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Adding a little flexibility to movie ticket prices would increase customer satisfaction, distributor profits, and cinematic variety. Let's say there's an extremely highly anticipated film coming out, such as the next Star Wars prequel. Instead of releasing prints to a zillion screens and encouraging
insane fans to wait weeks in line to buy advanced tickets followed by another week to get good seats, only to find the theaters empty after demand falls off, why not release the film to a reasonable number of screens and then sell tickets according to demand. In this case, at least $50 per ticket for the first couple of showings would seem reasonable. That would be a small price for some fans to pay to be able to say they saw the film on opening night, and it would weed out the more patient viewers. This could be integrated with the aforementioned assigned seating plan (graduated pricing could be introduced here as well; the better the seat, the higher the price), and lines would be all but eliminated with no loss of profit to the distributor. By the same token, titles which have been out for a while, and which have seen sharp declines in profit, could go "on sale," for perhaps a few dollars a ticket. Or, an independent distributor could encourage interest in its acclaimed but little-seen low-budget indies by knocking down the price. The normal seasonal ebb and flow could also be accounted for by charging more for summer and December releases, less for the fall and spring filler. Sure, this would drive up prices for those who must see the big blockbusters on opening weekend, but it would be a boon for the cool and competent cineaste. Furthermore, by offering these different price scales, variety would improve because low-budget and foreign films which couldn't normally compete with the higher-profile releases filling the multiplexes should draw large enough audiences to keep the host theaters happy, since all they're interested in is concession sales anyway.
A New Drumbeat
A short article from 1998 supporting variable pricing. [BenBraddock, Dec 14 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]
Building Blockbuster Business
Detailed outline showing how variable pricing is better for everyone. [BenBraddock, Dec 14 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]
A related idea: add fixed costs of running a theater to each movie's ticket price so as to keep the proportional demand for the movie the same as if you were only charging the marginal cost. [frankus, Oct 27 2004]
variable pricing [neilp, Oct 27 2004]
||I had this same idea for television and radio advertising (but haven't posted it yet, so if someone wants it).
||No, my idea was for radio stations to sell ad time at a premium for short-notice advertisements. I didn't post it because I couldn't find a convincing use for it. Maybe combine it with [mycroft]'s idea so the theatre could cut it's ticket price just before showtime, and could announce the price cut through a short-notice radio advertisement.
||As mycroft hints, almost all the money from ticket sales goes to the distributors rather than the theatres. The venues have to make their money from overpriced popcorn and drinks.
||This is baked, if you fancy a trip to Milton Keynes (see link).