Same Bat-time, different Bat-price.

AMC Theatres is charging higher prices for tickets to The Batman, CEO Adam Aron announced Tuesday, as the movie theater chain begins to experiment with so-called variable pricing for different films. The news marks the arrival, at last, of a long-anticipated change in strategy for movie theaters, coming as the business continues to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Aron noted during an earnings call, ticket prices for The Batman are "slightly higher than the prices… for other movies playing in the same theaters at the same time." As of this writing, AMC is charging $1.50 more for an adult ticket to the superhero film in Los Angeles, compared to a ticket to another movie at the same time and same venue.

"This is all quite novel in the United States, but actually, AMC has been doing it for years in our European theaters," the CEO added. "Indeed, in Europe, we charge a premium for the best seats in the house, as do just about all other sellers of tickets in other industries — think sports events, concerts, and live theater, for example."

The Batman
Robert Pattinson in 'The Batman'
| Credit: Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros.

Variable pricing — charging more for tickets to movies with higher demand — has been discussed for years as a potential strategy to help boost the struggling exhibition business, but consistently faced widespread resistance in North America. As financial analyst Eric Handler told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019, "When you charge a lower price, right there you are saying the movie isn't as good as another film. You are saying you have to discount it in order for people to show up. I don't think that is something you will see any time soon."

As with so much in the entertainment industry, however, the pandemic has radically changed the game. With the standard theatrical-exclusive window for movies now whittled down to 45 days, major releases are becoming available for home viewing faster than ever, and theatrical attendance still has not rebounded to pre-COVID levels. A recent study suggested that 8 percent of pre-pandemic moviegoers may never return to theaters, and pressure is mounting on American exhibitors to rethink the experience they provide.

Variable pricing, it seems, will be part of this rethinking. Last week during Cinemark's earnings call, CFO Melissa Thomas said the theater chain was "in the midst of a series of tests to better understand how elasticities have evolved during the pandemic to further optimize our base pricing levels going forward," which "could mean increases or decreases in pricing, depending upon theater, market, time of day, week, and various other factors."

Most major theater chains already charge higher prices for evening and weekend showtimes at many locations; indeed, Aron, the AMC CEO, said the chain's Batman pricing was a natural extension of this strategy.

"AMC has been a bold thinker in the area of pricing," he said. "One who is willing to take risk, and one who is willing to lead, and one who sees considerable upside opportunity for us ahead if we continue to be imaginative."

The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader, hits theaters this Friday.

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