What If Movie Theaters Worked Like Netflix


2 of 5 stars
What’s this?

An idea to help increase theater attendance: customers pay a subscription fee for movie passes at theaters of their own choosing, creating a relationship between the moviegoer and the theater. I’m not sure anyone will ever do this, but it’s intriguing, and as a fan of the in-theater movie experience, I hope something like this can reverse the downward trend in attendance.

  1. Before moving to the States, I lived in France. I was paying about EUR 20 a month for a movie card that let me see any movie, any number of times, at a certain theater chain. I think it started around 2000. Also if you bring someone with you, that person would pay half price. They rely on concession revenues to make money. I couldn’t believe nothing like that existed in the US when I moved. I would love an AMC or Cinemark pass card.

  2. The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor does this, although on a yearly basis. A yearly subscription to all of their movies (plus free real popcorn) costs $250 (part of which is a tax-deductible donation). It’s a great theater with an excellent selection of movies, organ concerts before weekend movies, and a community institution. It’s also a great way to put sunk costs to work — we’ve seen some great movies we might not have gone to otherwise, but since we’d already paid for them…

  3. The Adelaide CinжmathУque in my home town works very much like this: you subscribe to a year-long program of classic and cult films, which encourages you to take a chance on films you might otherwise skip. It’s a fantastic model.

  4. Funny, live theaters (especially the nonprofit, regional theaters) have been doing subscriptions for decades. It would be funny if movie theaters took a page out of their playbooks.

  5. The only problem I see here is box office numbers. Studios are obsessed with them and this would essentially aim to make them irrelevant.

    And while I don’t care about these kinds of numbers, we are dealing with movie studios. These are the same companies that are actually less progressive than the ones in the record industry.

  6. This already happens in various ways across the UK. There are simple pay a monthly fee, see what you want schemes, and there are more sophisticated ones. For example, I’m a member at City Screen in York (one of the best cinemas around) — for a small annual fee, you get a bunch of complimentary tickets, invites to free preview screenings, discounts on all tickets (and food and drink in the bar), and a monthly programme sent to your home.

    You’re right — it creates a definite relationship, a bond, between the cinema-goers and the the cinema. It’s amazing that in a town full of museums and galleries and historical sites, the community treasure this cinema as one of the best things in town, and it’d be sorely missed if it closed. It’s sad that this isn’t the case in most towns, and it’s entirely the fault of the cinema chains, not the Internet or DVDs or whatever else is being blamed this week.

    Stick a sweet shop on the front of a big screen, and no, of course people won’t care. Make an effort to create an enjoyable, rewarding experience, and people will love it.

  7. This used to exist in my home town in Brazil some 30 years ago. It’s called “cine club” and was geared towards the artsy crowd. Not a single one exists anymore, I’m afraid.

  8. I would absolutely participate in a program like this. It has multiple positive benefits

    1) People experiencing movies in community
    2) Patrons building a relationship with theater staff
    3) Movie-goes have opportunities for new relationships with other patrons of the same theater—theater becomes community center/third place
    4) encourages greater frequency of attendance through ease of access & lower cost
    5) encourages exploration and viewing of indie, foreign, and other non-mainstream films

  9. UGC is the French chain that has a membership card like this. When I was there I remember they also did something where for three days you could see any movie for 3 Euros, so a lot of people I knew would spend those three days seeing a lot of movies. And they would end up seeing independent movies that would be a bigger risk to see at full price, which hopefully encourage them to take those risks more often throughout the year. I don’t understand why more theaters in the U.S. don’t do things like this to give people incentive to go to their theaters.

    IFC Center has a membership that gives you a $5 discount on movies, but you first have to pay an upfront yearly membership fee so you have to do the math and figure out if you’ll go to that one theater enough times… Not as smart as an auto-renewing monthly membership, and not as practical as a Regal or Lowes doing it.

  10. Wow, I’m surprised (though I shouldn’t be) that people are so interested in this idea. Beyond reading the article that I linked to, I hadn’t put too much thought into the idea but it seems to be one that really resonates. I also wasn’t aware that so many independent theaters were already doing something somewhat similar to this. Of course, the way for it to really work, and the way for us to turn around the attendance numbers, would be that it gets adopted by the big theater chains. Once it becomes a standard way of thinking about going to the movies, rather than just something a few theaters do, that’s what will make the difference, I think.

  11. Just one more voice to say that when I lived in France, I too loved my ђ18/month all-you-can-eat movie subscription at the big UGC chain. I broke even after just two films per month, and the theaters were all fairly full on any night of the week. A full theater is not only a better moviegoing experience, but also means better revenues for theaters, where concessions are the main source of profits. (Many of the art house theaters in Paris honor the UGC card, too, so it was awesome for vintage films, too.)

    When I returned to the US after a decade abroad, I was surprised none of the chains have yet yet adopted subscriptions. I’m bummed instead to find frequently empty theaters, limping along on experience-killing pre-movie ads.

    Seems like it would be better business, a better deal, and a better moviegoing experience to fire up subscriptions in US theaters.

  12. With their roots as a rep house chain, Landmark Theatres offered a discount card since the 70s, which was pretty popular for a long time. But as their strategy changed, it became less viable for people in cities where they had fewer theaters.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.