The Big Picture

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

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.

Comments () | Archives (29)

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Blasted greedy idiots. I could choke them. Prices were already at a point where a casual trip to see a movie of modest interest in theaters has greatly diminished. Yes, kids may spend their parents' money without blinking, but it is inevitable those premiums will bleed into all ticket prices. As an industry professional, it only makes it that much harder for films to find an audience if prices are so high consumers feel like they're taking a chance. Think about that - that's crazy - that a patron should feel like going to the movies might leave them ripped-off? Here we are with record box office and they can't be satisfied, blind to the fact nobody likes to feel they were squeezed for every last penny.

Since I've been unemployed for over a year, I have not been to a movie since before Jan 2009. And even then, I don't recall the last movie I actually went to. Fortunately, my Netflix subscription has been the one joy in my life. As to whether I'd pay the extra, at first glance, no. I might be more inclined to actually read reviews to get a consensus as to whether or not the 3D value was worth it. Just because 3D becomes an available tool, doesn't mean it has to be in every movie. That Dragon movie you mentioned doesn't interest me in 2D or 3D. The Clash of the Titans, however, does, as I would want to see how it compares to the original. But alas my financial predicament is going to preclude me from doing so.
As to sports, I no longer care about baseball since the 1994 strike. Add to that the proliferation of corporate john stadium names (a la the one you visited in Denver) and even if you give me a ticket to it, I'm not going.
Forget Broadway shows and I live in NYC, since even when I was employed, the prices were (and still are) too high. Granted, the half-off both in times square does offer some options and they accept credit cards now; so it would have to be a really good show for me to even try. But also, even some of those theaters are corporate johns too.
What concerns me about this latest rise in prices, is that they will jack up the regular price in the future as well. So, that 16.50 is what over the regular price now? $3 or $4? I do not know. But $12.50 to see a basic movie? Wow!
And what about the glasses? Do I keep them? What if I have a pair from who-knows-when? Can I use those and save a few bucks or is the extra price just a factor of supply & demand of a 3D movie in general?
3/27/2010 - 17:35 EDT.

We were going to see a 3-D movie this week and I heard it did very well Friday... but our family didn't go because of the cost. We might go in daytime (matinee prices) for some films, but we'll definitely pick and choose... and we chose not see the dragon movie... We'll wait until DVD and just hope (with new 3-D TV's coming out soon) that these 3-D films will translate well to the in-home experience. It's just not worth the ticket prices, at least until the economy rebounds.

I'll be going to a lot fewer movies. I have no interest in seeing dozens of commercials before a movie, especially at these prices. If they ditch the commercials, then we'll talk.

Even if exhibitors can guarantee that the film they're showing is worth seeing (utterly subjective, of course, but films have continued to deteriorate in quality as the decades have rolled by), upwards of twenty dollars is simply too much to pay for a movie, especially if one is paying for two or three or four, plus dinner before or after the film.

The point of movies (in their Golden Age and somewhat after, even adjusting for inflation) was always a workaday exercise in democracy: get to the theater early, stake out the choice seats, maybe give the theater owner his REAL profit by raiding the concession stand for those tubs of buttered popcorn, boxes of Milk Duds and cups of Coke (concession sales continue to be THE profit center for American movie theater operators and, granted, a big film can send 90% of its revenues back to the distributor during the film's first few weeks of release).

Still, will theater operators be reducing the cost of those vastly-overpriced concession treats to compensate for their padding the admission price? Don't be silly.

The theaters' loss of those democratic ideals include now often having to buy a specific seat location printed on the ticket, that (officially) preclude moving to a better seat once the film has begun. Many of us allowed ourselves to think that there was at least a little of that democracy left when it seemed that the theaters and studios were making their money in bulk, via relatively cheap tickets sold to a lot of customers. It's very difficult to persuade oneself that that's still the case.

In the end, I'd rather take my $20 and spend it on a Blu-ray disc that looks splendid on my 52-inch LED hi-def TV, and that will happily occupy a space on my shelf FOREVER.

You can thank Jeffrey Katzenberg. The guy just can't seem to get enough money.

I can emphasize with the article. As much as I would like to see a 3D movie with my kids, the affordability and the REALITY factor kicks in when I take into account what I would be paying for a family of four to watch 3D. It is bad enough when we have to take our kids to see a lousy kids movie advertised to death on Cartoon Network and brainwashing our kids. Its another matter when we have to spend a week's worth of food to see a 3D version of the same lousy movie.

I'll pay a dollar via the Redbox movie rental and invest in the new 3D HDTV so that we can better spend our limited family entertainment budget. Talk about creating a bubble in this economy. Does an economic bubble in 3D pop any differently?

3-D movies should be 20% cheaper than 2-D. I'd pay nothing extra for 3-D.

How about this for a summer hit?


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