July 9, 2019

Will AMC's Plan Breathe New Life into Indie Theatrical Runs?

A bold new program from the exhibition giant aims to promote smaller and midrange films.

It’s summertime, which means you’re going to the movies, even if it’s just for the air conditioning. While you’re there, you might notice something about the movies on offer: there isn’t a whole lot of choice. What do you do if you’re not interested in the latest MCU Chris-fest or Dark Phoenix?

AMC wants to help you answer that question. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the world’s largest movie exhibitor is launching a new initiative called AMC Artisan Films, which is designed to “highlight character and narrative driven films.”

AMC’s new initiative comes at a challenging time for the US theatrical distribution market. Although total box office grosses have increased year-over-year, more and more of the revenue is concentrated in fewer and fewer films. I work in distribution & acquisitions, and I’ve seen the changes in the market firsthand. Here, I’m going to discuss what makes AMC Artisan Films different from previous attempts to expand audience tastes beyond boom-boom blockbusters.

Exhibition vs. Distribution

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. AMC is an exhibitor, which means they own and operate their theaters. That’s different than a distributor, which is a company that controls the rights to a film and can decide where to show it and how to market it. Today, the big studios are distributors, but not exhibitors.

(If you want to learn more about exhibition vs. distribution and how we got to where we are, United States v. Paramount Pictures is a good place to start your antitrust law education.)

Why Now?

Exhibitors get a cut of box office grosses, but any theater manager will tell you that true exhibition growth comes from increasing foot traffic, not ticket prices. Current tentpole movies are aimed at a particular demographic, mostly men under 35. AMC wants to appeal to a wider segment of the population in order to create more consistent business. And with the rise of subscription models for theatrical movie-going like MoviePass, AMC is looking to build out their own subscription ticket service, called AMC Stubs A-List.

The Road Ahead Is Open, But Stay In Your Lane

One thing AMC isn’t doing: distributing these “Artisan Films.” Nothing in any of the press releases or announcements says anything about distribution; instead, AMC is focused on “highlighting and promoting” these films with marketing and prime showtimes. That lowers the risk by reducing the amount of up-front investment required to launch small and mid-budget films.

AMC clearly learned a valuable lesson from Open Road Films, the now-bankrupt US production and distribution company that was formed in 2011 when AMC and Regal Cinemas partnered to bring independent films to a wider audience. Expanding the theatrical audience is a noble goal, but film production and distribution are incredibly risky ventures.

Show Me The Movie

Time will tell how much investment AMC pours into AMC Artisan Films. As someone who comes from the world of distribution, I can tell you that the cost of marketing and advertising usually falls on the distributor instead of the exhibitor. Could this slightly unusual arrangement work? We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a good sign that the entire theatrical ecosystem is exploring new ways to get butts in seats.

AMC Artisan Films’ first release, Yesterday, has already come out in theaters. Did you see it? Enjoy it? Sing along with it? Are you looking forward to more AMC Artisan Films releases like Blinded by the Light, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Downton Abbey, The Art of Self Defense, Luce, The Kitchen and Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Let us know in the comments below.     

Your Comment

2 Comments

I think this is not solving the problem that most of the demographic that they are trying to appeal to already has a lot of content on streaming services that cost less and are more widely available than in a theater that might be not well maintained and are... smelly.

July 10, 2019 at 10:03AM

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