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Concession recession

Posted by Ty Burr  November 11, 2008 12:22 PM

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Despite a handful of blockbusters this year, movie theater attendance has been down at most of the national chains, and a peek into the new numbers from the 250-theater Carmike Cinemas shows why. According to an article at the Hollywood Reporter, the Georgia-based company's profits are down 7.4% over last year, but ticket sales are down only 6.9%. Concession sales, by contrast, are down 8.3%. That means people are going to the movies a little less and the ones who are going aren't buying the overpriced popcorn, soda, and candy as much.

Why is this worrisome to theater owners? Because in those Junior Mints and the slushies are the profits, often the only profits available to them. (Unless a film's a hit and sticks around for more than two weeks, the studios get most of the ticket revenue.) I doubt that America has gone vegan all of a sudden; what's more likely happening is that tough economic times are making the choice between paying $6.00 for a bag of Reese's Pieces or buying the same bag for half the price at the CVS next to the theater not much of a choice at all.

This puts the ball in the theater-owners' court. How can they make their concession offerings competitive with the outside world in a way that's acceptable to the average moviegoer? Me, I'd start by getting rid of those nacho platters with the nuclear cheese sauce. Is that stuff food or caulking?

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11 comments so far...
  1. It's caulking.

    Posted by reindeergirl November 11, 08 07:52 PM
  1. How can theatre owners make concession offerings competitive? How about reasonable prices? They charge $5 for a bag of popcorn that costs pennies to make (or make you buy gargantuan sizes) and people have been foolishly paying these prices all along, so now that people are finally showing discipline I'm supposed to feel sorry for the theatre? I don't think so. My easy solution? Eat before I go in. With Netflix, movies on demand and big screen HDTV's at home more people will be staying away from theatres, so until they can provide a better value for what they are giving instead of gouging me they can kiss their "only profts" goodbye.

    Posted by B.R. November 11, 08 08:42 PM
  1. Obviuosly, the concession (pop corn, sode, etc) must be competitively priced with stores, maybe with a little price mark up, but not way over priced as it has been for years. It's already tough to swallow a $11 per person movie ticket.

    Posted by past theater woker November 12, 08 07:00 AM
  1. Why should we "the consumer" pay for what to amounts to a bad business deal for the theater owners. The Redstones (National Amusements) seem to be doing fine. The whole pyramid supports people like Brad Pitt for $20mil a film. Like B.R. I believe that I have a choice with my hard earned money. My life won't change if I don't see "Norbert" or wait until "Ocean's 13" comes to TNT.
    Get over yourselves.

    Posted by Watching at home....if at all November 12, 08 07:11 AM
  1. Movie theaters AND studios need to work together to keep theaters in business. Hollywood turns out garbage movies, theaters charge me a fortune to watch garbage, and then (as stated) charge $5 for a tiny popcorn or $6 for a simple candy bar. And you wonder why I just stay at home....

    Posted by JMc November 12, 08 08:01 AM
  1. Why not negotiate with the studios to keep some percentage of the ticket sales during the first two weeks? Why is that considered a taboo and a no-no? If times and situation have changed, then previously negotiated terms need a second look.

    Though eating less of the unhealthy food that is sold at most (but not all) movie theaters would result in less obesity and improvement in health. By the way, popcorn *is* vegan and is quite healthy, as long as it's not doused with butter-FLAVORED yucky stuff that many, but not all, theaters offer.

    Posted by Amit November 12, 08 09:09 AM
  1. Who wants to go to the movies and listen to people have conversations during a movie anyways?

    Posted by wesley80 November 12, 08 09:17 AM
  1. If it wasn't for dating, the era of movie theatres would be over!! Who needs the confinement, the concession prices, the uncomfort of seats/lounges, and the ticket cost to get in!!

    Posted by larry November 12, 08 10:08 AM
  1. The fact that people have been paying these outrageous prices to go to the movies for the past couple of decades is what continues to amaze me. I'm not a shut-in or anything, but I probably only go to one or some years zero movies a year because it's just an absolute gouge-fest.

    Plus, the movies Hollywood is making outside of a few notable exceptions (Dark Knight) are NOT worth paying $10-12 to see. I mean, "Madagascar 2" raked in $63.5 MILLION last weekend. The Globe generously gave that 2 stars. "Role Models" was second at $19.3 MILLION!! Holy cow, are you telling me you can't wait 3 months for that drivel to come out on DVD? I don't even have to see it to tell you that it's a rental - at best. I sincerely doubt that I'd be tempted to grab that for a rental when it's released to video in a month or two.

    No wonder we're drowning in credit card debt - it costs a family of four $40-50 for tickets, $20 for wildly overpriced drinks and snacks - I mean, $60-70 for a family to see the dreck that's leading the box offices these days? Yikes. I know I sound like a cranky old man (I'm not, I'm a pretty young guy) but it's good that people are FINALLY wising up. I'll go watch things that really REALLY interest me and that need to be seen on a 20 foot tall screen, but everything else comes from blockbuster or On Demand.

    Posted by J.P. November 12, 08 10:44 AM
  1. B.R. -- the article states the reason why concession prices are so high: the studios take back all the money earned the first two weeks a film in shown. For your $10 admission, approximately $8 goes back to the studio. The movie chain has your two dollars in its pocket to pay their rent/lease/mortgage, insurance, salaries, advertising, rent the films from the studios, utilities, etc. Hence why they charge so much for concessions. It's the only way they can stay in business. The studios take back so much of the admission price to pay for the star's salaries, special effects, promotions, etc. That's usually why you only see films out for a few weeks in the theatres -- once the first few weeks have passed, the studio is losing money.

    Posted by MovieKnower November 12, 08 10:56 AM
  1. Bailouts to the contrary, no business has the right to succeed. If the theater cannot survive without obscenely overpriced concessions, let it die, and good riddance.

    Posted by Nightcap November 12, 08 11:07 AM

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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