Posted on Friday, May 16th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
One major movie theater chain plans to begin testing a surcharge on middle seats in their movie theaters. Would you pay more for premium seating at the multiplex?
I use to be super obsessive about sitting in the most perfect seat in the movie theater. Before the days of online ticketing, I would make my friends wait in line for the Friday night showings just so that we could have dibs on the perfect seats in the perfect rows of whichever auditorium that week’s big release was screening.
If for some reason I wasn’t in the best possible seating, I would sit during the movie wondering to myself if a moment of surround sound would have played better if I hadn’t been stuck in the back section.
I have since become a lot less picky about seats. It may have something to do with advances in stadium seating and the arrangement of seating at the Hollywood Arclight, where almost every seat is a great seat (seriously, even the front row is back far enough to be good. I know you don’t believe me but try it sometime. the only bad seats are the ones on the side of the far front).
Canada-based Cineplex Odeon is the movie theater chain which plans to begin charging an additional $2 per ticket for the middle two rows of an auditorium. This is the new “premier service” at Varsity Cinemas in the Manulife Centre where cinema patrons who pay the extra cash can get a reserved, “extra comfortable club seat”. From what I understand, the rest of the auditorium seating is unreserved, which means you would have to arrive to the theater early to claim a good seat. Those who pay the surcharge can show up during the trailers and have a premium seat in the middle rows.
Los Angeles has been doing reserved seating for many years now, and after living here a few years I can barely remember a time before having that feature. I like the ability to claim a good seat without having to arrive super duper early to a screening.
I think my problem with this new surcharge idea is not that you have to pay extra for reserved middle row seats, but splitting the movie theater into different financial classes will cause disruption. And imagine the annoyance that would come from everyone rushing to claim one of the untaken premium seats once the movie begins. Chain spokeswoman Pat Marshall tells The Star:
“Guests could certainly occupy those seats, but if at some point later on during the presentation the guests who have those reserved seats arrive they will be asked to move,” said Marshall. “We wouldn’t encourage that because it’s not only disruptive to them in the audience, but it’s also disruptive to all those folks around them.”
Will the cineplex pay an hourly employee to stand in the auditorium during seating to police the two rows of premium seats or more likely, will cinema patrons sit in the reserved seats without paying attention to signs only to get into an argument with the people who did pay the surcharge when they arrive as the movie is starting. One thing is for sure, I don’t want any opportunities for further disruptions in the movie theater.
The Disney-owned El Capitan theatre (above) has been doing VIP seating for a while now. The Hollywood landmark started by charging a premium ticket for the middle section of the theater which included a reserved seat, popcorn and a drink. The theatre now sells 7 different types of tickets, VIP orchestra middle, left and right, as well as VIP Balcony middle, left and right, and the back section has been reduced to general admission. Disney charges $22 per VIP ticket vs. $13 adult/$10 child for the back general admission rows (which don’t include popcorn and soda). The amount of VIP seats change on a per screening basis though, with the middle rows almost always reserved and the rest sold as more tickets are sold.
Of course, this is a tourist attraction in the middle of Hollywood Blvd and the film usually includes a performance by the house organist Rob Richards before shows (an organ rises from the center of the stage and Rob plays a set of classic Disney songs). The theater also has a small museum exhibit in the basement, featuring props from the most recent Disney films. So you’re paying for a wide variety of experiences, not just the seat.