AMC is abandoning plans to charge more for movie seats depending on their location. But higher prices for center-middle seats at theaters where AMC has been testing the concept will remain in effect this weekend, when “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” are expected to draw significant crowds.
AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater chain, said on Thursday that it would “pivot away” from a contentious initiative called Sightline, in which seats at evening screenings had three tiers of pricing, ending the long-held cinema custom of charging the same amount for any seat in a theater. (Discounts of $1 to $2 were offered for the neck-craning front row, increases of $1 to $2 were charged for the center-middle and the status quo remained for the rest.)
The concept was rolled out in March at theaters in New York, Illinois and Kansas to howls of protest from some moviegoers. AMC always labeled it as a test.
The experiment will end sometime in August, an AMC spokesperson said. But the company plans to start a new trial involving front-row seats, which often go unsold. Later this year, AMC said it would pull out traditional front-row seats and replace them with “large, comfortable, lounge-style seating areas that will allow guests to lay all the way back.”
AMC and other theater chains, after steadily raising prices at their concession stands, have begun to focus more intently on seats for revenue growth. Increasingly, for instance, multiplexes have been pushing customers toward premium-priced tickets for screenings that feature extra-extra-large screens or enhanced sound systems.
Adding to the pressure, attendance has still not recovered from the early pandemic, when many theaters were closed for months. So far this year, ticket sales are running roughly 20 percent behind the same period in 2019.
AMC said Sightline did not pan out as it had hoped. In particular, the company saw “little or no incremental lift in front-row attendance, even with a price reduction applied to those seats.” About three out of every four customers who previously sat in center-middle seats paid the surcharge to continue doing so, the AMC said. Some of those people moved to other seats. A small percentage stopped buying tickets at AMC.
Notably, competitors did not follow AMC in re-pricing seats, making the company less competitive in the test markets.
AMC’s plans to stop the initiative were reported earlier by Bloomberg News.