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AMC’s New Movie Pass Program & 4 Other Ways Theaters Are Trying to Rejuvenate Attendance

Posted on the 23 December 2014 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Do you remember The Majestic? It’s that Jim Carrey movie made by a post-Green Mile, pre-Walking Dead Frank Darabont. It was actually Darabont’s first film not adapted from a Stephen King story, trading out the prison tales of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile for a Capra-esque 1950s tale of an amnesia-stricken Hollywood screenwriter (Jim Carrey) washing up to shore in a small town where he’s mistaken for a long lost WWII hero. The title refers to the town’s run-down movie theater managed by Martin Landau, and at one point he delivers a wistful speech about a pre-TV world in which films were a communal experience which everyone engaged in, feeling privileged to watch gods of cinema like Keaton, Lloyd, Garbo, Gable, Lombard, Stewart, and Cagney. The films themselves were good, but seeing them together as a community made them great. So, who the hell was TV to come along, and tie all of us to a silly little box in our living room!

Well, those “boxes in the living room” are now attached to our wrists, forever in our pockets via smart phones, never too far out-of-reach via tablets, etc.  If TV once almost killed film mobile entertainment is now killing both film and TV.  How we even define what constitutes TV is ever-shifting, with actress Gillian Jacobs recently having to cut herself off in an Entertainment Weekly interview in which she was about to refer to her now-revived Community as a TV show (which is what it used to be on NBC), quickly realizing it would be more accurately called “content” now (which is what it will be for online streaming entity Yahoo Screen). Even video game companies are getting into the “content” business now, Xbox with its much-delayed Halo series and Sony Playstation with its adaptation of the Powers comic book series.

Powers Promo Pic

Dang you, Sony!

That must sting a little for both film and TV because video games are killing them right now. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry, including computer, console, and mobile games as well as video game systems, cracked $20 billion ($20.77) in U.S. sales in 2012. Compare that to the film industry which just set a record last year in annual domestic box office, $10.92 billion. Keep in mind that when we say “domestic box office” we mean the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and Guam meaning it’s not even an exact comparison since at the very least those U.S. video game sales don’t include Canada, which is the third leading video game industry in the world.

Of course, a deeper dive into the data reveals troubling trends. On the video game side of things, the actual sales of console (Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo) games have been tanking, going from $9.9 billion in 2010 to just $6.1 billion in 2013. On the film side, revenue has managed to make incremental progress in the past couple of years mostly due to rising ticket prices. Actual film attendance is down, with 1.24 billion tickets expected to be sold in 2014, down from the 1.34 billion in 2013 and 1.36 billion in 2012. Fewer people are going to the movies the same way fewer people are actually buying Playstation and Xbox games, with the real growth actually coming from online content and mobile gaming.  So, if you make video games you start diverting more of your resources toward the mobile market, and if you make film and TV content you adapt to a world increasingly speaking the language of on-demand and Netflix.

Where does that leave movie theaters, though? Attendance is down, and while that was masked in annual revenue the past couple of years the same won’t be said for 2014, which will end up as the worst year for movies since 2011. Movie theaters make their real money from concession sales – there’s a reason their popcorn is so overpriced! However, if fewer people are showing up that means fewer boxes of candy and oversized cups of Coke being sold which ultimately means fewer movie theaters, with the number of theaters in the United States declining every year since 2009. To be fair, part of that has nothing to do with attendance and everything to do with inability to afford the transition from film to digital projection. Plus, while there are fewer theaters there are actually more movie screens, over 39,000 in the country, than ever before. However, for the past couple of years there have been fewer and fewer people enjoying those 39,000 movie screens.

Some theaters are trying to be proactive about this.  Here are a couple of the ways they’re trying to rejuvenate movie attendance:

1. AMC Movie Pass


MoviePass has been around, at least in concept, for a couple of years now, most commonly described as “Netflix for Movie Theaters.” They sell you a monthly subscription in exchange for unlimited theatrical screenings, but for that to work you kind of need the movie theaters to cooperate. That hasn’t really happened, but AMC Theaters, the second leading theater chain in North America, is now willing to at least give it a try. Beginning in January, they are partnering with MoviePass to beta-test the concept in Boston and Denver. The monthly subscription packages will be tiered at $45, including normal films as well as Imax and 3-D, and $35 for all non-Imax and 3-D screenings.   The idea is clearly that if you pay the monthly fee you will be inclined to see more to get the most out of your money. At the current average ticket price of $8.12, the lower tiered MoviePass is the equivalent of 4 individual ticket purchases, but you could see as many as you wanted. You might be screwed if you had this MoviePass for a down month for new movies, like January, which is, of course, exactly when they have decided to test this out. However, that’s probably the only way they could get the studios to agree to it. I’d personally kill to have this kind of option at my local theater over the summer and throughout November and December, but I run a movie blog. Of course I see a ton of movies every year! The average American only sees 5 movies in theaters a year, with 18-36-year-olds being on the high end (6.3 movies a year) and those in the senior circuit (68+) on the low end (3.8 movies a year). You have to wonder if there are truly enough statistical outliers like me to turn AMC Movie Pass into a success? It’s worth finding out, though. From a box office tracking standpoint, I do wonder how these passes would count toward each individual film’s box office and number of tickets sold.

2. Loyalty Programs

Kroger (Dillons), Kohls, and many, many, many others have those loyalty programs where the more you buy the more discounts you receive. Well, many movie theaters do the same thing, sometimes as simple as a Subway-like punch card “See 10 movies, see 1 free” kind of thing. AMC currently offers a slightly more involved program called AMC Stubs whereby for a yearly fee of $12 you get $10 back on every $100 spent on tickets and concessions. You also get free size upgrades on concession purchases, and get to waive online transaction fees for sites like Fandango. However, less than 20% of AMC attendees participate in AMC Stubs.

3. Discount Movie Days

During this year’s CinemaCon, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) announced plans to pursue a “nationally adhered to discount ticket night.” Many regional theaters have been doing that kind of thing for years, offering either discounted movie tickets or buy one, get one free types of deals on specifically designated dates, always some traditionally slower weeknight. The problem is that studios don’t usually let the theaters offer these discounts on newer movies, and some studios (like Sony or WB) won’t allow it on any of their movies. It’s not clear how or if NATO will address that since without more buy-in from the studios the only way for theaters to offer this kind of thing without exception would be to take a loss on that film’s box office while still giving the studios their normal half of the pie. They would hope to make up for that at the concession stand assuming the promotion did in fact spur increased attendance. However, the real idea here is to take this regional idea and take it national and probably give it a big marketing push, although the first phrase that comes to my mind (“Cheap Movie Night!”) is probably not they’d be using in commercials. There are some complications, though. While NATO could agree upon a specific “discount ticket night” they could not agree upon a specific price for all theaters because that would constitute price-fixing, which is illegal. However, maybe they can at least agree upon the level of discount to be offered. At last check, NATO was planning on testing this out in an unidentified state, and naysayers were pointing out that this promotion could simply attract the budget-conscious riff-raff who would be more prone to rude behavior and thus create a crappy moviegoing experience for everyone.

Suck it, poor people!  We don’t want the crappy demeanor inherent to your low economic standing to ruin our theaters!  I kid, I kid, but, seriously, there is actually some validity to this argument.  Without fail, the worst audiences I’ve ever encountered while attending movies happened at the one theater in town which offered heavy discounts to teenagers, college students, and senior citizens (I went there because I was a college student, and that discount kicked ass).  Of course, if you make it a point among your staff to curb rude behavior you can deal with that.

4. Theater Exclusivity

North America’s four biggest theater chains – Regal, AMC, Cinemark, and Carmike – recently struck a deal with (according to Vulture) “an independent company to book and distribute up to ten exclusive movies a year. Though this arrangement likely only pertains to mid-level releases (The Avengers 2, for example, will still follow the customary pattern), it means, in effect, that the theater chains will be sidestepping the studios altogether, acquiring and playing movies on their own. Such a process will not only grant theaters additional say over distribution, but it may also lead to exclusive theatrical runs for many mid-tier movies — thus keep them away from VOD for longer stretches.”

5. Tugg

If social media can be used to mobilize social uprisings in historically oppressive countries why can’t it be used to turn normal people into hyper-localized film bookers? That’s sort of the idea behind the Austin-based Tugg, which gives the power to the filmmaker or fan to champion an under-the-radar-film by booking it at a participating theater (including Regal, AMC, Cinemark, and Rave), advertising the screening through social media, and even selling tickets. As Vulture put it, Tugg’s “most shrewd future may be one that involves catering not only to the widest possible audience with giant tentpole releases, but also to cinephiles eager to support indies, documentaries, and other rare and hard-to-find movies that otherwise wouldn’t make it to the big screen. In an era of instant gratification, it’s a power-to-the-people movement that just might help revolutionize the distribution industry by getting moviegoers back into theater seats.”

Ultimately, though, movie theaters can only do so much.  They can explore ways to get people back into theaters or keep younger audiences from ever leaving, devote resources to limit rude behavior from moviegoers, but they can’t really control whether or not the movies coming out are ones people want to see. That’s all on Hollywood, and there are those who would look at the recent slide in attendance as being no big deal.  Of course attendance would be down since 2012. That was the year of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises! Nothing which has been released since then has come remotely close to the $623 million Avengers made from the domestic box office alone, not Frozen, Catching Fire, or even Iron Man 3. 2014’s biggest film, Guardians of the Galaxy ($3332m), made just a little over half of that. 2014 was simply a down year for content, and 2015 will be much, much better, bringing us Fast & Furious, Avengers, Terminator, Jurassic Park, Divergent, Maze Runner, and Mission Impossible sequels along with the new Star Wars (!!!), a new comic book franchise (Ant-Man) and a re-booted one (Fantastic Four), and a new Pixar (Inside Out) movie, just to name a few of the year’s big films.

However, you’d rather not simply wait for business to hopefully rebound when a better set of movies come along, especially since audiences may yet turn on sequels, reboots, and comic book movies.  Some theaters are starting to think outside the box, and some of their ideas are kind of awesome, others more wait-and-see.  I’d personally love to sign up for Movie Pass right now.  What about you?  Are there any awesome local promotions with the theaters in your neck of the woods?  Let me know in the comments.

Sources: Collider, FilmSchoolRejects, Vulture

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