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Inside Beat

Even Nicole Kidman can't save AMC's obtuse new seat pricing program

If you want the best seat in the house, you're going to have to pay for it, according to Sightline at AMC. – Photo by @DiscussingFilm / Twitter

Not long ago, I wrote about my experience going to see Illumination's newest release, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," in theaters. Prior to watching the movie, I engaged in a fairly straightforward ticket-purchasing process: I went on Rutgers Cinema's website and bought a general admissions matinee ticket for $5, which allowed me to sit wherever there was an open seat in the theater.

The process, thankfully, didn't involve me having to weigh the pros and cons of paying more or less for my ticket depending on where in the theater I wished to sit, which makes sense given Rutgers Cinema's overall quality — I do think the theater feels like it was converted from an old lecture hall.

This was not the case for any moviegoers interested in seeing the film in one of the specially selected AMC Theaters designated as pilot locations for the company's new pricing program, Sightline at AMC.

"While every seat at AMC delivers an amazing moviegoing experience, we know there are some moviegoers who prioritize their specific seat and others who prioritize value moviegoing," said AMC CMO and executive VP Eliot Hamlisch in a statement to Variety. "Sightline at AMC accommodates both sentiments to help ensure that our guests have more control over their experience so that every trip to an AMC is a great one."

The plan was first tested on February 10 across a few locations in New York, Kansas City and Chicago.

Sightline at AMC's announcement immediately drew criticism from moviegoers. Many questioned the program's necessity and saw it as little more than a desperate attempt from the theater chain to regain losses incurred from the pandemic.

In an article from Deadline, AMC CEO Adam Aron defended the company's new pricing model by claiming the system was a preferable alternative to other, more drastic reactions to troubling economic conditions.

"We are in inflationary times, and inflationary times cause costs to rise," Aron said, "Under the pre-Sightline structure of the industry if we wanted to raise the price in a theater, the only choice we had was to raise the price on all the seats."

The plan works by classifying each seat in a given auditorium into one of three classes: value, standard and preferred, according to the company's website. Each tier will either cost a dollar or two more or less, depending on the chosen tier.

Another benefit to Sightline for AMC, which conveniently went undiscussed by any of the company's executives, is added value for its ticket subscription program, AMC Stubs A-List.

"Preferred Sightline seats cost the same for everyone. The extra cost associated with these seats will be waived for AMC Stubs A-List reservations as a benefit of the company's A-List membership. All AMC Stubs membership tiers receive a discount for Value Sightline seats purchased," AMC's website reads.

Although this supplemental benefit for A-List members makes sense given the program's offerings, Sightline follows a worrying economic trend involving companies gatekeeping features that were once available to all customers and instead offering them exclusively to those willing to pay a monthly premium.

At its most worrying, we've seen this through services like the recently announced "Meta Verify" program, which offers customers such incredible bonuses as access to human customer support and required two-factor authentication.

But AMC's take on the idea seems to be making your trip to the movies marginally less enjoyable, provided you aren't interested in paying more to actively make it better.

I find it interesting that Hamlisch chose to compare the company's pricing model to "other entertainment venues," as he was presumably referring to systems in place at events such as live music concerts or sports games.

This was an exceptionally odd move on his part, in my opinion, as people long bemoaned the arduous process of obtaining live entertainment tickets — specifically about the absurd rate of added fees many ticket hosting websites feature.

His comment was made right in the midst of Ticketmaster coming under fire for its handling of ticket sales for Taylor Swift's Eras Tour. It's like comparing your sinking ship to an active house fire to make it seem better.

Sightline at AMC is set to be rolled out to all domestic locations by the end of the year. It remains to be seen whether the scale between the seat tiers will change over time or if the program will find its way overseas.

But not for nothing — if I could have paid less to see "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" in the theater's front rows, I almost certainly would have.

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