A few days ago, I read an article on WSJ on the subscription service from AMC, the biggest theater chain in the US. I was intrigued by this market. So I took a look at the three players in the sphere: MoviePass, Sinemia and AMC. Below are my findings.
Last July, I was one of the lucky ones to enjoy the crazy “one movie a day for $10/month” offer by MoviePass before the plan was cancelled. Fast forward, the company changed its pricing to move its business model closer to reality, not dreams. Here are its 3-month and 12-month subscriptions
For the sake of simplicity, I only looked at the one that would allow users to watch movies in 3D and IMAX. After some calculations, a user is expected to pay at least $8.21 and $8.30 for a movie, with 3-month and 12 month subscriptions respectively, provided that such a user will go to theaters 3 times a month. It’s a bit surprising that it costs more on average per movie to have a longer subscription. Nonetheless, multiple yearly subscriptions will bring the average ticket price per movie down to around $7.5.
For Sinemia, prices are structured a little bit differently. There is an initiation fee of $20, depending on whether the subscription is monthly or yearly.
As you can see, subscription prices don’t change, but whether the initiation fee is added depends on the level of commitment you have with Sinemia. If we look at the same number of movies and the possibilities of 3D and IMAX as we did for MoviePass, Sinemia’s holiday plan is much more affordable. Each movie costs around $5.33. However, without the holiday plan, a movie will cost around $11.67. Their family plan is more or less the same.
It’s worth noting that consumers are willing to pay from $15 to $20 for services such as MoviePass or Sinemia. As a result, most of their prices (not all) are out of the surveyed preference range.
The pricing structure with AMC is much simpler and more straightforward. For $20 a month without any commitment, you can watch 3 movies a week, in any format
If you maintain the AMC A-list subscription for a year (52 weeks) and go to theaters 3 times a week, each movie ticket will average out to be around $1.54. It’s much lower than what MoviePass and Sinemia are offering. I suspect the significant difference comes from the fact that each ticket’s marginal cost by AMC is much lower than that of MoviePass or Sinemia. AMC is a theater chain. They already have to pay for the rights to show the movies anyway. Sure, each ticket sold through the subscription comes at the opportunity cost of a normal ticket, as WSJ pointed out:
And though the service is growing AMC continues to face questions over whether the service will cannibalize its existing customer base, as patrons simply sign up as subscribers to lower their ticket costs.
But if a screen slot isn’t full anyway, I figure it’s better to put more bums on seats. The appealing price seems to gain popularity among moviegoers. Per WSJ:
AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.’s movie-subscription program has grown faster than the theater chain expected, giving the company a predictable revenue stream as it battles other movie-theater operators and streaming services like Netflix Inc. for consumer attention.
The company said Wednesday more than 100,000 people signed up for the AMC Stubs A-List program over the past six weeks, sending the service’s subscriber count past 600,000 since it launched in late June. Company officials had set a target for the service to have 500,000 subscribers after its first year in operation.
The company now believes between one million and two million people may become A-List subscribers, up from an earlier projection of 500,000 to one million, AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron told analysts last month.
It’s clear that the subscription plan is welcomed by the end users, but does it contribute to or affect AMC’s financials? The answer is the latter, so far. According to AMC’s latest quarterly earnings report:
The decline in average ticket price was primarily due to discounted pricing for our AMC Stubs members, increased attendance from our A-list loyalty program, and declines in IMAX and 3D related attendance.
AMC’s U.S. film exhibition costs increased 7.4% to $289.0 million compared to last year’s pro forma results, representing 53.6% of admissions revenue as compared to 50.6% in the same quarter a year ago primarily due to a combination of strong box office and higher attendance from A-List. AMC continues to incur film exhibition expense on each ticket presented for admission, but the revenue associated with increased AList attendance does not currently offset the increase in film exhibition expense.
Hence, don’t be surprised that AMC will increase their prices after 12 months. If AMC increases the subscription price by $3/month, we are talking about a boost of $21.6 million more in revenue for 600,000 current subscribers. If the increase is by $5/month, the revenue addition will amount to $36,000,000.
According to Priceintelligently, there is a willingness to pay up to $25 for AMC:
The median willingness to pay, based on our algorithms, puts MoviePass at $14.89, which is about 50% higher than their actual price. What’s interesting is how similar these two services are when comparing on this metric. Willingness to pay for each flexes between approximately $5 and $20 per month, and almost up to $25 for AMC. Where MoviePass is definitely going after the volume play, AMC is priced higher than the median, at $20 a month for three movies per week.
Zoom Out to the industry
Theaters have been under pressure from streaming services such as Hulu, HBO or Netflix. It’ll only get more intense given the investment race into original content by the incumbents and the upcoming arrival of Disney streaming service which will likely bring, you guess it, Star Wars and Marvel movies – the usually big draws for moviegoers. The theater attendance in the US increased in 2018 compared to 2017 after a downward trend for the past years
Hence, it’s important that customers have a great experience at theaters to justify the inconvenience of commuting instead of relaxing on the couch at home while watching all the new releases. Theaters like AMC must continue to invest to make watching movies an enjoyable experience for customers. Regarding the ticket subscription services such as MoviePass or Sinemia, their hope to compete may rest more on the availability of theaters across US. In cities, especially rural and smaller ones, or cities where AMC theaters may not be conveniently located, perhaps consumers may be more motivated to pay for the more expensive subscriptions. Nonetheless, if all the box office right owners have their own streaming services which are likely to be priced around $15 a month, it’s going to be tough for Sinemia or MoviePass to attract subscribers.