Variable Pricing Is Good, but ‘Sightline’ Pricing Is Un-American
Plus: A survival movie assigned!
AMC is quietly killing its effort to charge more for different seats in the same movie theaters, a project they called “sightline pricing.”
The argument for the program—in which the theater chain charged more for seats in the middle of an auditorium with the best sightlines and less for seats in the very front of the theater—is pretty straightforward: you don’t pay the same for a front row ticket at a concert or a courtside seat at a basketball game as you do for a seat in the nosebleeds, so why should you pay the same for a ticket to a movie?
Solid, commonsense argument. Logical. Well-argued. And, indeed, this is how movie theaters in some other countries operate. It never had a shot of succeeding in the United States, not in a million years.
There are several reasons for this, the biggest of them being that—outside of Los Angeles and Manhattan—most showtimes on most movies aren’t exactly packed. The scrupulous will simply sit just outside the upcharge zone. The less scrupulous will pay for a cheaper ticket and move into a more expensive spot. Either way, you’re introducing a variable that may well end up with theater employees being forced to deal with angry audience members fighting over who purchased which seat.
Underlying all of this is a very real, and I think fairly specific, American annoyance: it’s not income inequality that people hate, precisely, but being made aware of such inequalities, having our noses rubbed in it. It’s why people resent the lightning lane users at Disney parks, why they get annoyed by the people in first class luxury seats sipping on champagne as they trudge back to their steerage pens. Movie theaters are one of the great populist equalizers—rich and poor alike joining together to laugh and cry in the anonymizing dark—and forcing people to look at a screen graphically demonstrating that the better off can buy better seats every time they go to the theater as well is, simply, maddening.
Dynamic pricing is smart and good and theaters have done it for nearly as long as theaters have existed: there’s a reason matiness cost less than nighttime showings and why seniors and children are charged less than adults and why IMAX and Dolby and 3D screenings cost more. Discount Tuesdays are a great way to get people in on the slowest moviegoing day of the week. I think we’ll see more efforts like the one Paramount spearheaded for Eighty for Brady, which saw every showing at the major chains get matinee pricing. These are all variable pricing schemes and they’re all efforts to maximize revenue and audience size.
But charging people different prices within a single showing is, I think, a bridge too far. That said, I do like how AMC has responded to this failure: by realizing that sitting in the front row of a movie theater is uncomfortable and trying to do something about it:
“Beginning in late 2023, AMC will begin testing its newest seating concept,” the company said. “Large, comfortable lounge style seating areas will allow guests to lay all the way back and relax. The angle of the seats will also make it more enjoyable to watch movies from these front row seats closest to the screen.”
Great idea! Just don’t expect us to pay more for the privilege.
I hope you checked out last week’s Bulwark Goes to Hollywood with Jake Tapper. I had a great time talking to him about his new book, All the Demons Are Here (buy it now!), and learning which big Hollywood actor was circling the role of Charlie Marder before the strike shut everything down. Give the episode a listen if you haven’t already!
Oppenheimer, which I reviewed here, is basically three straight hours of dudes talking science stuff (and then commie stuff and also some bureaucratic D.C. stuff), and it’s completely riveting. I don’t know if it’ll end up being my number one movie of the year, but it’s certainly on the shortlist.
Also, if you’re going to see Oppenheimer on 70mm IMAX, make sure to get there early. There are no previews, apparently.
This Friday’s Across the Movie Aisle dives into the enduring appeal of Tom Cruise and asks how he managed to overcome the Scientology/personal life meltdown of the mid-2000s.
I had an interesting experience at a showing of Sound of Freedom earlier this week: I literally watched as someone “paid it forward” by buying a ticket for a stranger via a QR code that flashed on the screen at the end of the movie during the credits. I’m incredibly curious to learn what percentage of the ticket sales are “pay it forward” sales and how many were purchased by the actual attendees.
Netflix gained users following their password-sharing crackdown, but also saw lower average revenue per user. So: more individual users buying fewer shared plans, it seems. Interesting.
Assigned Viewing: Dunkirk (Netflix, Max)
Oppenheimer isn’t exactly a sequel to Dunkirk, but they are very much companion pieces in conversation with each other. Dunkirk (which Christopher Nolan describes as a “survival” movie rather than a “war” movie) is about the last days of a fading empire; Oppenheimer about the first days of an emerging hyperpower. The actions portrayed within them helped define the century as it existed and reset the world order. They are both masterpieces.