Premium tickets or discounts? Cineplex CEO 'experiments' with ticket price
TORONTO — While audiences rush back to theatres to catch "Avatar: The Way of Water" on pricey Imax screens, the head of Cineplex Inc. says he's open to "experiments" with cheaper tickets for some movies if they might lure back people who are staying home.
Chief executive Ellis Jacob said Canada's biggest movie chain is looking at "different pricing for different types of product," which this month included a rare discount on tickets to "80 For Brady." The comedy is aimed directly at senior citizens, a demographic that's been reluctant to return to the movies.
"We want to be accommodating to our guests and we want to have the right pricing for the opportunity," Jacob said on Tuesday as Cineplex reported its fourth-quarter results.
Ticket prices have become a greater focus for movie chains across North America as they look to drive profits after years of staggered closures, but keep audiences coming back in a troubled economy with plenty of streaming alternatives.
In the latest quarter, Cineplex leaned on premium Imax and UltraAVX tickets for the "Avatar" sequel and other blockbusters to help turn around a loss.
The company reported a profit of $10.2 million to end the calendar year, compared with a loss of $21.8 million in late 2021. The results were equivalent to 16 cents per diluted share or 34 cents per diluted share a year earlier.
Revenue totalled $350.1 million, up from $300 million a year earlier.
The "Avatar" sequel and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" were bright spots in the period, which faced a drought of new movies and moviegoers.
That void showed in the attendance numbers which dropped to 9.2 million customers from 10.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 when "Spider-Man: No Way Home" smashed box-office records.
Concession revenues still managed to reach a new high of $8.93 per person as moviegoers gobbled up pricier snacks, while box-office revenues hit a record of $13.06 per person driven by those premium-priced tickets.
While some moviegoers are willing to pay for more expensive nights out, Jacob said lowering the cost of tickets might make sense in other instances, though it would depend on the Hollywood title.
In the case of "80 For Brady," which opened on Feb. 3, he says the film's distributor Paramount Pictures asked Cineplex to sell tickets at Tuesday prices for any day of the week — a 40 per cent discount. Already discounted senior tickets were reduced by a lesser amount of roughly 13 per cent.
The movie stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and football quarterback Tom Brady, and is squarely aimed at older audiences.
A similar discount was made by U.S. chain AMC which charged matinee prices for the film.
Also this week, AMC announced it will soon charge different ticket prices depending on where the seat is located inside the theatre. The move was immediately met with backlash from moviegoers, including actor Elijah Wood who tweeted it would "penalize people" who couldn't afford it.
While Jacob didn't rule out a similar move at Cineplex, he said it's not something the company is looking at right now and that he intends to be "very careful" when considering such models.
Cineplex mingled with the concept on a smaller scale when it charged more for "prime seating" at the centre of the auditorium in some of its more upscale locations. Those experiments were abandoned early in the pandemic, Jacob said, partly because people were sitting in other people's "prime" seats without paying for them.
"It's difficult to navigate when the show has started and people are fighting for the seats," he added.
Cineplex hopes a new theatre, dining and entertainment complex called Junxion will be a more successful way to boost sales and attract customers.
The hybrid venue opened in Winnipeg last December and features six auditoriums with reclining seats, an arcade, a live entertainment space and dining options.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.
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David Friend, The Canadian Press