Cost of technology threatens drive-in theaters

The price of new technology is forcing some drive-in theaters out of business.
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Just when you thought it couldn't get more expensive to see a movie, there's something new driving up prices and causing some drive-ins left, to go out of business.

The reason has everything to do with the technology that allows movies to be put on something as small as a CD.

It's a summer tradition.

"It's bringing back memories from when I was a little kid," said Julie Merriman-Altman of her Friday night visit to the drive-in.

Watching a movie, underneath the stars on the silver screen.

"I can't remember the last time I was at a drive-in,' Merriman-Altman added.

At Tibbs Drive-In on the city's west side, the only drive-in in town can pack in 1,600 cars a night for movies on four screens.

"You can spend the whole evening with your friends. You can sit in lawn chairs and be outside and enjoy the fresh air," said Tibbs' owner Ed Quilling, who's owned the drive-in for the past 18 years.

At one point, there were 18 drive-ins in Indianapolis, according to Quilling. Now, Tibbs is the only game in town.

"In the 80s, the multiplexes, something new, something fresh, different approach, hurt the drive-ins," explained Quilling.

These days, drive-ins across the country, including Tibbs, are facing another challenge - the push to go digital when studios stop distributing movies on 35-millimeter film.

By next March, Tibbs will have traded in big film rolls for movies that come on CDs.

"Technology has changed the industry," said Quilling. "You can just put the CD in, ingest it and punch in the codes and that's it."

That's not it, though. The new equipment will cost the Tibbs Drive-In almost $300,000 - a cost the owners hope to help pay for by raising ticket prices, probably by a dollar.

"We're lucky that the people in the area are supporting us, so that's how we're going to help pay for it," said Quilling.

After all, the show must go on.

The switch to digital will happen next spring here at Tibbs, before the start of the 2014 season. The higher ticket prices would kick in next April when the season begins.