Monday, October 05, 2009

Ideas for theaters: The Multiplex Double Feature

So, my scans and write-ups for This Week In Tickets are stuck on an SD card, and my card reader crapped out today. I apparently have terrible luck with those; I've got a flash drive that died in a similar way, a couple MP3 players that just fritzed out, etc. It's like I've inherited my mother's ability to kill digital watches by wearing them, except it applies to small storage devices with USB ports.

What really annoys me is that I like this card reader - my last one got beat up and this was nicely compact. I guess this teaches me about being cheap.

One of the things stuck there is a half-written piece from March about what Austin's Alamo Drafthouse gets right that so many other theaters get wrong. Not that I think theaters should follow the Alamo's model (although give me a couple million or so to renovate either the empty Polaroid building in Cambridge's Central Square or the Circle Cinema in Brookline...), but I'm interested in things that might get more people in theaters.

So, I was reading this on Cinematical, and although the idea of encouraging theater-hopping is fabulously wrong-headed, it does give me another idea: Double feature pricing.

When I worked at theaters, the big thing management tried to have us do was up-selling. You know - someone asks for a small soda, and a medium is only a quarter more. So, why not take that to the box office - you buy a ticket for one show, a second is just two dollars more? There would be some restrictions, of course - I figure the second movie would have to be a non-new release so that the studio doesn't freak out about pricing. The double feature would have to be done in one purchase, so that you don't have people selling their ticket stub outside for a couple bucks. And maybe you have a time limit on how long can pass between the end of the first show and the start of the second. The idea is that the guy buying the ticket is in the theater for four or five hours instead of two, and thus more likely to spend money on popcorn, soda, hot dogs, pizza, etc.

Clearly, this would benefit the theaters. It wouldn't be a huge win for distributors, and they'd probably need a lot of convincing, considering how the entertainment industry usually thinks. After all, they tend to look at piracy as their losing the full value of a sale, rather than acknowledging that not every pirate would have paid full price and that the money lost from someone who would otherwise purchase is potentially made up for in people sampling and buying copies and merchandise. Here, they would need to be convinced that they are not losing their share of the difference in price between a "second feature" ticket and a regular ticket, but gaining their share of a ticket that would never have been purchased if not for the low price, and gaining a more likely DVD/Blu-ray sale down the line because the person buying the ticket decides he likes this movie that he otherwise wouldn't have seen.

Heck, the smaller distributors (or the boutique arms of larger ones) might find a way to make their niche as B-movies in the original use of the term work: Offer a discount if paired with another feature by the same studio, or waive the 10-day rule if you figure that doing so will multiply the number of people who see the movie. If you're making the same number of prints, you might be better off getting 10 people to pay $2 each than 2 to pay $10 a pop - it's that many more people who will be looking for it when it comes out on video, for one, and it may actually get theaters to program those movies, giving them the cachet of a theatrical run rather than being seen as just direct-to-video.

And I'll readily admit, the part I like most of all is people seeing movies that may be a little outside their usual fare, but why not do it for $2? Maybe they'll realize that it's not just action movies that benefit from being seen on the big screen, or they'll take their chances on that foreign-language, documentary, or independent film that they might not have tried otherwise.

There may be a whole bunch of reasons why this wouldn't work, contractually or structurally. Still, I think it would be a great way to add value to the theatrical experience without adding a ton of overhead, and exhibitors can only benefit by having people see the movies as potentially a really good deal.

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