The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy report on AMC Entertainment, the country’s second-largest theater chain, and their ambitious plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate their theaters and install “La-Z-Boy type seats that fully recline,” which apparently boost attendance and revenue even though they decrease theater capacity. Over the next five years, AMC will “reseat” 35 percent of its 5,000 screens with plush, 60-inch wide recliners:
“Attendance in renovated AMC auditoriums has leapt 80 percent, on average, despite the drastic reduction in capacity to sometimes fewer than 70 seats. The company declined to say what the average before-and-after attendance numbers were, though Mr. Lopez acknowledged that the biggest attendance boosts would come in theaters that were weak performers, some of which were losing money. The conversions are occurring only in certain places: Busy venues in major markets like Los Angeles or New York don’t need cushy seats to attract customers, so it doesn’t make sense to cut their capacities. In a second wave of conversions at better-performing theaters, AMC is planning to install seats that don’t recline as far back, so just half of the capacity is lost.”
Of course, AMC is not reseating its theaters out of concern for customers’ lumbar support; this is about making money. Not only do the reclining seats increase attendance, they also allow AMC to increase its prices too; the Journal report says the chain “doesn’t typically change ticket prices in the first year after construction to ‘seed’ behavior… but the admission fee goes up in subsequence years” by as much as $1.25 per ticket. In other words, the first taste is free. Just like with heroin!
My parents live near one of the reseated AMCs; just last week they raved to me about these recliners—while also admitting that they are so comfortable that one of their friends fell asleep during Jersey Boys. And that’s the stat I’d be most interested in here. AMC says these seats raise attendance by 80 percent; how much do they raise the percentage of customers who sleep through a movie? I know I’m a big old curmudgeon about this stuff, but I would argue it’s possible to be too comfortable in a theater. Clearly no one wants to leave a movie with searing back pain, but at the same time, no one wants to pay
$12 $13.25 to sleep through Earth To Echo, either. The theater doesn’t care as long as it gets your money, but I wonder what movie directors think of these sorts of “upgrades.” How do they feel about the idea that you’re basically using their blood, sweat, and tears as an excuse to take a 125-minute nap in public?