Drive-Ins & Digital Transformation


Drive-Ins & Digital Transformation

Too often, people think of digital transformation as a challenge only “big” businesses need to face. In reality; nothing could be farther from the truth. Recently, I had an eye-opening conversation that reinforced the fact that digital transformation is a threat and opportunity to nearly every business large and small and in nearly every industry.

At a recent conference, I had the pleasure of meeting a board member of UDITOA, better known as the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. This organization serves the over 300+ drive-in movie theatres that remain in the United States. Once more popular that brick and mortar theatres, U.S. drive-ins numbered over 5,000 locations in the 1950’s and served as a primary weekend hotspot for social engagement. Many of those drive-ins closed some years ago as real estate prices provided a lucrative exit for an aging population of drive-in owners.

For those drive-in theatres that remained, a mandatory transformation of projectors from tape to digital forced every drive-in owner to pony up $100k per projector to comply with the industry wide shift to a more modern distribution and delivery platform. For many drive-ins, the high equipment cost, coupled with declining customer interest, forced many more owners to throw in the towel.

Today, the drive-ins that remain do so under the controlled guidance of their owners. One UDITOA board member, Carolyn McCuthcheon, proudly runs The 25 Drive In  in Greenwood, South Carolina with her husband. Their business relies almost entirely on food and beverage sales, as the majority of ticket sale revenue goes directly back to the movie studios.

McCuthcheon, who purchased and renovated the once abandoned drive-in, re-opened the facility in 2009 and now attracts customers from up to an hour and a half away. Her customers can enjoy a selection of up to six movies on three double-sided screens every weekend.

In speaking with McCuthcheon, I could sense another digital transformation pressure that she was currently facing. In a media world that has changed and transformed extensively in the last fifteen years, her biggest challenge is to create awareness and engage new audiences to visit and experience their business (and apparently amazing cheeseburgers). McCuthcheon has developed a simple and standard website, but more impressive are her over 30,000 facebook fans that the page has attracted. This is where the business does most of their customer updates and communications.

After reviewing about 100 of the UDITOA member websites, it became obvious that these small and delicate businesses have had two major digital transformations to deal with. The first was the expensive transformation of tape to digital equipment. The second is the continuing need to leverage digital communication channels to attract and engage new audiences to visit these iconic entertainment locations that represent a nostalgic part of American history.

Peter Bowman is a digital strategist, growth consultant, and entrepreneur with twenty-five years of proven experience helping organizations and business owners succeed through digital transformation. Call him 904-295-6196 at to discuss your digital transformation status, needs or to learn more about having him help create Digital Transformation Plan for your organization.