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AMC Theatres will soon charge according to where you choose to sit

Updated February 7, 2023 at 5:16 PM ET

AMC Theatres will begin setting their ticket prices according to where patrons choose to sit in the auditorium, under its Sightline initiative, the company announced Monday.

Seats on the front row are considered Value Sightline seats and cost less, while seats in the middle are called Preferred Sightline and will cost more. The remaining parts of the theater are Standard Sightline seats and will cost the price of a standard admission ticket.

The move comes as movie theaters struggle to compete with streaming services and overcome pandemic-era aversion to large, indoor spaces — not to mention the fact that Hollywood is making fewer movies for theatrical releases. AMC lost nearly $700 million in the first three quarters of 2022, $1.27 billion in 2021 and $4.6 billion in 2020.

But variable pricing like this only works when demand is close to supply and when it's done in a way that doesn't antagonize customers, says Barak Orbach, a professor of law and business at the University of Arizona. AMC has neither factor in its favor, he says.

"The reality of movie theaters in the United States is that the overwhelming majority of shows are more than half empty," Orbach says. So, unless it's a blockbuster movie's opening weekend and theaters are packed, a lot of people will just buy a less expensive ticket and then move to a higher priced seat, he says.

On top of that, a lot of moviegoers weren't happy with the news.

One Twitter user shared a photo of an empty theater and wrote, "AMC theaters after people refuse to pay for premium seating and $20 for popcorn and a drink."

Another wrote, "Buying a third-class ticket at AMC to see the re-release of Titanic."

"When pricing conflicts with perceptions of fairness, people are less willing to pay them," Orbach says — especially because people can just stay home and watch movies on streaming services. He says the move could generate hard feelings toward movie theaters in general and negatively affect the industry as a whole.

Those who are members of AMC Stubs A-List, the top tier of the company's reward program, can select Preferred Sightline seats for no extra cost.

Sightline-priced tickets will apply to all showtimes after 4 p.m., but is not applicable during the company's $5 Discount Tuesdays.

The new pricing structure has already been rolled out in select markets across the country, and will be implemented at all locations before the end of the year.

"Sightline at AMC more closely aligns AMC's seat pricing approach to that of many other entertainment venues, offering experienced-based pricing and another way for moviegoers to find value at the movies," Executive Vice President Eliot Hamlisch said.

But those other venues host events have traditionally been special occasions, like concerts and live theater, says Alicia Kozma. She researches the media industry and is the director of the Indiana University Cinema.

People are "being priced out of one of our most basic pastimes, which is meeting up with friends or going with their family to see a movie," Kozma says.

She says the move seems designed to get people in wealthier markets to sign up for AMC Stubs, which costs about $20 to $25 a month — and makes the company money, especially if people don't use their subscription.

"It's pretty disrespectful to audiences," especially in places where the only movie theater is AMC, Kozma says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
Kaitlyn Radde
Kaitlyn Radde is an intern for the Graphics and Digital News desks, where she has covered everything from the midterm elections to child labor. Before coming to NPR, she covered education data at Chalkbeat and contributed data analysis to USA TODAY coverage of Black political representation and NCAA finances. She is a graduate of Indiana University.