AMC Theatres, the largest exhibitor in the United States and the world, has chosen to discontinue its “Sightline at AMC” variable pricing program, which was introduced in pilot form in select theaters in New York, Kansas City, and Chicago in February of this year.
The “Sightline” program, which was initially intended to roll out to all U.S. AMC locations by the end of this year, split cinema seating into three pricing categories: Standard Sightline, available for the cost of a standard ticket; Value Sightline, or front row and select ADA seats, available at a discount; and Preferred Sightline, seats in the middle of the theater, priced higher than the standard ticket. The program was integrated into the chain’s AMC Stubs loyalty program, with members at the highest tier (the paid A-List subscription program) not having to pay the additional fee for Preferred Sightline seats. Those who wished to buy the discounted front-row tickets would have to be a Stubs member, though they could belong to the program at the lowest (unpaid) tier.
Among the participating theaters, notes AMC, more than three out of four customers who had previously bought tickets in the center of the cinema (ie the Preferred Sightline section) continued to do so, even if that meant paying an upcharge. AMC saw “little or no incremental lift” in front-row seating.
Variable, or dynamic, pricing is not new to AMC, which has priced tickets according to their attractiveness to the consumer for years now at cinemas in Europe, where the variable pricing concept is much more popular than in the U.S. AMC EVP and CMO Eliot Hamlisch said at the time of the program’s U.S. roll-out that “Sightline” would “more closely [align] AMC’s seat pricing approach to that of many other entertainment venues.” Other cinema venues in the U.S., however, did not follow AMC’s lead in either discounting or raising prices based on seat location. The chain counts this as a factor in the program being cancelled, noting: “To ensure AMC’s ticket prices remain competitive, the Sightline at AMC pilot program will come to an end at participating locations in the coming weeks, and the initiative will not roll out nationwide.”
AMC CEO Adam Aron, in an exclusive interview with Boxoffice Pro and Celluloid Junkie conducted at CinemaCon in April, said that their variable pricing initiative “should work. It works in every other industry,” before admitting that that “I’m not surprised that when you change the habit of an industry, it takes people a little while to adjust to it.”
Starting late this year, AMC will introduce a new initiative designed to boost front-row attendance in the form of “[l]arge, comfortable lounge style seating areas” that will allow front-row guests to fully recline. Others theaters in the U.S. and globally have increasingly, over the last few years, moved away from a one-size-fits-all approach to seating, putting different sorts of seating (i.e. electric recliners, pod-style seating for couples, daybeds) in their auditoriums to better match varied customer preference.