Recently, AMC Theatres announced they will be changing the way they price movie tickets. Under their new model, AMC will divide up an auditorium’s seats into “Standard Sightline,” “Value Sightline” and “Preferred Sightline” tiers. The most common seats in the theater will be denoted as “standard” and the price will remain the same. A “Value” seat indicates the undesirable front row and will be sold at a lower price. And then the “Preferred” seating will be the highest price with the best vantage point.
But is this really a wise business model? AMC’s CMO Eliot Hamlisch framed the change as a way to bring movie theaters in line with other entertainment venues. He said, “While every seat at AMC delivers an amazing moviegoing experience, we know there are some moviegoers who prioritize their specific seat and others who prioritize value moviegoing.”
This tactic is clearly a strategy to bring audiences back to the cinema. There is no doubt movie theaters have suffered over the past few years. Certainly, the lockdowns during Covid did not help this industry. But they’ve had growing competition for years from streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Furthermore, the industry has not offered anything new in over a decade. Reclining seats, Dolby Digital sound, IMAX and food service were all advancements in the industry at the time but are now the norm. I don’t see seat pricing tiers driving moviegoers back to the theater. Then what will? Theaters need to offer a different experience to stay relevant. Here are some suggestions:
Private Screening Rooms
The reason people like watching movies from home is because it’s an intimate setting where they feel more comfortable. So, give them that. Offer private screenings on a regular basis. Imagine sitting in a movie theater with just your friends and/or family. No strangers talking on their phones. No worries about who is sitting next to you. In fact, you can spread out! The theater is yours to sit where you want. The theater could even hand over some basic controls such as pause and rewind. This type of screening takes the at-home experience and brings it to the cinema.
Some theaters will play seasonal favorites such as Elf or A Christmas Story during the holidays. But most theaters only play new releases. If theaters widened their library of available content, they could draw in new audiences. A perfect example is when the Star Wars trilogy was re-released in 1997. It gave an entire generation raised on cropped VHS versions of Star Wars an opportunity to see their favorite movie on the big screen. This 20-year-old trilogy dominated the market, bringing in $35 million just in its debut weekend. Theaters could bring in audiences by playing on movie nostalgia, as well as expose newer generations to some classic films. Who wouldn’t want to see Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws on the big screen?!
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UK theaters such as Cineworld and Odeon have started exploring gaming parties. People rent out a theater for a period of time and can play video games on the big screen. Imagine the difference of playing video games with your friends on a huge screen that included premier surround sound. It’s a unique experience that gamers would pay to be a part of. Even better if you give them a catalog of games that includes older games on retro consoles. Cinemas could be a place to access much-missed video games again.
Many amusement parks have built theaters with kinetic seats. These seats move, vibrate, spin or tilt depending on what’s happening on screen. What if movie theaters incorporated this element? Or implemented other sensory immersive experiences such as scent, moisture, or temperature. A 3D visual experience is a good start, but what if you tap into the other senses as well? Can you imagine how different an action sequence or car chase would feel if your seat moved accordingly and you could feel the rush of wind on your face? Now you are not just watching a movie, you are experiencing it.
Ticket cost tends to be the biggest barrier to cinema attendance. Instead of implementing a pricing tier, move to a subscription model and eliminate those pricing concerns. For a monthly fee, audiences can have unlimited viewing each month at their favorite theater. This is a win-win for the theater and the moviegoer. With a competitive but fair price, audiences will feel the more often they go, the more of a bargain they will get. Movie theaters will get a guaranteed revenue stream every month, regardless of the quality of movies at any given time. With a subscription pricing model, theaters could give the big streaming services a run for their money.
Going to the cinema is an important part of our culture and pastime. There is nothing like sitting in a dark auditorium with others watching a movie on the big screen. But movie theaters are in trouble. The traditional concept of the movie theater is dying. And in order to survive, they need to adapt. Is a tiered pricing structure the answer? Probably not. The fundamental experience of going to the cinema has got to change. Theaters will need to get a lot more creative in their offerings if they want to stick around for years to come.