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AMC Switching Its Theaters to Reclining Seats, and Fewer of Them

Wall Street Journal

Good news for people who want bigger, more comfortable seats at the movie theater: AMC is trying out a new strategy, renovating several of their existing theaters to replace their traditional seats with bigger, reclining seats. There’s just one catch: there will be fewer seats in every auditorium, which should improve ticket sales, but it means you’ll have to be more vigilant about buying your movie tickets for opening weekend screenings.

The Wall Street Journal has a detailed story on AMC’s newest multi-million dollar endeavor: renovating 1,800 of its almost 5,000 auditoriums in the U.S. to outfit them with recliner-style seating. While the chairs will increase in size and comfortability (and appeal), this is also means that there will be fewer seats in the new auditoriums, decreasing capacity by anywhere between 50 and 70%. In some theaters, this means fewer than 70 seats will be available.

But given that it’s been difficult for theaters to fill their auditoriums, and the cost of tearing down and reconstructing newer theaters is too outrageous, downsizing the auditoriums and re-fitting them with bigger, better seats is an easy (but still costly) fix. With fewer seats, there’s fewer tickets to sell, and AMC can charge more for the amenity. The company will not be adding the additional $1 or $2 to ticket prices until about a year after the change, in order to condition customers to desire the new seating arrangements.

So what this means is that for the first year after you visit an AMC with the new seating installed, you can enjoy your regular ticket prices and those awesome new reclining chairs (which will recline all the way back in most theaters). Once you get used to this perk and start to prefer it to regular theater seating, AMC will add that $1 or $2 charge to movie tickets for all screenings in upgraded auditoriums — then the choice is yours. Do you want to pay extra for a substantially larger and more comfortable seat, or do you want to sit in a regular theater with standard seating? After a year of enjoying the benefit at no extra charge, you’ll likely be swayed to fork over the extra buck or two.

As for cities where theaters aren’t performing as poorly, AMC will install reclining seats that do not recline all the way back, which means they will not have to downsize as many seats in the theater. Attendance in the renovated theaters has already leapt by 80%, so clearly the plan is working.

And AMC isn’t the only chain implementing this new approach: Regal theaters are also revamping their seating, and will have 25 theaters outfitted with bigger, better seating by the end of this year.

Getting people back to the theaters — especially in the wake of Netflix and VOD options — has been a major headache for years, but it seems like they’ve finally come up with a solution that suits both consumer and corporation alike. What do you guys think? Does the concept of bigger, reclining seats appeal to you? Would you pay extra for the amenity?

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