“At the Movies: Fully Reclining Seats” by Erich Schwartzel. The Wall Street Journal, 7/7/2014.
AMC Entertainment, the second largest movie chain, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to refit many theaters with fully-reclining, La-Z-Boy-type seats. This comes as a total surprise to me because my childhood memories of the Lansdowne and Waverly Theaters are of very comfortable seats, better than anything we had at home. Of course, we were sitting up, but how could anyone watch a movie lying down? We can thank TV for teaching us how.
This action by AMC has surprised others in the industry, too. The new seats can gobble up two thirds of the seating capacity. In some theaters, the seating capacity is down to just 70 seats. Experts expect prices at the refitted theaters will eventually go up about $1 after a year or two for the movie-goers to forget what they are paying for.
If you think this is no way to run a business, you are already being proven wrong. AMC’s strategy of quality over quantity is paying off in the refitted theaters. Box office revenues are up 60%, and competing chains are taking notes. Regal has begun the same process, although more cautiously. All theaters are finding it involves more than just the seats. Everything has to be upgraded at the same time. The lounge-chair experience is compromised by a dirty restroom or a sticky floor.
But here is the real reason for the change: movie attendance has been declining for a long time. Movie chains are stuck with almost-empty theaters that are too expensive to tear down, and losing seating capacity is not a problem. AMC admits the greatest gains come from the weakest theaters.
I am surprised anyone goes to a movie, anymore. Years ago, I thought by now theaters would consist of individual rooms holding maybe 6 friends or family, with a flat screen TV that they could select from a variety of titles and start and pause whenever they wanted to. Unfortunately, that’s just what they can now do at home.