AMC’s Variable Pricing Is Good, Actually
Plus: ‘Coda’ assigned!
There was much outrage on the internet this week when AMC announced it would be trying a variable-pricing plan with The Batman.
“Currently, our prices for The Batman are slightly higher than the prices we are charging for other movies playing in the same theaters at the same time,” CEO Adam Aron said this week on a webcast for its earnings report. And, sure enough, a single seat at the 9:30 showing of The Batman at my local AMC costs $16.66 while a 9:30 showing of Cyrano costs $15.58.
As with so much else in the world, the optics of this announcement were handled about as poorly as could be. Here’s how Aron justified the move: “Indeed, in Europe we charge a premium for the best seats in the house—as do just about all sellers of tickets in other industries—take sports events, concerts and live theater, for example.”
Here’s the thing: variable pricing is a great idea. It really is! In a world where only superhero movies are regularly selling out showtimes, it makes perfect sense to charge more for them. It’s simple supply and demand. And theaters already do variable pricing. What is a cheaper matinee ticket but a variable price designed to attract people to screens that would otherwise be empty? What are upcharges on IMAX, Dolby, and 3D screens but a variable price? What are Discount Tuesdays at chains like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark but a variable price?
Aron’s mistake is couching this pricing scheme in terms of what will cost more. Because the point isn’t necessarily to gouge folks who are coming out to theaters. Or, at least, it’s not only that. The point is to maximize revenue by a.) gouging the folks who are going to show up for The Batman and No Way Home and Shang-Chi regardless of cost while also b.) increasing overall attendance by encouraging folks to show up for other, lesser-watched movies by lowering the prices on those tickets. Variable pricing only really makes sense if you, say, knock $2 off of every ticket to Sing 2 (because it’s available on VOD) or $1 off of No Way Home tickets (because it’s been out for nearly three months) or $3 off of Cyrano (because absolutely no one anywhere wants to see it) while also charging $1 more for The Batman.
Theaters are in a tough spot financially, given decreased attendance thanks to COVID and ongoing efforts by the studios to shift audiences fully to streaming. I totally understand why AMC would want to make a little more off The Batman by getting an extra grand or so out of every sold out auditorium every day. But if your ultimate aim is to increase overall attendance, you have to encourage people to come to the stuff they’re not already coming to. And if that means lowering the price on a movie like Dog or West Side Story or Licorice Pizza, then … do that!
Make sure to check out the special Bulwark+ members-only bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle that just dropped. We discussed the disastrous box office of Cyrano and what that—along with the disastrous box office of Dear Evan Hansen and West Side Story—might mean for the future of the movie musical.
This week I reviewed The Batman, which is kind of a mess. Also, I probably shouldn’t have included that riddle at the end my review. Apparently it was too hard. Not too many Paul Anthony Samuelson fans out there, I guess.
I talked to CNN’s Frank Pallotta about variable pricing, studios boycotting Russia, and more. Listen here!
Speaking of Ukraine, Russia, and the arts, I tried to thread a tricky needle in my WaPo column this week: It’s good for studios to engage in an economic boycott of Russia, but it’s bad for film festivals to boycott Russian artists, a number of whom are already vocally anti-Putin. For more on the cultural war against Russia’s illegal invasion, check this out.
The most interesting story I read all week is this lengthy feature by Joseph Bernstein at BuzzFeed about … well, about the culture writ large, really. The focus is on the creation of a film festival in New York City by a cadre of irony-soaked leftists that was funded by Peter Thiel and derisively referred to as the “anti-woke film festival,” but it’s about so much more than that. Bonus points for the John Waters appearance!
Some dumb-dumb went viral on Twitter for arguing that Zack Snyder’s 300 is cryptofascist Nazi propaganda. Whenever this happens, I like to link to novelist Neal Stephenson’s excellent essay on the film and the various reactions to the film.
RIP Alan Ladd Jr., who is perhaps best known for greenlighting Star Wars but was so much more interesting than that.
I love a good story about Hollywood infighting, and Scott Feinberg’s story about the drama surrounding the diminishing of certain Oscar categories is filled with such infighting.
Assigned Viewing: Coda (AppleTV+)
On Across the Movie Aisle this week, we reviewed Coda, the Best Picture-nominated Sundance fave picked up by Apple for something like $25 million in the hopes that it would become an awards-season darling. Hopes: achieved! Coda won best ensemble at the SAG Awards and I think it has an outside shot at winning Best Picture (though Sam Elliott probably gave The Power of the Dog the boost it needed to win that particular trophy with his comments on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast).
Coda is pure festival shmaltz, something like Little Miss Sunshine by way of Whiplash, but nicer, a dash of Mr. Holland’s Opus thrown in there. It’s got a quirky family struggling to get by and understand one another! It has the healing power of the arts! It has thoughts about class and disability representation! It’s progressive but not too progressive. In a previous lifetime, this is the sort of movie that would make $60 or $70 million at the box office and everyone would talk about how nice it is.