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There is no substitute for the communal experience of seeing a movie in a theater. Seeing an eagerly anticipated film on opening night with a theater full of fellow fans is the manifestation of what makes movies so magical for many fans. Regardless, for theaters that magic doesn't come cheap, and chains and independent theaters are increasingly fighting for their lives against a slumping box office, television, streaming services and shrinking windows between theatrical and home video releases. In an attempt to drive consumers back to the movies, theater chains are trying all sorts of things to innovate. AMC is attempting something next year that frankly I'm shocked nobody has really done at scale before. The chain will be selling movie-related toys and souvenirs at its theaters.
The theater chain will start testing the idea in 35 theaters next year with its new concept, expanding to a nationwide rollout should it succeed. AMC CEO Adam Aron noted to Bloomberg how audiences should be enthusiastic when leaving the theater and how that opportunity is not always capitalized on. The struggling theater chain's shares have fallen 67 percent this year and AMC is trying to increase profits any way that it can. This already includes adding a surcharge for Friday and Saturday showings in some theaters and may even include reducing prices for the often-empty front rows. Selling merchandise to theatergoers high on a big cinematic experience could provide another revenue stream.
It's amazing this hasn't happened sooner. Even just selling movie posters would be a good idea. How many times have you gone to a theater and wanted one of the posters hanging in the lobby? There should be stuffed animals for sale in every theater playing a children's animated movie. This idea is essentially built on the same principle as a gift shop at the exit of a theme park ride. Anyone who has been to a Disney park can tell you that company uses this strategy and coaxes out every single cent it can from its guests.
Technology has threatened the survival of movie theaters for years, first slowly, then much more rapidly. The at-home experience has improved drastically and the theater experience that was once stagnant, has declined, more due to other patrons than anything else. Theaters like AMC have worked to improve the theater-going experience with better seats and even alcohol, but those changes have driven up costs for the chains. Disney is now increasing its share of ticket sales for theaters wanting to show Star Wars: The Last Jedi to increase profit, which also is not great for the chains showing the movie.
Given the nature of services like MoviePass, perhaps we'll see an uptick in subscribers at AMC and other theater chains in the near future. Perhaps these new theatergoers will have more disposable income that they can then spend on concessions and now toys and souvenirs. After all, if the AMC experiment is a success at the 35 theaters, reports and common sense indicate the idea will be rolled out elsewhere.