Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Could variable ticket-pricing work?

...film attendance in 2010 endured its largest drop since 2005. The declines in moviegoing, apparently, won't be reversed by a surge in quality.

On Twitter, the suggestions have been flying for some time on what, in fact, will reverse it: more in-theater amenities, more 3-D releases, fewer 3-D releases, across-the-board price reductions (unlikely to happen), assorted other recommendations. But the sales slump also calls to mind another idea that has been alternately floated and dismissed over the years: variable pricing. A jargony term for a straightforward concept, variable pricing basically means that ticket prices will rise or falling depending on a slew of factors, most notably how much people want those tickets in the first place.
This is an interesting idea worth talking about further. I'm fortunate in that I live in an area where, if I don't want to pay $12 at one theater for a movie, I can go elsewhere and find that same movie for a cheaper price. Maybe it means I have to go at a certain time of day. Maybe it means I have to wait several weeks before it reaches that theater. But I have that luxury. When I lived in Columbus, I made sure to familiarize myself with the theaters there and find where and when the best times were to see a first-run movie. I even took advantage of advance screening passes given out by the local alternative weeklies. As I've said before, one doesn't have to pay full price for a movie if one really doesn't want to, but by the same token, it's easier to do this in some places than in many others.

Now if somebody were to come along and offer variable pricing, I think this could be a good idea in that it would make people think about the choices they make at the box office. There'll be complaining, naturally, but once people realize that the system will benefit those who order early, I think it could work out over time. Besides, people who unequivocally want to see Transformers or Harry Potter or Captain America, especially on opening weekend, will see it regardless of price, I believe.

My concern is how this would effect the non-chain, local theaters. Would they be able to compete? I suspect it'll once again come down to survival of the fittest. Many local theaters offer matinees and other similar discount deals, but do they offer modern amenities like stadium seating, digital projection and sound, and all that kinda stuff? (Keep in mind that I'm not talking about the art houses; they cater to a whole different audience.)

I'd like to see variable pricing experimented with in some form, just to see how people take to it. I'm not saying it'll work, but it may end up making for smarter moviegoers.



  1. Hmmm, interesting notion but I don't think I want ticket prices to be determined by "how much people want those tickets in the first place" I usually buy my tix at a discount, from my workplace or Costco, so I rarely pay full price for 'em. How about if they reduce the price of the theater viewing after the 3rd or 4th week? That might entice people who don't need to see stuff on opening night. Right now we'd have to wait for months before it's released in cheap theaters, and by then we'd rather just rent the movies.

  2. Hmm. I used to work at a place where we could buy movie passes at a discount too, but we would have to wait two weeks before using them. Is that the case with you?

  3. No I can use it on the same day. I get the gold pass for AMC, I think it's the silver one you can't use on new releases.

  4. Yeah, I had the silver passes.

  5. I'm not sure how I feel about it, either. I mean, had this been the system from the start, we'd never think anything of it, and in a way it makes sense, but it would confuse people and set up black markets (small ones, I'd think) and probably just piss off everyone.

    I rather like Ruth's idea of discounting the movies the longer they play. Obviously, that would have to only be for major wide releases, with perhaps the opposite structure set up for limited releases. The only thing there, I think, is that there would be a connotation that the cheaper films are worse somewhow.

    I fail to buy the claim that both studios and theater owners are losing money. They might not be making as much profit as they were, but I can't believe that, for the big boys, this isn't still a largely profitable business to be in.

  6. I agree, which is why I prefer to look at this from the consumer side of things. I like Ruth's idea too, but I think most people would prefer to see a movie sooner rather than later, so I'm not convinced it would satisfy all parties involved.


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