CinemaCon: How Movie Theaters Can Make More Money – More Opera, Flexible Pricing

Theaters owners need to start looking at their theaters as channels, scheduling different programming at different times, it's argued

Movie theaters owners have gathered in Las Vegas to assess the state of the film business, and during a Wednesday panel a few industry leaders pondered how they can solve an acute problem — routinely empty seats.

Though movies such as “Avatar” can pack a theater for months, theater owners often grapple with filling theaters that are vacant for more than half the week.

“Monday-to-Thursday, there is almost no one in the theater,” Carmike Cinemas’ chief David Passman said. “It’s a problem we need to solve.”

Also read: Opera, Live Theater Ride to the Rescue of Troubled Multiplexes

During the day, kids are in school, parents are at work and the unemployed are out looking for work. At night, families are at home together. So how do you convince people to show up during the day and on weeknights?

Passman argued for new types of programming during the week, citing the success of the Metropolitan Opera with its in-theater screening series. He also suggested series that could play programmatically, aping the success of recent TV dramas.

Bud Mayo, Chairman & CEO of Digiplex Destinations, echoed the sentiment. “Why do you have something aimed at little kids at 10 on a Monday?,” Mayo said. “Kids are in school.”

He argued that theaters owners needed to start looking at their theaters as channels, scheduling different programming at different times.

Universal chairman Adam Fogelson told TheWrap after the panel that such programming would come “more from outside than inside” the studios but that certain studio films, such as direct-to-DVD titles and re-releases, could lend themselves to a mid-week play.

Exhibitors are so eager to lure a larger audience to the theater, they might even consider fiddling with prices. Passman argued against lowering prices across the board and instead advocated raising them in some cases.

“I’m a big believer in premium pricing for midnight showings,” he said. “If you’re not doing that, you should consider doing that.”

Yet he did express interest in variable pricing, offering deals during off times and raising prices at others.

"We're also interested in variable pricing and experimenting with that with studios," Passman said. "That may be a way to fill theaters during off times — two-fers or three-fers, MoviePass, what have you."