Will Drive-In Movies Survive Latest Tech?


Since our readers are often split between varying time constraints in which to consider monumental problems, here is a relatively easy one to ponder. Will the drive-in movie industry of yore survive the latest technology?

The problem? It costs some $70,000 to convert from a traditional film projector to today’s digital projectors. Drive-in theaters will soon only be able to operate on the new digital projection system.

This year is the 80th anniversary since a guy named Richard Hollingshead secured a patent for a “novel construction outdoor theater whereby the transportation facilities to and from the theater are made to constitute an element of the seating.” The first such movie theater opened in New Jersey, and some old-timers might even remember the outdoor version of movies like Grease. There were 4,063 drive-ins operating in 1958. Today, the estimated total remaining is fewer than 360!

It is rather certain that not every drive-in will successfully make the switch to installing the new projectors. Many drive-ins are just too small to turn a decent profit after such a capital investment. And historically, banks have been reticent in lending to this ever-shrinking industry, despite the fact that it very often ranks among the top 10 theaters in box office sales for a given movie.

Some drive-in operators are trying to build an upscale concession menu, including wine and beer, etc. to jazz up their venue. One entrepreneur is even seeking to stage live concerts that could be simulcast to other digitally equipped drive-ins. Perhaps old-fashioned American ingenuity will come to the rescue and solve the conundrum.

I still remember my good old days in the rumble seat, and even relaxing on top of the car, at night, to watch a movie. Yes, they were fun times!