Nightly News   |  September 01, 2013

The American drive-in fights for survival

Some drive-ins are battling to stay in business as technology threatens to phase them out. NBC’s Randy McIlwain reports.

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>>> on this labor day weekend , marking the unofficial end of summer, we close with a story about an american pastime . there used to be 4,000 drive-in movie theaters in the u.s. now, there are fewer than 400. tonight, nbc's randy mcelwain on how technology plans to phase out one of our cultural icons.

>> reporter: in greenwood, south carolina --

>> hey, welcome to the drive-in tonight.

>> reporter: you pay for a ticket.

>> have a great evening.

>> reporter: but you get an experience.

>> think it's just good family time.

>> this is like true american right here, going to a drive-in movie. being here with the family is something you just don't get to do anywhere else.

>> reporter: drive-ins are still very popular for local communities no shortage of crowd and enthusiasm. what threatens the american drive-in is the conversion to digital, a $70 to $80,000 expense many of them can't afford.

>> this is truly a seasonal business. you make your money, may, june, july, august. after that it's just like turning off the faucet.

>> reporter: owners tommy and carolyn mccutcheon and their son, tom, reopened the auto drive-in in 2009 after it sat dormant for 33 years. these days, making movies no longer means making films.

>> if we don't go digital, you can't stay with film. film is gone. it's dead e it's out of here.

>> reporter: more than 350 drive-ins across the country, the conversion means new projectors. jim copp recently upgraded his projectors.

>> the product is going to be a lot better. the downside of it is that the projectors are very expensive.

>> this is project drive-n.

>> reporter: honda is trying to shine a light on the plight of american drive-ins with a new online contest . the prize, new digital projectors for the winners. for the auto drive-in that could cost upwards of $160,000. feel like you need a miracle?

>> yeah, 'cause a miracle would -- could work. it would work.

>> reporter: bringing new technology into an old tradition, for a second chance on the drive-in's big screen . randy mci will wayne, nbc news, greenwood, south carolina .