The Surging Popularity of Drive-In Theaters and Entertainment

Drive-in movie theaters first appeared in the 1910s, and by the early 1930s had taken the nation by storm. This new American cultural phenomenon became a place for teens, families, and adults alike to spend a night out of the house. Originally, the concept of drive-in theaters was seen as a solution for fans to watch newly released films comfortably. Rather than stuck in a small narrow theater seat, the audience could comfortably sit in the enormous bench seat common in vehicles of that time. Quickly, teens and families joined in on the drive-in craze after recognizing their unique ability to provide a space for a great cheap date night, or family night out without the fear of their noisy children ruining other movie goer’s experiences.

In the 50s and 60s, with the introduction of the Baby Boomer generation, drive-ins became a staple of American entertainment and leisure, with over 4,000 drive-ins nationwide. The decrease in drive-in participation seen in the 70s and 80s was due to several factors including the unveiling of new slimmer car designs, the increased price of fuel, and the advancements of in-home entertainment options. Inevitably, as the world entered a new generation of consumers, the main allure of the drive-in theater was the feeling of nostalgia. 

Today with the emergence of COVID-19, social distancing, and increased precautions to ensure the public’s health and safety, drive-ins are set to return to relevance in the entertainment and leisure industry. GDX Studios has recognized the inherent benefits of drive-in entertainment as a way to offer experiences for large groups, with the ability to closely control the level of human-to-human interaction. While previously relegated as the final remaining draw, nostalgia will now serve as an added bonus to the experience. GDX Studios has spent the last two months pre-planning the production and execution of drive-in events, and is ready to partner with their clients and other brands to redefine experiences in the time of COVID.

Not Just Movies Anymore

Although attendance at drive-ins has decreased drastically since their peak in popularity in the mid 20th century, the concept of the drive-in experience remains an iconic symbol of American culture. Even those who have never attended a drive-in movie can visualize and understand the experience. With this lasting cultural impact through nostalgia, drive-ins can easily be reinvented, allowing for a second wave of popularity as a place to attend all events, extending beyond watching films. 

More than a century has come and gone since the first drive-in opened its gates, and over that time they have served one purpose: a place to watch movies. But does it need to be limited to just movies? The format of a drive-in movie can be transformed into a number of other events: concerts, livestream shows, comedy acts, product launches, panel discussions, fashion shows, and any other experience you can imagine. We at GDX Studios predict that the return of in-person events can be accelerated by bringing back the proven model of the drive-in theater with the new twist of expanding the types of experiences viewed from the comfort of your own vehicle.

As the nationwide restrictions on gatherings are loosened, consumers anxiously await the day they can reunite with their favorite brands for an experiential activation. By following physical distancing guidelines and implementing advanced cleaning techniques to the established drive-in format, we can confidently reunite consumers and brands in a safe in-person environment. 

An Introduction to the Format

Imagine you and your family, after months without a proper night out of the house, hear that your favorite brand is hosting a drive-in concert near your home. You go online and reserve your spot at the event. After a few days of anticipation, the night of the event arrives. You pack up the car and head and take your place in the line of cars entering the large parking lot where the event is set to take place. Systematically, cars enter the venue and are ushered into the next available parking spot. When you reach the front of the line, your digital registration is scanned, you are instructed to tune your radio to a specific FM station, given a menu of available pre-packaged food and beverage items for sale, and instructed to follow your usher to your spot. The show begins and it is everything you imagined it would be and more. In that moment, nothing matters other than the shared experience between you, your family, your favorite brand, and your community. 

Drive-in experiences, like described above, will lead the charge in revitalizing the event industry by providing safe environments for large social gatherings. Although outside of the home at an event with hundreds of other attendees, people would never be placed in compromising situations that could put them, their family, or other attendees at risk. 

By applying the GDXtra Care Program – a first to market proprietary guidebook in preparing and maintaining clean and safe environments at events – to the preexisting drive-in format, GDX Studios knows that our attendees will feel confident in the environment they are entering when attending one of our drive-in events. Once the reformatted drive-in event proves to be successful, it will induce a domino effect of brands looking to follow the leader to recreate similar experiences. 

Partnership Opportunities and Scalability

In addition to having the ability to transform into an array of event types, the drive-in experience is scalable. It also offers tremendous opportunities for additional brands to partner with the event host. Food and beverage sponsors can provide pre-packaged treats to the crowd, FM radio stations can broadcast the event beyond the physical space, and entertainment brands can release teasers prior to the main feature. The opportunities to add and enhance to the drive-in experience through partnerships are endless. 

Venues will be selected based on the desired scale of the event. A key part of the planning process will be determining the desired attendance and then finding the best venue that represents this vision. If a movie studio intends to host a private viewing for a film premier, we will find a small to mid-sized venue that provides privacy and luxury. If a local business wants to sponsor a drive-in movie theater for a smaller community, the setting will be a cost effective venue that can comfortably hold the size of that community. If a large entertainment brand wants to host a concert, we will partner with an unused sports stadium that can safely manage  a large number of vehicles. The perfect location and amenities exist for any event type and will include detailed plans for entering, navigating within, and exiting the venue.    

Accepting and Embracing the New Normal

As restrictions on social distancing lighten, experiential marketers and brands have been tirelessly brainstorming new ways to safely and uniquely engage with fans and consumers. By re-imagining the established concept of the drive-in theater we have laid the foundation of what a safe, in-person shared experience looks like. Brands and experiential marketers can rest a little easier knowing that this type of event has proven to be successful. It is important to recognize the trends and current climate of the nation, as well as the feelings and emotions of the population. Although this climate is cooling, it should be top of mind when planning an event that attendees are still going to prioritize feeling comfortable and safe. By partnering with GDX Studios and implementing  the GDXtra Care Program in the production and execution of a drive-in event, brands can embrace the new normal, help to revitalize the events industry, and reintroduce the nation to the experiences we have all been missing.

*All Images by Sydney Prather - SD Tribune