The following article was published in the June 2007 issue of RePlay Magazine.

© 2007 White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group.

The Death of Entertainment; Welcome to the New Mindset of Leisure Experiences

by Randy White

Modern consumers have drastically changed their thinking about their leisure time -- and about what constitutes entertainment. Meanwhile, much of the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry is stalled in an outdated mindset that keeps it from being competitive today.

As fast as the world changes, it is amazing how slow some consumer-based industries are to change to stay in sync with the competitive landscape and the changing consumer. One of those industries is what is sometimes referred to as location-based entertainment or away-from-home entertainment. This, of course, includes cinemas, theaters, amusement parks, family entertainment centers and other entertainment-oriented venues. Although not a part of the entertainment industry per se, mixed-use projects that incorporate entertainment - such as urban entertainment centers, malls, and many forms of shopping destinations - need to be included in this discussion.

We believe the location-based entertainment (LBE) industry has developed a mindset, a set of assumptions so entrenched that most of its members are not even aware of the influence this mindset has on their thinking. This tendency to fall back on viewing the industry "the way things have always been done" makes it extremely difficult for the industry to break out of its mold and stay competitive.

So exactly what is the main component of this mindset or paradigm? It's the very name by which the industry calls itself and the venues it creates - entertainment. By believing the industry is in the entertainment business, many of these entertainment-type attractions and venues are fast becoming out of sync with modern consumers and undermining the attractions' long-term prospects for success.
Let's take a look at the word "entertainment." What exactly does it mean? We looked at its definition as found in many recognized dictionary sources, and they are all in general agreement. The one we found at Wikipedia was the most comprehensive:

Entertainment is an event, performance, or activity designed to give pleasure to an audience (although, for example, in the case of a computer game the 'audience' may be only one person). The audience may participate in the entertainment passively as in watching opera or actively as in computer games.

By defining itself in such narrow terms, the LBE industry has created a mindset that blinds it to opportunity. Instead of "entertainment," a much more holistic view of the industry would focus on consumers' use of their free time. This shift in mindset would open up the industry to new opportunities to create experiences more in tune with consumers' needs and wants. That could be accomplished by dropping the word entertainment and adopting the word leisure to define both the industry and the venues and attractions it creates.

What is leisure? We will again turn to Wikipedia:

Leisure is one's discretionary time spent in non-compulsory activities, time spent away from cares and toils. Because leisure time is free from compulsory activities such as employment, running a business, household chores, education, day-to-day stress, eating, and sleeping, it is often referred to as 'free time.' The distinction between leisure and compulsory activities is not strict, as compulsory activities may be done for pleasure as well as long-term utility.

The big difference between leisure and entertainment is that leisure is defined in terms of the consumers' time, free time, whereas entertainment is defined more as an activity that is offered to them. While entertainment is generally something that takes place in free time, it is only one possible type of leisure activity, and that is where entertainment misses the opportunity; it is narrow-minded in its view of consumers' pleasurable activities.

So what happens is that by defining themselves as entertainment, many of the attractions and activities the industry creates are far too limited in scope. Entertainment restrains the thinking of what type of free-time experiences the consumer is looking for as well as what can be offered. In a sense the entertainment mindset says, "We are in the entertainment industry, so we have to offer only entertainment options to the consumer."

The problem with the focus on entertainment is that in most cases the consumer is looking for more than just entertainment to entice them to leave their home to visit a destination venue. They are looking for the maximum benefit they can obtain for the expenditure of their free time. In today's world, for middle and higher income consumers, time is their currency. The growth of large-screen high-definition televisions and the DVD and cable industry are examples of how consumers are now able to get a movie entertainment experience in their own homes without the added effort, time and expense required to visit a movie theater. Cinemas are struggling to keep up attendance against the in-home DVD and cable television movie-on-demand competition.

Another issue is that by defining itself only as entertainment, the LBE industry sets itself up to think in terms of competing with other entertainment options rather than competing with all of the consumers' free time or leisure options, both in the home and at location-based leisure venues.

In almost all situations, when consumers are considering leaving their home for a leisure experience that includes some entertainment, they are looking for more than just entertainment. In fact, many times, the entertainment is not the largest part of their equation or the main motivation.  When friends and families go out together, they often are primarily looking for a social experience, an opportunity to talk and be together. The entertainment might only be the excuse to get together. Americans, at least, have a hard time socializing unless they are engaged in some form of activity. Leisure activities are often viewed as opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation, a time away from the chores and stress of life, a break from the routine, not necessarily to be filled with entertainment.

A significant shift is occurring in how middle and higher income consumers throughout the world are looking at many leisure activities. They are shifting from defining themselves based upon what they own to defining themselves based upon the experiences they have in their free time. Things are becoming much less important. Rather than material possessions, friends, personal development (enriching experiences) and time to oneself are moving to the forefront. As such, their choice of leisure activities is becoming increasingly important to them.

Coupled with this is the increased importance of their leisure time. Although, at least in America, the amount of leisure time has actually increased over the past 30 years. Consumers have many more choices, and accordingly want to do more in the free time they have, so their free time becomes more precious to them. They also experience free time in smaller chunks of time, which means that leisure activities must be more deliberately scheduled. Although not really time-starved in a historical sense, consumers today feel time pressured. Time has a much greater value than in the past. For many consumers, their time is more valuable to them than their money. They sure don't want to squander their limited time on an activity that proves a waste not of the money, but of the time they have to invest in it. Today, time is the new currency.

According to University of Colorado at Boulder researcher Leaf Van Boven, we no longer live in a material world, but rather an experiential world. Through a series of surveys and experiments that included more than 12,000 people over several years, Van Boven and fellow researcher Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University found that people from all walks of life were made happier by investing their discretionary income in life experiences rather than in material goods.

Van Boven suggested three possible reasons that "experiential" purchases -- those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience -- make people happier than do material purchases.

  • Experiences are more open to positive reinterpretation, because they tend to be associated more with deeper personal meanings. Whereas possessions are always "out there" and separate from who we are. "For example, if you go on a hiking trip, and the weather is terrible, you might not view it as a pleasurable experience in the here and now," Van Boven said. "Instead, you may view it as a challenge, and over time remember the positive aspects of the experience more than the negative aspects. With material things you can't do this, because they are what they are."
  • Experiences are a more meaningful part of one's identity. "Our culture highly values accomplishing goals and challenging oneself. We strongly value accomplishments," Van Boven said. "Also, experiences tend to be associated more with personal meanings than possessions."
  • Experiences contribute more to social relationships. Van Boven said that experiences are more pleasurable to talk about and they more effectively foster successful social relationships, which are closely associated with happiness. "Experiences foster relationships because you tend to do things with other people, so there is a great social aspect to it," Van Boven said. "Furthermore, we often share stories about experiences because they're more fun to talk about than material possessions. They are simply more entertaining."

Van Boven's research found that a higher percentage of women were happier with experiences than were men and that individuals with higher incomes and more education especially tended to prefer experiential spending. For lower income individuals, material purchases were higher in importance, perhaps because the less discretionary income you have, the more any purchase will improve your quality of life. However, not a single demographic segment reported being happier with their material purchases.
The research authors summed up their findings: "The good life may be better lived by doing things than by having things."

The perceived scarcity of leisure time, desire to do more than available leisure time might allow, and the necessity to plan every minute of our waking days is upping the ante for each leisure decision. Our culture now so values the productive use of time that perceived waste of time is almost considered a sin. A bad movie is no longer a bad movie. It represents a lost opportunity in terms of the enjoyment you could have had during that time. The bar has been raised for the expectation level of leisure experiences.

This leads to a desire to multitask leisure time. Why only invest time in an entertainment activity, if you can combine it with a meal and be socializing with family or friends at the same time?

We are seeing many new forms of location-based leisure that have entertainment combined with other forms of leisure, such a dinner cinemas where you not only see a first-run film, but also have a good meal.  Instead of going to a restaurant before the movie, and then attending the movie, perhaps a total 3+ hour experience, you get to combine both into a 2-hour experience.

The amount of value placed on leisure time in Western cultures is not universal. Europeans have more leisure time than Americans and seem to place a higher value on it, while Americans place a higher value on earning and spending. Americans on average have bigger cars, bigger homes and spend more on material goods than Europeans. In contrast, according to Mauro Guilllen, a Wharton management and sociology professor, "It's a sign of social status in Europe to take a long vacation away from home. Money is not everything in Europe; status is not only conferred by money. Having fun, or being able to have fun, also is a sign of success and a source of social esteem." The French average 7 weeks paid leave a year, the Germans 8, while Americans are lucky to have 4 weeks and often don't use it all.

Compared to the European average, Americans take only 55% as much vacation and holiday time.
Christian Schneider, manager of the multinational research advisor group at Wharton Center for Human Resources, says that European managers often use all their vacation time, whereas that is not true in America. "There's a tendency to really relax in Europe, to disengage from work," says Schneider. "When an American family does take a few days of vacation per year, they are most likely to be in constant contact with the office."

Regardless of the differences among Western cultures, high standards of living have shifted the focus of the quest for a meaningful life to leisure experiences. People no longer ask, "What did I buy this weekend?" but rather ask, "What did I do this weekend?" Today, the majority of middle and higher income consumers have largely exhausted the things they need to purchase and are focusing instead on what they want to buy — experiences that will make their lives happier, richer and more rewarding.

Money is no longer the route to owning things, but rather to having experiences with their leisure time. This is the new paradigm, the experiential paradigm that is replacing the old consumption paradigm.

Although some forms of location-based entertainment will continue to endure, such as plays, concerts and performances, other forms will need to evolve into experiential leisure experiences. Entertainment will need to stop being the focus and rather become part of a much larger leisure experiential equation.

We are seeing this trend already with many venues that are combining dining with entertainment to offer a far richer and more meaningful leisure experience.  When dining is added, you not only offer the consumers a multi-tasked leisure experience, but also a rich social experience. The success of fast evolving eatertainment concepts is proof of this. For the young adult market, it started with Dave & Buster's many years ago and now has evolved into other dining and entertainment combinations such as ESPN Zone and the new GameWorks Sports Bar & Grill and bowling lounges such as Lucky Strike, Pin-up Bowl and even Noland Busnell's new uWink Bistro.

With younger children, Chuck E. Cheese's, with its food and games, continues to be a successful model. New eatertainment concepts that target younger children and their parents have evolved, including the children's edutainment centers and at-home mom play cafés our company has been producing for clients. And when it comes to families, eatertainment concepts are fast displacing the traditional entertainment-focused family entertainment center (FEC) formula. Pizza and games concepts such as Peter Piper Pizza and Shakey's Pizza continue to grow in popularity. Perhaps the hottest new family leisure concept is the family pizza buffet-entertainment center. Sales per square foot are double, triple or more of the traditional family entertainment center. John's Incredible Pizza in California and Gatti-towns were early pioneers. Other brands continue to appear throughout the country, including American's Incredible Pizza and IT'Z, as well as the more upscale StoneFire Pizza Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that our company recently designed and produced.

It is interesting that consumers don't classify their leisure time the way industries that supply leisure experiences pigeonhole them into categories such as entertainment. Consumers think in terms of, "Let's go someplace where we can have a good time" or "Let's find a place where we can meet our friends." Consumers think in more holistic terms of what leisure means to them.
Even for dining, consumers don't classify it the way the restaurant industry does with descriptions like fast food, fast casual, white tablecloth, etc. A major study by the Coca-Cola Company in 2005 found that consumers' decision-making process is more complex than simply deciding between full-service and quick-service options. Rather, it found that consumers group restaurants into five categories that the study named:

  • Home Comfort
  • Entertain 'n Unwind
  • Breads Abound
  • Pizza and
  • Quick Service

Those five categories are then divided into 18 subgroups that further define each restaurant's identity in the consumer's mind. For example, Entertain n' Unwind is subdivided into Themed, Fun First, Food 'n Fun, Mexican Grill, Social Comfort and Food Focus.

In addition to categorizing foodservice options, the study identified that consumers make restaurant choices based upon three major types of occasions (experiences)—quick, social or family — which in turn breakdown into 16 distinctive separate types of occasions. Some of those subcategories are: Adult Night Out, Dine & Linger Duo, Dining Solo, Impulse Fuel to Go, Just for Kids, Morning Meal and Mature Date.

As the Coca-Cola study shows, when it come to visiting a restaurant, consumers look at it in terms of the many types of leisure experiences it can represent to them. They do not view it simply as going out to eat, any more than consumers view visiting "entertainment" venues as simply going out for entertainment. Consumers understand their leisure experiences in completely different terms than the way they are viewed by industries that try to create destination experiences.

To succeed in the future, many types of traditional style entertainment destination venues will need to redefine their vocabulary and remake themselves as leisure experience destinations. At the same time, new forms of leisure venues will be emerging to meet the needs of contemporary consumers.


Randy White is the CEO of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group with offices in Kansas City, Missouri and Doha, Qatar.  The company specializes in the design and production of family and children’s leisure venues and has worked for over 370 clients worldwide over the past 18 years.  Randy can be reached at via e-mail or via the company’s website  The company publishes a bi-monthly Leisure eNewsletter that can be subscribed to on their website