AMC’s New Seat-Based Pricing Scheme Is Class Warfare

AMC Theaters, the largest cinema chain in the US, is introducing a new pricing scheme this week. Starting this Friday, movie-goers in some states will find individual pricing for each seat in a theater, based on the quality of the viewing experience. There are three price tiers under this new system, which the company calls ‘Sightlines at AMC’.

Most seats will be considered Standard Sightline and will not see a price adjustment, but front row seats and ADA seats are considered Value Sightline and will have a lower cost. If that was the extent of the program it would appear that it is offering a better value for lower-quality and accessible seating, but unfortunately AMC is also jacking up the price on all the seats in the middle, which it calls Preferred Sightline.

AMC executive VP and CMO Eliot Hamlisch says the new pricing scheme more closely aligns with the approach that other entertainment venues offer, which is true. When you go to a concert, a sporting event, stand-up comedy, or a broadway show, the cost of your ticket is determined by the quality of your seat. But this explanation fails to acknowledge the important differences between movie theaters and every other kind of entertainment venue. Namely, that movies are not live entertainment, and there’s nothing fundamentally unique or transient about the movie theater experience.

People are willing to pay huge premiums to get as close as possible to a performer on a stage or the action on a basketball court because they’re performances that exist singularly in the moment. Movie theaters can’t offer the same, and adopting the pricing model of live entertainment doesn’t make any sense. The price disparity between sitting on the 50-yard line at SoFi Stadium for a Taylor Swift concert versus sitting in the highest nosebleed seats in the terrace is proportional to the vastly different kind of experience you’ll have. That isn’t the case in a movie theater where every seat is designed to give you a nearly identical experience.

Hamlisch acknowledges this too. In a statement, he wrong “While every seat at AMC delivers an amazing moviegoing experience, we know there are some moviegoers who prioritize their specific seat and others who prioritize value moviegoing,” This is a bit of brand double speak. People do prioritize their specific seat, it’s why the front two rows are almost always empty. And people do prioritize “value moviegoing” when they opt for matinee and Discount Tuesday screenings. But those two groups are not mutually exclusive. There’s never been a reason to prioritize preferred seating over ticket cost until AMC just invented one.

It’s a transparently profit-driven direction for AMC to take, and it erodes at the core of the movie going experience by introducing a class disparity. Since the invention of cinema, movie-going has never been a form of affluent or upper-class entertainment. Everyone enjoyed movies because everyone, generally speaking, could afford to go to the movies. Movie theaters have always been considered recession proof not just because they offer escapism in times of economic turbulence, but also because it has always been an affordable and democratic form of entertainment that unifies us. This is how cinema has operated for 100 years and it’s part of what makes it special. Everyone can come together to see the same movies the same way, regardless of your tax bracket.

Over the last ten years we’ve seen ticket prices rise outside of the range of accessibility for all kinds of incomes, largely thanks to consolidation within the industry – another thing we can thank AMC Theaters for. But Sightlines at AMC is beyond the pale. If AMC wanted to offer a discount on seats that typically go unsold I would applaud that decision, but this pricing scheme is nothing but a way to introduce class disparity to the only entertainment venue that has the ability to avoid it. AMC recognizes that the demand for middle row seats is higher than front row and saw an opportunity to make more money without providing an additional value to its customers. Worse, movie theaters will now have poor seats where the poor sit so the rich can sit above them and look down on them. It is shameful and it’s disrespectful, not just to AMC’s customers, but to the entire history of cinema.

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