Adam Aron might not have arrived at AMC with previous experience in the exhibition industry, but his leadership across several consumer and hospitality-related businesses signaled the coming of a compelling new era for AMC Theatres. After all, Aron’s CV includes tenures as CEO of companies such as Starwood, the Philadelphia 76ers, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Vail Resorts. His tenure as CEO of AMC Theatres began in January 2016, and it would have been natural to assume that there would be a period of getting acquainted with the operations of what was then the second-largest exhibition circuit in North America. A lengthy transition period, however, was clearly never in the plans. After a year in charge, Aron helms what has now become the biggest exhibition circuit in North America, Europe, and around the world, with the support and ambitious backing of its parent company, Wanda Group. While the Carmike acquisition lifted AMC to over 8,200 North American screens—and in turn to the number one spot in our current Giants of Exhibition ranking—its earlier acquisition of Odeon & UCI turned the Kansas-based company into a major global player with over 10,000 screens across two continents. Additionally, Aron led AMC to invest in an overhaul of its digital strategy—relaunching its loyalty program and redesigning the AMC web experience to better serve consumers. Boxoffice caught up with Aron to talk about his early impressions of the industry and his perspective on the years ahead.
What are some of the strengths of the exhibition industry and what are the biggest challenges coming up?
There are always going to be challenges, whether it’s exhibition or any other industry. Since its inception, this industry has been told that the next big thing would be the end of movie theaters. From the invention of television, to VCRs, to the expansion of cable, to streaming, to VR, there are always going to be challenges to overcome and entertainment options with which we’ll compete. But the industry is coming off its second straight record year at the U.S. box office, and the fourth in five years, and with the titles coming in 2017, we’re all looking at another really solid year in moviegoing. There were several news articles about 2016 being a record year in the U.S.—but it didn’t really count because attendance was relatively flat. But we measure revenue. And it’s not an accident that the revenue continues to grow year after year. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. moviegoing, and we have plans to invest significantly more. We’re making those investments because those enhancements are bringing people out to the movie theater. People want to come relax in a recliner and have a beer or glass of wine, they want a multitude of options to choose from, and they want an incredible, premium experience. And they’re willing to pay a little more for it. One of the industry’s biggest strengths is that it didn’t stay stagnant. The multitude of innovations and investment is serving the industry well, and will continue to serve it well, both in the U.S. and around the world.
After a very eventful first year on the job, what have been some of the lessons you’ve picked up about the exhibition industry?
When I came to AMC, my career had previously included having sold millions of tickets to consumers in other industries, including airline tickets, ski lift tickets, and sporting-event tickets. This past year, I learned that consumer motivations across industries have many similarities. To that end, l immediately began to work with our marketing department to redesign and deliver a more robust loyalty-rewards program, a more powerful, engaging website, and more user-friendly mobile smartphone apps. In the last six months AMC has rolled out all three to real success. We’ve crossed the five million AMC Stubs members mark, more than doubling the membership. The early feedback on our new website and mobile app shows a huge surge in digital ticketing.
What’s your take on the role that theatrical windows play in our industry?
My take is that it’s a very important topic that is generating discussions among all parties involved, and it’s better for everyone that those discussions take place among the stakeholders, and not through the media.
AMC is a very different company today than the one you joined last year. How has the company’s new size and scope impacted the way you plan to approach this year?
It really doesn’t change how we’re approaching the year. Of course there’s an enormous amount of work to be done. We spent 2016 working to get these deals completed, and now we’re working on smoothly integrating everything. But our main focus remains creating a spectacular moviegoing experience for our guests. The biggest difference is that this year there are more guests than ever at AMCs in the United States, and now Odeon & UCI Cinemas in Europe. But we’re still investing heavily in the moviegoing experience, and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to expand our footprint throughout the world.
The addition of locations, both domestically and overseas through the Odeon & UCI deal, poses many challenges. What can you share with us about how the new locations will incorporate AMC elements both at home and abroad? Are there any concepts or amenities you plan to extend to the new locations?
We will be rolling out AMC’s guest-favorite amenities, including plush recliner seating, Coca-Cola Freestyle machines with 100 flavor choices and more premium large-format screens like IMAX and Dolby Cinema in many of our locations, both in the U.S. and in Europe. We’ve had great success in the U.S. with these amenities, and while they are becoming more prevalent in the U.S., they’re still relatively new in Europe.
AMC has stepped up its digital presence in the midst of these acquisitions; you’ve recently relaunched your website and it seems like your digital strategy is a focus for the future. What role does a digital presence play in the exhibition industry today, and why is it so important to get it right?
Consumers are increasingly looking for ways to purchase in the moment, and to purchase in a way that’s convenient for them. AMC has invested significantly in our mobile and online ticketing, because that’s where our guests are going to find show times and information about movies. We should, as an industry, be making it as convenient as possible to purchase tickets, along with snacks and drinks. If a guest is on their phone purchasing a ticket for a 7:00 p.m. show and with a few more finger taps can add popcorn, snacks, and soda to that purchase, which will be ready upon arrival, that’s making their life easier and making it more likely that they’ll come back.
Having been involved with the digital transformation across different industries, what lessons do you think exhibition should keep in mind as more circuits embrace these innovations?
I can tell you that at AMC we’ll continue to focus on what’s best for our guests, our associates, and our shareholders. Ultimately, that’s creating the best possible moviegoing experience from beginning to end. And with the advancements in digital technologies, the beginning of that experience is well before a guest steps foot in the building. We want AMCtheatres.com to be a one-stop shop for guests who are interested in movies, and a place that can take them from their initial curiosity to their ticketing purchase. We invested heavily in our website, as well as our mobile app, both of which launched in late 2016, and we’re already seeing tremendous benefit.
When we visit a movie theater 10 to 15 years from now, what do you think will be the biggest differences we’ll see?
Exhibition is in the midst of an amazing reinvention. The industry has experienced more advances in the last five years than it saw in the previous two decades: the explosion of recliner seating, reserved seating, advances in sight and sound technology, more food and drink options, better rewards programs, and the expanding availability of movie product. What I think we’ll see over the next few years is a continued focus on innovation that will make theaters extraordinarily more comfortable and even luxurious. This in turn will be the guarantee that guests will continue to see movies on the big screens offered at theater