The Quorum

Most movie fans don’t mind ticket surcharges.

AMC’s decision to tack on a surcharge for those buying tickets to THE BATMAN certainly caused a stir. While this kind of dynamic pricing is more common at the international box office, it’s not something we’re accustomed to here at home.

Sure, we’re familiar with matinee pricing and Tuesday discounts, but the idea that, with all things being equal, one film costs more than another in the same theater is foreign to us. AMC adding a surcharge for THE BATMAN has created precedent, and now comes word that Cinemark is playing with dynamic prices as well. Theatrical may have crossed the Rubicon. 

Maybe this is a good time to hit pause and break down the numbers. How much did the AMC surcharge lift the overall gross for THE BATMAN?

According to published reports, the cost of a ticket for THE BATMAN at AMC was $1.28 higher than the national average last weekend. The film grossed $134M this weekend, which translates to about 10M tickets sold (using an average price of $13 per ticket). 

With a 33% market share, let’s say that AMC accounts for roughly 3.3M of the 10M tickets sold. If the circuit made an extra $1.28 per ticket, the price hike contributed about $4.2M to the overall box office. 

Bottom line: At the macro level, the surcharge didn’t add much to the overall gross for the film. So if it doesn’t really move the needle, why risk alienating fans over such a small windfall?

To answer that and other questions, we went out and polled 400 people to get a temperature of the room.

First, let’s get into the methodology. We asked all respondents to identify the theater chain they most frequently attend. Those who didn’t know their local theater or picked one that wasn’t AMC were removed from the study. 

From there we included only those who saw THE BATMAN movie. How do we know they saw it? They had to identify specific plot points about the film to take the survey.

That left us with 400 people who most frequently go to an AMC and saw BATMAN this past weekend. From this pool of people, we wanted answers to three questions:

  1. Were people aware of the surcharge?
  2. Among those who were, did they still choose to see THE BATMAN at an AMC?
  3. Overall, how do people feel about film surcharges?

What did we find out? Surprise, surprise. Based on this survey, most people are comfortable with paying more for some titles over others. Upwards of 60% of people were willing to pay a surcharge to see THE BATMAN. Among those aware of the fee, 57% stayed and watched it at an AMC. Among those not aware, 59% said they still would have watched it at an AMC had they noticed the fee.

Here’s a closer look at the numbers.

QUESTION 1: Were you aware of the surcharge?

There was a near 50/50 split on this one, with 54% percent saying they knew about the fee while 46% said they did not. This group spent money to see THE BATMAN without realizing that they were paying more to do so. 

QUESTION 2: Knowing there was a surcharge, did you still see THE BATMAN at an AMC Theater?

Among those who were aware of the fee, 57% still saw THE BATMAN at an AMC Theater. That’s a clear majority. Another 24% said they went to a non-AMC theater to avoid the charge, while 19% would have done the same but didn’t have access to a non-AMC theater nearby. 

What about those that did NOT notice the extra fee? Among this group, 59% said that they would have stayed at an AMC, while 41% said they would have gone to another theater to avoid the surcharge. Again, another majority saying they would have paid the fee.

QUESTION 3: How do you feel about theaters charging more for a particular film?

Finally, we wanted to know how people feel about fees and surcharges in general – not specifically tied to this weekend or THE BATMAN. Three quarters of respondents said either they have no problem with it or that their willingness to pay extra depends on the film. Only 25% said they outright don’t like it.

Wait a minute. This doesn’t make sense. We know there is real price sensitivity in the marketplace. Our own research shows that 66% of people say that they would go to the theater more often if was more affordable. And yet, some 60% of people in this study say they are willing to pay a surcharge for some titles. What gives?

This demonstrates that audiences distinguish between the cost of the ticket and the cost of the concessions when considering their price threshold for going to the theater. Filmgoers are willing to pay more when it comes to the price of admission. The success of large-format screens bears that out. At the same time, however, filmgoers want to pay much less for concessions. 

It appears as though surcharges, fees and dynamic prices are going to continue, at least in the near term. And this data suggests that doing so may not poison the well when it comes to audience sentiment. Now, wouldn’t it be great if the increased revenue from higher ticket prices led to lower food prices? Dare to dream.

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