AMC Will Charge More for Its Best Seats. Younger Americans Are on Board
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Going to the movies in America could soon come at a premium — if you want the best seats in the house.
In February, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. launched the “Sightline” initiative, which adjusts the cost of a movie ticket based on the location of the seat in the theater, similar to pricing for concerts and sporting events. Seats in the front row will cost a bit less, while seats in the middle-center sections will cost more. First seen in New York, Chicago and Kansas City, Sightline is expected to roll out to all U.S. locations by the end of the year.
“It’s an attempt to fill up the theaters a little bit more and give people more price flexibility, but the primary impact will be to grow AMC’s loyalty memberships,” said Alicia Reese, vice president of equity research at Wedbush Securities. AMC Stubs members receive access to buy certain seats through Sightline.
Americans, as a whole, are skeptical. A new Morning Consult survey found that about half of U.S. adults (51%) believe the seat-based pricing model is inappropriate, compared with 36% who say it’s appropriate. More than half (54%) also said they would not pay an extra $1-2 for a more desirable theater seat.
Younger adults, however, were more accepting. A slim majority of Gen Zers (54%) and 46% of millennials said pricing schemes like AMC’s are appropriate, while majorities of both groups said they’d be willing to pay a few bucks more for a theater’s best seats.
Younger Americans Say Seat-Based Pricing for Movie Tickets Is Appropriate
Gen Zers say seat-based variable pricing model is appropriate
- About half of Americans (51%) said it is inappropriate for movie theaters to have a variable pricing model based on location of theater seats.
- Among generations, Gen Z adults were most likely to say it's appropriate, at 54%, followed by millennials at 46%. Baby boomers were the least likely to say it's appropriate, at 23%.
- Almost two-thirds of frequent moviegoers (63%), or those who went to a movie three times or more in the past month, said it is appropriate for movie theaters to have a variable pricing model for theater seats.
Millennials Are Most Willing to Pay a Bit Extra for Better Movie Theater Seats
Majority of Americans aren’t willing to pay an extra fee for theater seats
- 2 in 5 adults said they would be willing to pay a $1-2 additional fee on top of the general ticket price to reserve the most desirable seats in a movie theater. Millennials (55%) and Gen Zers (52%) were most likely to say they would be willing to pay extra fees, compared with 36% of Gen Xers and a quarter of baby boomers.
- Nearly half of Americans (48%) prefer the middle seats. A quarter prefer the back third, while only 8% prefer the front third.
- Meanwhile, 44% of Americans said they would be willing to take a $1-2 discount on the general ticket price to reserve the least desirable seats in a movie theater, with millennials (60%) and Gen Zers (58%) the most likely to say they would do so.
- More than half of Americans (57%) said they would be concerned about being able to afford seeing a movie in theaters if variable pricing seats became widespread.
A better understanding of the variable pricing model
Following the Sightline announcement, AMC was immediately met with backlash. Actor Elijah Wood tweeted that the pricing model “penalizes people for lower income,” while some on social media suggested a boycott of the country’s largest theater chain.
Though Morning Consult data does suggest that Americans would have some financial concerns should the variable pricing model become widespread, it doesn’t appear to show broad animosity toward the initiative, especially among younger generations and frequent moviegoers.
Reese said AMC could have done a better job at clarifying that customers don’t have to pay the extra fee if they become a Stubs member, but the bigger problem lies in the perception that AMC is price gouging, and trying to get that extra penny at the expense of customers. “This may cause some moviegoers to opt for a different theater if they have one in their market,” Reese said. “Every company, AMC included, has to tread lightly when making the shift to tiered pricing.”
Morning Consult asked AMC for comment and was directed to a series of February tweets from Chief Executive Adam Aron, including one that stated they will “carefully monitor reaction by moviegoers during the test.”
The March 17-19, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,203 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Saleah Blancaflor is a data reporter at Morning Consult covering the business of entertainment. @saleyley