Earlier this month, AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., announced plans to change their method of pricing tickets. Rather than the one-price-fits-all approach to seating, AMC is rolling out a new model called “Sightline at AMC.” This model will divide the theatre up into “Standard Sightline,” “Value Sightline,” and “Preferred Sightline” price tiers. Value seats, like those in the very front, will be sold at a slight discount, and seats in the middle rows will go for a premium as they afford the best “sightline” of the screen. AMC’s chief marketing officer explained the change as bringing movie theaters in line with other entertainment venues, like Broadway shows, sports games, or concerts, where ticket prices range depending on one’s seat. But should movies be priced like these other forms of entertainment? And moreover, will AMC come to regret this decision?
The “Sightline” tier-pricing system has already come under fire before its roll-out. Some, including actor Elijah Wood, have criticized the move as penalizing those with lower incomes and rewarding those with higher incomes, corrupting the historically “sacred democratic space” of the movies. Others have criticized charging a premium for certain seats since going to the movies is already expensive, especially compared to watching new releases on streaming platforms like Netflix. In light of AMC’s struggle to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and the widening availability of streaming of new releases, charging more for “Sightline” seats, though designed to increase revenue, may have the opposite effect of dissuading viewers from making the journey to the theatre at all.
In addition to these concerns, AMC’s new pricing structure signals the demise of first-in-time possession, even for the most casual and accessible venues. Not long ago, the norm for getting the movie theater seats you wanted was to get there early and claim your row. Who hasn’t saved a friend or two’s seat with their jacket? Selecting seats digitally put a serious dent in this scheme, but still rewards those who decide to buy their tickets earlier and prioritize selecting seats. The first-in-time structure also allows for flexibility in preferences—those who prefer the front row, the back row, or the aisle are charged the same amount and thus are freer to choose their ideal viewing experience. Though AMC claims that the “Sightline” structure gives people “more control over their experience,” this claim is difficult to support. First, the price-tier structure introduces a new incentive to picking a seat. Second, that increased “control” will really only be realized by those who can afford a premium, while those with lower incomes will have a much smaller initial pool of seats from which to choose.
Moreover, there doesn’t appear to be much consideration for how the “Sightline” seating structure will be enforced. If a movie theater is nearly empty, and I choose to move from a “Value” seat in the front to a “Preferred” middle seat, would the movie theater staff detain me near the popcorn or ask me to leave? How would they even know? It is difficult to imagine that fellow movie-goers would feel incentivized to enforce the seating structure unless their seat was taken, and so self-regulation also seems unlikely.
In brief, this is a gutsy decision that AMC might not be able to afford. Movies simply are not like other forms of entertainment that justifies tiered pricing. Movies aren’t live like a concert and can be shown multiple time each day so there is less comparative demand for certain showings than, say, a baseball game. Moreover, going to the movies, in the age of digital streaming, pandemics, and high-quality televisions, is falling out of vogue. Movie-goers need an incentive to show up, like AMC’s $5 dollar Tuesdays deal, not yet another reason to just stay at home.
 Nicolas Vega, AMC Theatres Is Changing the Way It Prices Movie Tickets—Here’s how It Will Work, CNBC (Feb. 6, 2023 10:52AM), https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/06/amc-theatres-will-soon-charge-you-more-money-for-the-best-seats.html [https://perma.cc/96W7-KEWS] [https://web.archive.org/web/20230219195218/https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/06/amc-theatres-will-soon-charge-you-more-money-for-the-best-seats.html].
 Emily Rella, ‘Your Days Are Numbered’: Customers, Actors Slam AMC Theaters for New Ticket Prices that ‘Penalize People for Lower Income’, Entrepreneur (Feb. 7, 2023), https://www.entrepreneur.com/business-news/amc-theaters-slammed-for-new-ticket-pricing-system/444530 [https://perma.cc/HX7E-XACF] [http://web.archive.org/web/20230219195519/https://www.entrepreneur.com/business-news/amc-theaters-slammed-for-new-ticket-pricing-system/444530].
 Amanda Holpuch, How Much To See a Movie at AMC? It Will Soon Depend Where You Sit., N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/07/business/amc-movie-ticket-prices.html [https://perma.cc/MCF2-9Z8X] [http://web.archive.org/web/20230219195737/https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/07/business/amc-movie-ticket-prices.html].