Movie theaters are becoming an endangered species in the entertainment world.
Just this past January Regal Cinemas, the second-largest chain of movie theaters in the U.S., announced that it would close 39 locations after its parent company Cineworld filed for bankruptcy in September, according to legal filings obtained by Variety.
Tickets for concerts, baseball games and Broadway plays are now priced with dizzying complexity, with costs in some instances changing minute by minute, based on demand.
Movie theaters, on the other hand are in financial freefall and are not benefiting from the new pricing schemes. A seat has cost the same no matter where it is or when it is bought. But this is about to change.
Movie theater chains were already in trouble before the onset of Covid-19, thanks in large part to the expansion of streaming services. The pandemic only precipitated what was already a dire financial situation.
As they struggle in a fast-changing business, multiplex operators — some carrying astounding debt because of pandemic shutdowns — have now started to experiment with pricing in ways that have startled moviegoers. AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest cinema chain, is testing “sightline” pricing, giving seats at evening screenings different costs depending on their location. (Discounts of $1 to $2 for the neck-craning front row, increases of $1 to $2 for the center middle, status quo for the rest.) Chains have also started to charge more on opening weekends for expected blockbusters like “The Batman” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” with plans to ramp up the practice.
“It’s a taste of what’s coming,” said Stacy Spikes, who co-founded the subscription ticketing service MoviePass, which he plans to reintroduce nationwide this summer. “The big theater chains are gaining the technology to implement variable pricing on a wide scale. This may have near-term financial benefits, but it may also reduce attendance of younger customers who are more price sensitive and key to future growth.”
Increasingly, theaters have been pushing customers toward premium-priced specialty tickets. On Saturday evening at AMC Lincoln Square in New York, for instance, patrons interested in the boxing drama “Creed III” could choose from three IMAX screenings (a $7 to $11 surcharge, depending on seat location), three screenings with Dolby audio and visual technology and reclining chairs ($8 to $12 more), and two standard screenings ($18 for a regular adult ticket).
The reactions to such changes have been mixed. “I’m going to go, no matter what, because I love it, but sorting through all the options is starting to feel like a nuisance,” said Chris Ordal, a tech executive in Los Angeles. “I understand why chains are doing this, but they’re not doing a good job of communicating how it helps the consumer.”
On the upside, you may be paying less if your tastes are not in synch with the mainstream. Prices may actually be going down for certain types of movies — ones that have struggled to attract ticket buyers in the streaming age, including comedies, conventional dramas and art films.
Last month, theaters lowered opening-weekend prices for the octogenarian comedy “80 for Brady” to attract value-sensitive older customers. Tickets for evening screenings cost the same as a matinee, a discount of up to 30 percent, depending on the location. Some theaters offered the same deal for “A Man Called Otto,” starring Tom Hanks.
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