Cinema Constraints

The viability of cinemas, is without a doubt, decreasing due to an influx of online streaming, downloading of and increased accessibility to blockbuster movies. In 2014, movie theatre attendance in the US was the lowest it’s been in 20 years (Cowden, 2015).


Source: Cowden, C 2015 

I am definitely not opposed to going to the cinemas but I too have been going less frequently than I have in previous years. I generally tend to save it for days to get out of the house or when I’m really excited to see a new movie. It can’t be ignored that watching a movie in the cinema can be a really good experience, particularly during horror movies when the atmosphere is so intense amongst strangers, or comedy when everyone laughs together, however aspects of comfortability and convenience in home entertainment are overtaking.

This can be illustrated using Hagerstrand’s conceptual framework of time geography. Hagerstrand explains the constraints that affect the timing and movements or decisions made by individuals that ultimately shape their experiences.

  • Capability constraints refers to the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors, taking into consideration a certain trade-off between space and time (Corbett, J 2001). They include needs such as sleep, availability of and access to mobility tools and financial resources (Schonfelder & Axhausen 2010 p.38).
  • Coupling constraints refer to the need to be in one particular place for a given length of time, due to the need to coordinate with institutional logistics (e.g. schedules or given locations) (Schonfelder & Axhausen 2010 p.38).
  • Authority constraints are those controlled by certain people or institutions that set limits on access such as opening times. (Schonfelder & Axhausen 2010 p.39)

When applying this framework to a recent movie experience of my own, it displays my navigational path through the spatial-temporal environment that resulted in my overall (poor) experience (Corbett, J 2001).

I was in Melbourne with my boyfriend for a weekend away and on our final day, Sunday, our flight home wasn’t until 7:15pm. The first authority constraint we faced was the checkout time set at 10am by the hotel, meaning we had to leave the comfort of our room until it was time to leave for the airport. The decision to watch a movie was easy as I was feeling quite sick and we’d already done our fair share of shopping around Melbourne, so due to capability constraints in that I wanted to sit and relax due to health factors, a movie was a convenient way to kill time. There were no capability or coupling constraints in terms of transport as we were in close walking distance from our hotel to the nearest cinema (HOYTS Melbourne Central) that was screening our desired movie, Suicide Squad, at 12:45, giving us time to have lunch and make our way there.

Upon arrival, however, an authority restraint was faced as our movie choice was sold out and we were not sold tickets (even though the board behind the counter said there were spaces left). This forced us to choose a different movie, much to our annoyance as none of the others overly interested either of us. Although again, due to my own capability limitations, we decided to stay as we had nothing better to do. The choice of movie was restricted by the coupling constraint that we needed to leave by around 5 to make it to the airport on time, thus the earlier the movie, the better, resulting in Jason Bourne at 1:15.

General authority rules applied within the cinema, including turning off mobile phones, sitting in allocated seats and silence during the movie. By the time the movie started the cinema was about ¾ full, so we abided to our designated seats which were fairly high but offered a good view. Overall, the cinema experience wasn’t the best due to the movie which I found uninteresting, and capability constraints to enjoy it as I felt ill and distracted the entire time, causing me to leave for the bathroom about 3 times.

This experience reiterates the reasons as to why cinema attendance is declining. On that day especially I would have preferred to stay in the comfort of our hotel room watching a movie without authority, coupling and capability constraints, than paying a ridiculous price to see one I hadn’t planned on seeing. It is becoming a lot more expensive to attend the cinema as the cinema itself is trying to maintain cashflow in times of declining business, but this financial factor in itself is a contributing reason as to why individuals are finding other means of entertainment (Cowden, C 2015). The most popular forms include Netflix, Stan and torrents because they’re cheap, easy and convenient (Lee, J 2015).

If movie cinemas hope to compete in the future, Lee, (2015) suggests they need to start focusing on experience, offering unique ways to add attraction to cinema attendance including emphasis on IMAX, smell-o-vision, kinetic seats and thematic theater designs as they battle competition with 3D smart TV’s, quicker releases of DVDs and online media. The problem that arises here is the expense that consumers will incur to see these potential new attractions, thus, the cinema industry will really need to market these as superior entertainment like nothing else to ensure they attract and maintain movie goers.


Corbett, J 2001, Torseten Hagerstrand, Time Geography, Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science <;

Cowden, C 2015, ‘The Long-Term Movie Attendance Graph is Really, Really, Depressing,’ CinemaBlend, weblog post viewed 26 August 2016, <;

Lee, J 2015, ‘Cinema is Dying: How Movie Theaters Can Ensure Their Survival,’ Make Use Of, weblog post July 16, viewed 26 August 2016 <;

Schonfelder, S & Axhausen, K 2010, Urban, Rhythms and Travel Behaviour, Ashgate Publishing Limited, England

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