Regal Cinemas would like to see you pay as if you are going to try.
Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from the Regal Entertainment Group promoting its ultimate movie ticket package for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. For the low, low price of $100, you will receive a customized metallic gift card that allows you to see Rogue One once a day in any standard, IMAX, or 3D Regal theater until the film ends its theatrical release. And while my initial reaction was to roll my eyes and shrug it off as another cheap deal by the most corporate of corporate theater chains, I found that I kept coming back to the terms throughout the day. Partially because it was tantalizingly in reach for some audience members, but mostly because I think encouraging repeat viewing is not a bad approach for movie theaters to take.
Of course, how far that $100 travels is also a little dependent upon where you live. If you planned to see Rogue One at the Regal E-Walk Stadium 13 in the heart of Manhattan, for example, you would only need to see the film a total of six times ($16.25 per screening) to break even on your investment. On the other hand, if you bought tickets at the Regal Jewel Stadium 16 in Waco, Texas, you would need to see the film a total of twelve times ($7.79 per screening) ‐ and watch about eighty percent of one more showing ‐ before you had gotten your money’s worth of Rogue One tickets. And that is only for the standard format; if you prefer your films in 3D, those numbers drop to five and nine screenings per ultimate ticket, respectively.
So Regal is selling a $100 customized movie ticket that will allow you to see ROGUE ONE once a day, every day, through June 2017?
Since I don’t pay close attention to loyalty programs, I assumed this was the first time that Regal had offered such a deal for an upcoming film. I was wrong. The program began last year with the release of the latest James Bond movie Spectre and saw subsequent campaigns tied to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay ‐ Part 2 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the latter of which managed to sell out in a single day. Back in 2015, Regal Entertainment Group CMO Ken Thewes spoke at length with Celluloid Junkie about the thought process that went into the ultimate ticket package and what they hoped to achieve with the limited run.
We weren’t trying to develop an idea that sells an extra ten million tickets. It was really an idea to push the envelope for the movie fanatic, or the genre fanatic in the case of Spectre and Bond, give them something unique that they can’t get anywhere else. That is a brand objective, we’re trying to differentiate our brand, so we need innovative ideas that nobody else is doing… if we find somebody who is coming in 30 times, we’re probably going to do something special for that person and really just have some fun with it.
It’s a pretty fascinating interview with a decent amount of candor, from Thewes admitting that the package was more of a brand initiative than a ticket boost to his open discussion of the Regal Crown Club statistics that encouraged Sony to sign on for the initial Spectre run. And it got me thinking a bit about the untapped market of repeat viewings. Theaters will show a film whether the audience consists of one person or 200 people; no matter how well a movie does initially, the entire theatrical apparatus is structured to ensure that films always leave a week too late rather than a week too early. Short of contractual obligations, a movie theater will never pull the plug on a movie that is still earning it money; finding a way to bring people back to see a film a second or third time might serve to monetize some of those emptier screenings along the way.
If we want to understand the psychology of people who would be interested in the Rogue One ticket, we need only look back at the release of the last Star Wars movie. Last December, Fandango asked ticket buyers if and why they would see Star Wars: The Force Awakens multiple times in theaters. According to Fandango’s results, 42% of the people surveyed admitted that they had plans to see the latest Star Wars movie at least twice in theaters; their explanations for doing so ranged from going back at the behest of their kids (41%), taking a new friend or friends to see the film (31%), or simply going because they love the Star Wars universe (69%).
It’s the first and second rationales that intrigue me the most. I may not be able to justify the twelve standard screenings in Waco, Texas ‐ even as a huge Star Wars nerd growing up, I’m not sure I watched any combination of the original trilogy a total of twelve times ‐ but there does seem to be potential for movie theaters to do more to nurture repeat viewings by its audience members. Call it the anti-MoviePass, which follows the same daily attendance restrictions as Regal’s ultimate ticket package but restricts you to one theatrical screening per title. If a theater can come up with promotions that specifically target second or third screenings of a movie, it might help smooth out the week-to-week decline in box office numbers for some of its biggest movies. And with repeat attendees likely to bring others along with them, it might also drum up some unexpected business along the way.
Speaking only for myself, it wasn’t that long ago that I saw Mad Max: Fury Road four times in theaters for pretty much all of the reasons detailed above. I attended a special pre-screening by myself, then bought tickets with a group of friends in New York, and ended up going twice more in rapid succession as part of two separate bachelor parties that summer (one in Virginia, one in Alaska). I wouldn’t have put it in quite these terms at the time, but I had become the cinematic equivalent of an influencer, someone who helps encourage people to make decisions about what movies to see and what products to buy. And if I’d had some metallic card that allowed me to consolidate my ticket purchases under one umbrella, hey, the more the better.
As Regal freely admits, the idea right now is to change the perception of their brand a little ‐ turn Regal into the cool place where movie-lovers go as opposed to the closest theater to your house ‐ and not necessarily to change viewing habits. But with studios increasingly dependent upon the lifetime grosses of individual movies for the success of their slate, it does seem to me that theaters would do well to consider how best to get people back into the theater to see the same movie twice. Ideas like Regal’s ultimate ticket package may seem hedonistic to the outsider, but it strikes me as the kernel of something considerably more interesting. Time will tell if they can find a way to make it work on a smaller scale, too.