Local drive-ins face extinction with digital age

HAMILTON, OH (FOX19) - The survival of drive-in theaters is being threatened as movie studios abandon film, forcing drive-in theater owners to buy more expensive digital equipment.

Ohio is 2nd in the country with 29 of the 357 drive-ins still in existence. Some owners are deciding not to stay current with new technology putting their businesses in jeopardy.

The Holiday Auto Theatre in Hamilton packs in hundreds of cars on an average weekend night.

Owner Todd Chancey says that's due, in part, to their new digital technology, but it hasn't been cheap.

"It's pricey," explains Chancey. "With the install and everything it's upwards of $80 thousand."

Chancey had the new equipment installed just last week, but he says the decision to spend that kind of money didn't come easily.

"When we first heard the news, we had owned the drive-in about four years. [When we heard] that we were going to have to go away from film and go digital, we were very concerned where we were going to come up with the finances for it because we're a very small drive in."

The Holiday Auto Theatre did pull the money together to buy a state of the art Blu-ray projection system.

Chancey says they didn't have much choice. "This is something you have to do. If you don't convert to digital you're not going to be able to show first run films which is, you know, the meat of your business and you're eventually probably have to close."

The digital revolution is putting the industry's future in jeopardy.

"I've heard, through sources that up to 20-percent of drive-ins could possibly close minimally across the country because of this expense," said Chancey.

Chancey says drive-ins that can handle expense are discovering that investing in digital equipment has its advantages.

"We like to play a lot of old movies and it became difficult locating some old films such as 'ET' or a classic horror film like 'The Shining' on 35mm film or 'American Graffiti' because they just don't exist anymore. Now, with this conversion, we've got a Blu-ray player and we can play these movies and have these theme movie nights that we've always wanted to have so it's a big plus for us."

Many drive-in theaters have closed.  At one time there were more than 4,000 drive-ins across the nation. By the late 1980's, more than three-quarters of them had closed.

Copyright 2013 WXIX. All rights reserved.