Can Cinemas Increase Ticket Prices for Award-winning films?

As temperatures rise and spring unfolds, our attention turns from the Oscar successes to Hollywood’s blockbusters, made with the express wish of enticing you to part with your well-earned cash in exchange for thrills and spills.

The Hunger Games, released in the UK last weekend, has broken box office records as one of the biggest films of the year grossing £4.9 million in its opening weekend. But whilst many cinemas have welcomed record audiences, cinema attendance in the EU dropped slightly by 0.4% to 960 million in 2011, from 964 million in 2010.

With mainstream cinemas looking to mitigate against further decline, one idea is to increase cinema ticket prices for certain films. In a report made by a graduate of Harvard Business School recently, the argument was made for cinemas to charge more for Oscar-winning films, against those films with a lesser profile or lower expectations. As cinemas charge extra for 3-D films, why not levy a similar ‘tax’ on audiences coming to see the bigger films, especially as these films are assured more coverage in the media?

No doubt this prospect may excite many of the ‘money men’ involved in commercial cinema exhibition, but surely taste is subjective? Who is to say that The Artist is a better film than Shame? Or The Descendants is better than Martha, Macy, May, Marlene; thus justifying the higher ticket price? Would a similar move equally encourage audiences to watch lesser known films (as the cost would be lower) or dissuade them, as the ‘product’ has already been devalued in the eyes of the cinema programmer?

Another idea would be to operate an ‘Early Bird’ ticket system similar to that of many theatres, where tickets booked weeks in advance can be sold at a lower price, whilst those sold closer to (or after) the film’s release are sold at a higher price. However with many cinemas operating in the ‘shadow’ of the larger distributors (who are instrumental in determining how long a film will run in a cinema and at how much  tickets can be sold), this too would be another decision that many cinemas are unable to make alone. Indeed, it may even result in distributors refusing to release certain films to cinemas, due to the cinema’s low ticket price.

Certainly many cinemas operate currently with a 2-tier price system where tickets for peak time screenings (after 5pm/weekends and bank holidays) are more expensive than screenings during the day, but any further complication of pricing structure would confuse the customer. As the larger distributors’ power increases, so we see a decrease in that of the cinema, who are under more and more pressure to yield to their demands.

With a cinema industry battling against the rise of film piracy, film subscription-streaming and advances in the capabilities in home cinema, it would seem unwise to further compound many people’s opinion that the cinema experience can be replicated at home for a fraction of the price. Given that cinemas traditionally recoup losses through the sale of confectionery items, rather than ticket sales, it is interesting to note the number of independent cinemas that now enhance the experience with plush seating, bar and table service available in auditoriums, offering an altogether more personalised, premium service. Rather than increasing consumer confusion with a complicated price structure, let’s hope the ‘money men’ will re-look at the whole structure of cinema going and increase the number of ‘quality’ films released in the mainstream.

Forum Cinema, Northampton


~ by cinemalicious on March 29, 2012.

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