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Theater Chains Upgrade To Attract Homebodies


Movies theaters have tried different ways over the years to combat declining ticket sales. Topher Forhecz reports on the latest attempts to bring in audiences by recreating the comforts of home.

TOPHER FORHECZ, BYLINE: When I decided to see a movie at an AMC Theatre in upper Manhattan, the first change I noticed was I had to reserve my seat when I bought my ticket beforehand.

So I just walked in and there are about nine rows of leather seats and I am in D6, so I've got to go find it.

But that wasn't the biggest change at the theater.

A bunch of people are taking pictures of the different seats and chairs. And they lean back.

And people are taking pictures because there's something in the cinema that they've never seen before. Gone are the fold-up stadium seats. Instead, there are rows of plush, leather recliners that customers can stretch out on at the push of a button. Myself included.

I'm about to sit down.

And the moment of truth.

Much better than my sofa at home.

And that's the thing. Will moviegoers leave the comfort of their homes for the big screen experience or do they want to sit on their own sofas, binging on programming they can't even get at the cinemas like Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards"? To lure the homebodies, theatres have tried beefing up their screenings with digital film, better sound and 3-D.

Now, AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan says the company is introducing one element that your pad always had cornered: comfort.

RYAN NOONAN: We feel like you're not going to be able to match the experience when you get when you're in a movie theater, but we feel like we could up our game on bringing the comfort of your living room into our theater.

FORHECZ: But, it's a calculated risk. Noonan says those big recliners reduce the seat count by 50 to 70 percent. But even as the number of seats shrinks, attendance is rising. The company says it's seen an 84 percent increase at theaters with the new seats. That sometimes means changing the way those theaters operate.

NOONAN: We want to accommodate as much demand as we can whether that's through more showings or a longer day, we will start a little bit earlier or maybe we might run a little be later than we used to at the theater.

FORHECZ: And in some instances, a slight increase in ticket prices. It's part of a long-term strategy: the company plans to spend $600 million installing new seats over the next five years. AMC theaters with recliners have already popped up in Washington, Ohio, Texas and other states.

NOONAN: We've got a number of them done and we have some in under construction, so I want to say it's somewhere in the mid-20s.

FORHECZ: AMC's competitors are doing the same. Regal Cinemas also operates theaters with large, plush leather seats. It's just the latest attempt to stop the slide in movie-going audiences, especially amongst younger crowds. David Hancock is the director of film and cinema at the industry research firm IHS Global Insight.

DAVID HANCOCK: Across the whole industry in the U.S., it is slightly declining, so it is going down a few points each year, but it is going down faster amongst the younger demographic.

FORHECZ: People, like roommates Jama McMahon and Emily Thomas. The two went to a recent screening of the lost-in-space thriller "Gravity."

JAMA MCMAHON: I mean, it always seems like movies just get more and more expensive and it's a choice you kind of make. "Gravity" makes sense to see in a movie screen. I'm not going to watch it on my computer, most likely.

FORHECZ: For them, the recliners are a big selling point.

MCMAHON: We were just saying after the end of the movie, like, oh, I wish this was our couch that we were on.

FORHECZ: And sure, they're comfy. But if we're being honest, I've never had to ask a stranger what button I press to get out of my chair at home. For NPR News, I'm Topher Forhecz.


THE OLYMPICS: (singing) Mm-hmm. My baby loves the Western movies...

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.