Sony Pictures boss calls for a cut in cinema ticket prices

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With annual box office takings set to drop for the first time since the pandemic, things need to change according to the head of Sony Pictures.

In the five years since 2019, there’s been plenty of uncertainty about the future of the theatrical experience. Lots of ink has been spilled and opinions have been offered. One oft-spoken thought being that we may never get back to the kind of annual box office grosses that we witnessed before the Covid-19 global outbreak decimated cinema attendances and changed the cinema-going experience, perhaps forever.

One of the many lingering issues that the pandemic has left us with is the haste with which cinema releases can now find themselves available for home viewing. Just look at Universal’s The Fall Guy, a film that was not so long ago being positioned as the big opening movie of the summer is now being primed for PVOD release in homes just 17 days after making its theatrical bow.

While some may scratch their heads and (rightly) worry about the long-term impact moves like this are having on the future health of the theatrical experience, it’s also true that Universal has to worry about balancing the books in the short-term too. For whatever reason, The Fall Guy didn’t make the kind of financial impact it needed to and with this year looking like it will be the first since the pandemic to drop in theatrical revenue, it isn’t the first film to struggle and it probably won’t be the last.

Sony Motion Pictures Group chief Tom Rothman has some thoughts on how to arrest this malaise and they’re worth listening to. Speaking to Deadline, Rothman said that “we need for ticket prices to come down. I think it’s not healthy. I understand why it happened, and that exhibition went through a terrible near-death experience with Covid. I get the instinct to raise prices”.

Rothman goes on to argue that the proof is already there. Concessionary events (such as Meerkat Movies here in the UK) demonstrate that the appetite is there for cinema if the price point is lower.

“If you look for example at how every Tuesday in America, every single Tuesday is the biggest day of the week. Why? Because of the half-price tickets. It’s fundamental consumer economics: just lower the prices and you’ll sell more. You’ll make it up in volume, and concessions.”

Rothman goes on to argue that studios also need to do their part and bring budgets down so that creative risks can be taken and that films can find profitability with greater ease. There’s certainly historical evidence for what Rothman is unstinting: during the Great Depression of the 1920s, cinema was one of the few industries in the US that actually grew thanks to the fact it offered cheap entertainment, distracting audiences from the bleak economic realities of life, offering a few hours of escape for a nickel.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons too as to why this might not work, even though we’re living through a similar era of economic struggle. The piece is worth a read as it discusses a few other issues such as young audiences deserting cinemas too.

What do you think? Given the health of the industry could cinemas even afford to try this? Can they afford not to? Let us know your thoughts below.

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