto Cinemas Elmwood and Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, the first of which is Berkeley’s only remaining independent cinema, responded. We felt it was worth hoisting his words from the comments as they explain the position our rapidly disappearing, locally operated cinemas are in. Here’s what Ky had to say:

Larry – we’d love to not have to show advertising, but the reality of the movie business today is high film cost, high labor cost, rent, insurance, etc., etc., etc. Without the ads the Elmwood wouldn’t be in business. It is interesting you mention the Louis Vuitton spot. That was made specifically for theaters and designed to look like a movie trailer. I think it annoys you because you were drawn into it expecting it to be a preview and then it turned out to be an ad. Like all good advertising it served its purpose. It got your attention and you remembered it, albeit not positively. And by the way, did you notice the ads here in Berkeleyside? We don’t run a 20 minute ad & promo package like AMC, Regal and Cinemark/Century do and we run less advertising than Landmark. If we did not run the ads, tickets would not be a few cents more as you imply, they would be dollars more. It is also worth pointing out that we don’t charge $7.00+ for a large popcorn, which is what most of our competitors are getting. Hope this bit of explanation helps you understand a bit more about the exhibition business. See you at the movies.

Interested in issues surrounding running a business in Berkeley? Be sure to attend Berkeleyside’s first Local Business Forum on Monday January 24, 7-9pm at the Freight & Salvage. Doors open at 6.30 and it’s free.