The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Killing the golden goose: Exhibitors raise 3-D ticket prices sky-high

March 26, 2010 | 12:34 pm

I heard this was happening last week, but I have to admit that I couldn't believe my ears. Why would exhibitors, now that people have been flocking to see movies in record numbers, largely thanks to the soaring popularity of 3-D movies, want to kill the golden goose by raising prices for 3-D films, some by increases as much as 26%?

According to an in-depth story in the Wall Street Journal, a 3-D Imax movie at New York City's AMC Loews Kips Bay will now cost $19.50, up from $16.50. At an AMC theater in Danvers, Mass., a Boston suburb, 3-D ticket prices are going up 20% from $14.50 to $17.50. Ticket prices at local L.A. theaters are also going up, often by at least as two extra dollars a ticket.

3d According to the Journal, prices will take effect today at many of the biggest theater chains across the country. Why the steep price hike? Exhibitors say that film tickets are a bargain. One exhibition vet that I spoke to said that, adjusted for inflation, ticket prices aren't much different today than they were in the 1980s. He compared that to the ticket prices for sporting events, in particular Major League Baseball and NFL games, which have skyrocketed in recent years, as have tickets for Broadway shows, which now average close to $100 a pop.

On the other hand, the business of overpriced Broadway tickets is hardly worth emulating, since Broadway theaters are littered with the corpses of shows that quickly opened and closed, unable to generate sufficient ticket sales at such steep prices. As for Major League Baseball, the top tickets have skyrocketed in price, but the lower-end tickets have remained relatively inexpensive, allowing for fans to still see a baseball game without having to mortgage their home. At Coors Field in Denver, for example, my wife and I took our son to a game and sat out in the center-field Rockpile bleachers when we had a few hours between plane rides. The total ticket cost? $9. We might have been far away from the action, but it cost us less than you'll pay to see "How to Train Your Dragon" this weekend, that's for sure.

For now, I suspect the prices will be accepted by most moviegoers, since we're still in the "shock and awe" phase of 3-D moviegoing. But if Warners' "Clash of the Titans' " quickie 3-D conversion turns out to be a bust and moviegoers start becoming more wary about the tidal wave of 3-D films rolling into theaters over the next year, I fear that the price hike will create a backlash.

In the long run, I think it's always better to have customers who think they're getting a great deal than customers who think they're being ripped off, even if the ones who think they're being ripped off are paying an extra 20% at the box-office window. After all, the customers who start believing that they're being ripped off are customers who won't be coming back as often.

But what do you think? Are you willing to pay another extra $2 or $3 to see a 3-D movie? Or are you going to be a lot more willing to pick and choose which films you see? Let me know in comments below.

Photo of 3-D moviegoers by Alex Berliner / Berliner Studios/BEImages.

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