AMC Has a New Terrible Way To Buy Tickets. Here's Who Will Lose The Most.
Buying tickets for AMC movies soon be like buying tickets for a music concert. And who doesn't love that process?
Yesterday, AMC announced that it would be rolling out a new system for buying tickets at its theaters called “Sightline at AMC,” which I find to be a mildly dystopian name (shouldn’t every seat at the theater have a decent sightline?). Sightline will divide every theater into three distinct sections. Quoting here from AMC’s announcement:
Standard Sightline – these seats are the most common in auditoriums and are available for the traditional cost of a ticket
Value Sightline – these seats are in the front row of the auditorium, as well as select ADA seats in each auditorium, and are available at a lower price than Standard Sightline seats. Value Sightline pricing is only available to AMC Stubs members, including the free tier membership – AMC Insider.
Preferred Sightline – these seats are typically in the middle of the auditorium and are priced at a slight premium to Standard Sightline seats. As an added benefit to AMC’s most loyal moviegoers, AMC Stubs A-List members may make reservations in the Preferred Sightline Section at no additional cost.
Variety has some further details about implementation:
Theaters that offer Sightline at AMC are expected to provide a detailed seat map that outlines each seating option during the ticket purchase process online, on the AMC app and at the box office. Sightline at AMC is applied to all showtimes that begin after 4 p.m. at participating locations. It’s not applicable on Discount Tuesdays, when all movie tickets are discounted to $5.
Sightline is rolling out to select theaters in New York, Chicago, and Kansas City this week and will theoretically be available in all U.S. theaters by the end of the year.
Who are the biggest losers from this announcement?
People who don’t want to pay extra money to sit in good seats - I don’t know about y’all but my preferred seat in a movie theater is right in the middle with my eyeline halfway up the screen. Now I’ll likely need to pay extra for that privilege. Reaction online to Sightline was swift and fierce, with many prominent folks opining that the new system subverts the egalitarian nature of buying a movie ticket and sitting anywhere.
People who work at movie theaters - Most of us have anecdotal stories about having a rough experience at AMC theaters, as AMC already struggles to provide a positive experience even without Sightline. Theaters are understaffed and their workers are underpaid and overworked. They don’t have enough resources to deal with unruly patrons or teens using their cell phones. Sometimes theater workers can’t even check each screening to make sure the image and sound and lighting is correct. How does AMC think they will be able to make sure people are buying seats in the correct Sightline category and sitting in them? Enforcement of Sightline will be an absolute nightmare and the burden will fall to theater workers, who probably already have enough to deal with these days. God bless folks who work at movie theaters these days.
The ticket buying process - Buying tickets with seat selection today is already a somewhat involved process. It always takes a moment at the kiosk to realize what direction the movie screen is facing, then make a guess at which seat is going to provide the optimal viewing experience. With Sightline, the process becomes even more fraught, as a financial consequence is now attached to that choice. If you like buying tickets in person, expect a lot of confused fidgeting at ticket kiosks as your fellow customers try to figure out what these different options all mean.
People who don’t subscribe to AMC Stubs A-List - Given that these changes don’t seem to impact Stubs A-List members, it seems like AMC is really ramping up the case for being a subscriber. As an A-List member, it’s conceivable you won’t even notice any impact (until/unless AMC starts jacking up the price of A-List), but you will notice how much worse the experience is if you ever leave A-List. AMC is basically saying to A-List members, “Nice simple system of buying and reserving tickets you have there. Would be a shame if something were to happen to it…”
Ironically, maybe AMC’s bottom line - AMC could’ve spent the past few years investing in ways to improve the moviegoing experience. Instead, they’ve invested in gold mines and are now trying to extract more revenue from existing customers. Whatever the business case for Sightline is, it’s undeniable that it will make the moviegoing experience more complicated and likely more annoying for a significant part of AMC’s customer base. This comes at a time when the theatrical filmgoing industry is at a crossroads and AMC needs as many customers as it can get. I have a hard time believing Sightline won’t turn even more people off to moviegoing at a time when streaming options are so readily available.
Whether or not that impacts AMC’s bottom line remains to be seen. But it’s also possible that AMC will roll back Sightline if people react negatively enough.
Nicole Kidman’s credibility in the AMC pre-roll - Every time she appears on screen, Nicole Kidman closes off her pre-roll sermon with the phrase, “AMC: We Make Movies Better.” Sightline is really going to do a number on our faith in that concept, calling into question whether any of the Teachings of Nicole are worthy of our reverence in the first place.
What do you think of Sightline? Am I being too pessimistic? Let me know in the comments.
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Stuff I’ve made this week
Over on Decoding TV, Christian Spicer and I continue our breakdown of each episode of The Last Of Us. Episode 4 was a bit of a comedown from the last one, but not every episode can be a transcendent classic.
On The Filmcast, we reviewed M. Night’s latest thriller Knock at the Cabin.
[PAID ONLY] On my Patreon, I broke down some of my thoughts on Knock at the Cabin in more detail, plus share my take on the negativity going around about M. Night these days.
As a Canadian, this doesn't impact me, but our main theatre chain up here made a similarly unpopular decision last year to add a service fee to any online orders made to each ticket. It was met with similar comments by people that it was going to sink their business, and they'll regret it. Six months later, people stopped talking about it, and the chain posted it's financial results today with a big turnaround from the prior year (even though domestic box office in that period was down year over year). This will be a little different, because execution has different challenges, and AMC doesn't habe the best track record, but, I think the issue is overblown. Most people will shrug and buy whatever seats work for themselves and not pay it much thought.
I think you have a lot of fair points, but the two biggest things I think are worth bringing up is: 1) I think AMC does do a pretty good job, at least in New York, of investing in the experience of going to the movies (better seats, reliably bright screens, etc.) and 2) I'm not sure it's fair to assume this exercise is one of necessarily growing profits solely out of greed (obviously greed has a lot to do with it), but rather an attempt figuring out a business model that allows them to stay afloat.