The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 25, 2013

VIDEO | Theater suspense: How are local drive-ins faring in the 'Project Drive-In' contest?

— It isn’t the latest action thriller that has Silver Drive-in owner Rick Rosko on the edge of his seat these days.

It’s that two weeks into a contest aimed at saving some of the nation’s drive-ins, Rosko said he has no idea how his Richland Township theater is faring.

“The response in the area has been great,” said Rosko, who has been marketing the contest on Facebook and elsewhere since before it began Aug. 9.

“But I have no idea if we are in the running or not.”

The more than 60-year-old theater is one of about 70 across the country, including Portage Township’s Bar-Ann and the Palace Garden in Indiana, competing for five high-definition digital projectors that Honda Motor Co. will award as part of its Project Drive-in.

Hollywood’s movie makers are planning an industrywide switch to digital-only video by the end of the year.

The deadline and cost to switch are a double whammy for many drive-ins.

It can cost $75,000 or more to switch to digital video and retrofit projector rooms – a sum that’s tough to take on, given that most drive-ins are only open a few months a year.

About 360 drive-ins operated when the year opened. The number has since dropped to about 355, according to drive-ins.com More drive-in operators across the country have signaled that their screens will go dark by year’s end.

Honda’s contest website offers participants a chance to vote for their favorite drive-in, contribute to a fund dedicated to help the nation’s remaining ones or pledge to visit the outdoor theaters this summer. Voters can also use mobile devices and vote by texting for their favorite drive-in.

The campaign could make a difference for many drive-ins, Rosko said.

“What they’re doing is definitely drawing attention to my drive-in,” he said Tuesday.

His Silver Drive-in Facebook page has gotten more than 100,000 hits in the past few weeks, he said.

Those who regularly follow – or “like” – the page have surged from 7,000 to 10,057 since early August, the page shows.

“I’m tickled to see that. It’s increased business, too. We’re seeing more people at night than we had been earlier this summer,” he said.

“I certainly appreciate that,” said Rosko, who hopes to keep his theater going regardless of the contest results. “At the end of the day, when the dust settles, it’s going to be a real positive for us no matter what.”

The contest runs through Sept. 9.

David Hurst covers Richland Township for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @tddavidhurst.

 

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