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Pix Tix Fix II

August 08, 1993

Robert W. Cort's proposal on theater ticket prices (Commentary, July 25, and Letters, Aug. 1), while both provocative and insightful, is not as new a concept as some may believe. The practice of charging more for certain movies existed as early as the 1930s with films like "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind."

My father was a theater owner in a small town in Illinois for more than 50 years, and since he was a pack rat, saving most everything he acquired, I have many of his records, including what he paid to show various films as well as his cash register receipts.

Often the "A" films--the highest-budgeted films with the top stars--were sold on percentage with a guarantee. A theater owner would guarantee the film company a certain number of dollars per day, plus a percentage of his gross receipts.

In a small town it was very difficult to make money on these films unless the price of admission was increased. For example, in 1939, the standard adult admission was 50 cents; for "Gone With the Wind," ticket prices were raised to 75 cents--a 50% increase. Although many complained, because it was such a desirable film they still paid this enormous price increase.

Using the same sort of reasoning, my father charged only 35 cents, a 30% price reduction, for "B" movies shown typically on Thursday nights.

Cort's proposal for a variable pricing strategy is just as valid today, as it addresses all three kinds of movie audiences, telling each that the sooner you want to see a movie, the more it will cost:

* The fervent moviegoers who have to see the latest film immediately upon its release and will continue to pay whatever it takes (within reason) to do so.

* Those who will wait until the crowds decrease but still want to see the film in a theater.

* Those who want to see the movie but can wait until it becomes available on videotape.

There is a snag in Cort's proposal, and that is the studios themselves. Since I and my family attend so many movies, I buy block tickets to theaters in advance at a reduced price, paying what is equivalent to the "before 6 p.m." price. Yet recently certain studios (20th Century Fox for one) have challenged this practice by not allowing theaters to accept those discount coupons on certain films. Generally these are films the studios either have spent a great deal of money producing or know will generate strong attendance because of the nature of the film.

Motion picture exhibitors today pay an enormous price (everything's on percentage plus guarantees) to show a film. If Cort's proposal is to work, and I certainly hope it becomes a reality, then the studios will have to reduce what they charge the theaters once a film is priced according to Cort's sliding-scale formula.

If it all comes together, both the moviegoing public and the studios will benefit with increased attendance and revenues. Good job, Cort. But keep your fingers crossed that others will see things as well as you do.


Associate Professor of Television and Film

Cal State Fullerton

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