Can Moviegoing Be Saved by the Uber Model?

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As ticket sales drop, Regal Cinemas is looking to offset the loss in a novel way. 

While box office revenues have generally risen over the past decade, actual ticket sales have dropped. Cinema chains have tried to offset falling attendance by raising prices and offering VIP theatrical experiences, but now some are trying a different spin on that formula. The American chain Regal Cinemas is implementing its own take on the so-called "surge pricing" model used by companies like Uber.

According to The Playlist, in early 2018 select Regal Cinemas will join forces with app company Atom Tickets to experiment with what they're calling "demand based pricing," which means, essentially, that during peak movie attendance hours (how these hours are determined has yet to be revealed, though probably it means nights and, especially, weekends), you'll pay more for tickets to popular movies. Conversely, you will pay less for titles that are less in-demand, as well as during off-peak hours.

During peak movie attendance hours, you'll pay more for tickets to popular movies.

The (possibly ill-advised) idea behind this is that, in the wake of the new pricing rubric, audiences will find themselves with more incentive to go to the movies, and to, correspondingly, "check out smaller movies that are priced more cheaply," but, as The Playlist observes, whether or not this happens has yet to be seen. One thing that is almost certain is that when it comes to almost guaranteed blockbusters, e.g. the latest Star Warsan audience is likely to pay more than the regular ticket price. It's also yet to be seen if these higher prices will lead to any special "enhancements" of the movie going experience, or just a higher ticket price to see a big blockbuster movie. Furthermore, this does raise the question of whether "demand based pricing" will possibly "price out" both lower-income viewers, as well as families on limited budgets, for whom a night out at the movies is already a costly proposition. 

Whether or not this is a strategy will be effective is yet to be seen. It has been effective for service providers like Uber, but could end up shooting Regal Cinemas in the foot. If the company's desire is to get more people into theaters and therefore counteract the bite in ticket sales, it seems counterintuitive to raise prices against the universe of streaming options currently at moviegoer's disposal and cost-effective theatrical options like the $10/month MoviePass service. But only time—and revenue—will tell whether "demand based pricing" works for theaters and moviegoers.      

Your Comment


“People aren’t going to the movies anymore. What do we do?”

“What if we charged them more money to see popular movies?”

“It’s good... but it needs more. What if we targeted nights and weekends— yknow, the only time people actually have time to go out to the movies?”


October 26, 2017 at 12:15PM, Edited October 26, 12:15PM

Bryan Howell
Screenwriter, corporate videographer, and indie filmmaker

Comic-con style fan events, movie talks and limited edition merch at the theatre make more sense. Make the theatre the place where all the cinephiles hang out, even if they don't care about the new release that week.

October 26, 2017 at 4:19PM

Jesse Yules

yes to all of the words above

October 30, 2017 at 6:54AM, Edited October 30, 6:54AM

Luan Oliveira
film student in Rio

When AMC started charging $7.50 for matinees, I just went to Marcus for $5 matinees. That Marcus Theater also did lots of special engagement showings of old movies or two-for-ones at cheap prices, just to get more and more people in. Charging more means the smart consumers will just go to the next theater for whatever you're charging more for.

(P.S. Also, if theaters could they should find a way to start trying to bring back the comedy. We're in a dark age of comedy movies right now, but think about how much of the market that drives away from the theater, not just for those missing funny comedies, but just in general because they're not focused on seeing movies.)

October 26, 2017 at 6:22PM


Does it say it will surge ABOVE the standard price or more than likely will surge UP TO a maximum price which will likely be the current standard price.

Im not sure how the ticket price>Cost to cinema structure works in terms of the studio model, but with cinemas still having to pay the same amount (power/rent/etc) to play a film regardless of the time of day it makes sense. In a sell out charge the regular full ticket price, but for a 1pm screening of Ghost Story, charge half that to try and get more people in.

It makes sense as long as the surge does surge above the normal ticket price, instead kind of just undersurges. Although advertising the ticket price is problematic then, and what if a cheap time surges, then it is not a cheap time anymore.....

I do think pricing based on time of day and the movie is probably worth it though, to try get more bums on seats for small movies

October 26, 2017 at 10:13PM

Isaac Elliott
Director - Producer

"Uber model"... Hotels and airlines have been doing this for years but I guess the headline isn't as click-baity when it says, "Can theaters be saved by something hotels and airlines have been doing for decades."!

I thought the article was going to say theaters were going to convert their employees to independent contractors, pay them less than minimum wage and allow theater goers to rate them!

October 27, 2017 at 2:57PM, Edited October 27, 2:57PM


My local cineplex already has discount pricing on Tuesday nights and before 6pm on Sat/Sun. They seem to be doing well compared to the higher priced competition. They have a revamped theater as well...reserved seating, reclining seats, free refills on large sodas.

October 30, 2017 at 6:32AM


That's already a reality in Brazil. Prices are different for weekends, mondays and tuesdays, and wednesdays, which are the cheapest days and the days in which I go to the movies because I'm a college student with a lot of free time. Besides me, it's usually just old people (I call them "bingo sessions"). Apart from that, some theaters also have cheaper prices before 6pm. I don't know how well these tactics do, tho.

October 30, 2017 at 6:56AM

Luan Oliveira
film student in Rio

It all depends on the implementation. If 'off-peak' tickets drop significantly in price, that might definitely bring in viewers. And if the 'peak' screenings include extras like in-person Q&A's with celebs and/or merch giveaways/raffles/etc, then that might be enough to make serious fans cough up the extra dough. We will have to wait and see - if all Regal does is boost prices for popular times without some discounts elsewhere then it's likey to fail. Another way they could make it work is to include some concessions with off-peak tickets; that might help bring families back into the theater.

It's good to see some experimentation with the system. The first go-round might not work but they might just hit on a formula that boosts moviegoing. I hope so.

November 4, 2017 at 8:01AM, Edited November 4, 8:02AM