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It's show time -- at home Home theater systems and video games may be partly to blame for declining attendance at movies and concerts

University at Buffalo sophomore Dave Silsby frequently chooses home entertainment over movies and live events.

"If it's a really interesting and exciting game, I think kids my age -- especially during the winter -- will spend more time playing than going to the movies or going to a concert," said Silsby, 20.

He is part of a generation that is increasingly turning to home entertainment, and that is worrying some bar and club owners as well as movie theater operators.

Some of the signs include:

* Nationally, movie attendance is down 6 percent over the past year.

* Pop concert attendance has cooled off nearly 4 percent.

* The window of time from a movie's release in the theater to DVD sales, Pay-Per-View and video on demand is continually shrinking.

Film Journal International, an industry trade magazine, calls it "a major cultural shift. . . . Younger audiences are no longer attending the movies in the numbers they did in the past," the magazine said.

"This group is also getting tremendous excitement out of the video games they play and spending enormous time on the Internet."

Predictably, local electronics stores are reporting large increases in sales of items like the Xbox 360 that, with their life-like graphics, are mainly marketed to males in their teens to mid-20s. Also hugely popular are home theater systems and high-definition TVs. "I've seen it coming," Pete Perrone, owner of the indie rock club Mohawk Place, said about the effect of home electronics on nightlife. He cited a strong triple bill at his club on a recent night that drew just 40 people.

"You look at the sales of PlayStations, computer games, DVD sales, of people staying home and watching movies, and it hurts live entertainment," Perrone said.

Ray Waddell, senior editor for touring at Billboard, said pop music tours are feeling the effect.

"There's no doubt technological advances and the boom in home entertainment and things like the Internet and video games has cut into live entertainment attendance.

Rich Lane, general manager of the Best Buy outlet in Amherst, said, "We're finding that with the economy the way it is, and higher expenses on gas and heating, people are spending more time at home. . . . they are spending to invest in home entertainment."

Lane predicted sales of big-screen TVs will "explode" after New Year's Day, in time for the Super Bowl.

That trend, says Elmwood Lounge owner John Gikas, has helped empty his bar on football Sundays. "Everybody stays home, they buy the [big] TVs, they buy six packs of beer, they can smoke at home, so nobody wants to come to the bars."

At Circuit City on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, store director Rory Crowley predicts popularity for home electronics will only increase. "We're probably going to see [their popularity] double over a three- to five-year period," Crowley said.

The mainstream and movie trade press has been much abuzz over the past six months about why attendance is down for movie releases.

Michael Clement, president of the locally based art-film circuit Dipson Theatres, blames the quality of movies offered. While 2002 was a banner year for film attendance, 2005 marks the third consecutive year that the number of movie patrons has dropped.

Clement said expectations are that the recently released "King Kong" and "Chronicles of Narnia" will halt the slide and usher in a strong holiday season for movies. "What concerns theater owners are the number of movies released on an annual basis, the quality of those films and the ever-shrinking window from their release in the theater to DVD sales, pay-per-view and video on demand," Clement said.

That window has shrunk to an average of four months and 10 days.

Robert Iger, chairman of Walt Disney Co., has called for simultaneous release dates that would allow viewers to watch movies in their homes on the same day they land in movie theaters. That view is staunchly opposed by the National Association of Theatre Owners. It warns such a change would ruin the movie theater industry.

Clement said he is confident the movie theater industry will survive the current slump.

Some bar owners -- particularly those catering to mostly noncollege crowds -- say they don't see their businesses affected.

Andy Schaus, a bartender at Mister Goodbar, said the Elmwood Avenue mainstay -- which has two college nights a week -- hasn't noticed any difference.

"No matter how much you play video games, whether it be during the week, during the afternoon or on the weekends, you're still going to go out at night to have fun," Schaus said.

Billboard's Waddell believes the future is still bright for entertainment outside the home.

"There's a certain tribal thing that goes on in an arena where you have all these strangers together with a mutual interest in a band or, for that matter, a sporting event. It's a spirit of community you can't get at home," Waddell said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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