Monday, May 20, 2024

Ticket Prices, Who Profits, and Regal’s New Stupid Idea

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People have been predicting the demise of the cinema for almost as long as the cinema has been around. The box office is sagging, ticket prices are soaring, and people are going to the movies less and less. This is not a new problem.

Of course what’s different about the present prognosis is the effects of streaming, V.O.D., and other technological advances are having on the multiplex and ticket prices. The average movie ticket cost in 2016 according to NATO (National Association of Theatre Owners) was roughly $8.65. If you live in a major city though, the price is likely much higher. For example here in Los Angeles, the average ticket price is anywhere from $12 for matinee and $16.50 for peak showings.

At some AMC Theaters, they have $5 Tuesday, if you’re a member of their membership program Stubs. While at Regal they have $8 Tuesdays for everyone, members or not. The point is even theaters have tacitly communicated that they realize ticket prices are a little steep.

To be fair, this is not entirely their fault. Ticket sales work on a profit-sharing scale. The profit sharing is more a sliding scale than an actual model though. Depending on the contracts each theater chain has with the studio, they could get anywhere from fifty percent to as low as thirty percent of the ticket proceeds during the opening weekend.

The longer the movie remains in theaters, the more the scale slides away from the studios. Depending on the contract it could be just after a month, or sometimes ninety days. The longer the movie plays in theaters, then the more profit the theater itself will start to see from ticket sales. The idea behind this was to help theaters hedge their bets on movies that may or may not flop.

But digital came along and added another wrinkle. The death of the cinema may be greatly exaggerated, but the end of celluloid is not. Almost all, if not all, major movie theater chains use digital projectors. They are easier to train people on, require less attention while the movie is playing, and also cuts down on storage space. A file is easier to store than canisters of film reels.

The digital conversion brought a horde of problems the average moviegoer was unaware of but ended up paying for. Take the newest technology of the 1950’s 3D. Who pays for the 3D projector installation? What about films that aren’t made in 3D but are converted to 3D? Funny story, the theaters and studios are still arguing about that.

3D films require an entire different projector entirely. The theaters have to play it because for some reason audiences have demanded it. But they’re not the ones who make the films so arguably they believe they shouldn’t be the ones to pay for it. The studios who make the films reasonably believe that they’ve made the film and their part is done. It’s on the theater to show it, so if they want to, they can pay for it.

Neither side seems willing to budge, and thus you get a nifty three dollar surcharge whenever you want to see a dimly lit cinematic dumpster fire. But again, who gets the profits from that three dollar surcharge? It’s a catch-22 that is probably more responsible for the slow death of 3D than all the rage-fueled critical attacks launched by your favorite movie blogger.

The ins and outs of this debacle could fill an entire article unto itself. The bottom line is…well the bottom line. Theaters are looking for new ways to make money. More importantly, they are looking for ways to get you to spend money on them without giving anything to the studios.

A small company, Movie Pass, has developed an app for your phone that allows you to go to the movies for as low as ten dollars a month. Essentially you pay a monthly fee for a movie a day. This is a brilliant idea that has been hilariously bungled from the very beginning. The notion that either major theater chains or the studios would be okay with this, despite their inability to come to terms on anything as basic as who pays for the damn equipment is beyond pie in the sky. This sounds like one of the wishes Sebastian makes as he goes about rebuilding Fantastica.

To the shock and surprise of no one in August of 2017 AMC threatened legal action against Movie Pass, because of course. Regal Cinemas is taking a different approach though. They’re not okay with Movie Pass and will more than likely laugh in your face if you present it to their box office, but they are willing to experiment.

Regal Cinemas has announced they will switch over to ‘dynamic pricing’ for trial testing at certain theaters in 2018. What this means is the bigger the hit a movie is, the more they will charge for it, the worse it’s doing, the lower the price. Some theaters do this already, especially for giant event movies like Star Wars. They will charge anywhere from three to four dollars more, and then after a while, they will drop it down to normal prices.

What Regal is suggesting is that they will decide ticket costs based on the performance of the box office. What this may look like, Regal has not disclosed. How cheap will box office flops be? Will they be cheaper than the regular ticket prices now? How much more expensive will box office hits be? How will the studios react to all this? Will the opening week be the deciding factors or will it be based on pre-sales?

The only thing we know for sure: we’ll be the ones paying for it.

Times are rough and going to the movies is becoming more and more financially draining. We love Star Wars but do we love it enough to pay twenty-one dollars? Then again if The Snowman was eight dollars would you see it over It which would cost more because it has the temerity to be popular?

Ticket prices could become albatrosses for films. “Did you see the new Naya Rivera movie?” “I thought about it, but then I saw it only cost seven fifty.” I recognize the fallacy both in anyone turning down a chance to see Naya Rivera, no matter the cost, plus the sheer hilarity that anyone would choose NOT to see Naya Rivera.

More importantly, Regal’s new price scheme does something else. It makes the simple universal act of going to the movies an act of class division. You may want to see the new Naya Rivera movie, but if it’s a hit, it may cost too much. But hey, that other movie that nobody liked you can totally afford that.

One of the myths about baseball is that it’s a place where the worker and manager can sit together as equals. With VIP boxes and luxury seats, that myth is dead and buried. But movies by and large do have that appeal. Sure there are some fancy movie theaters that cost more. But the average multiplex is for the laborer, manager, and owner alike.

I don’t know the specifics of Regal’s new plan, but potentially it could create a schism in the classes, and their consumption not just to see popular movies but to have a say as to what is considered popular. The movie theater is one of the last bastions of the true ideal of democracy. Everyone’s money is good, everyone pays roughly the same price for the movie, and everyone is allowed to see the hits and the flops.

Regal’s new plan could potentially put a finger on the scale of popular taste in favor of the upper class. Or I could be totally off base, and it could turn out to work like gangbusters for some reason I am blind to at the moment. Either way, I don’t like it.

I agree ticket prices are out of control and something needs to be done. It’s not an easy fix, so I understand some experimentation is necessary. However treating movies like seating arrangements on airplanes is not one of them. If for no other reason, we all deserve the chance to see Naya Rivera in whatever blockbuster she can give us.


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