Coming soon to more American movie theaters: meals, alcohol, and reserved seating

AMC wants more of you to look like this.
AMC wants more of you to look like this.
Image: Getty Images/Jemal Countess
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AMC Entertainment, the American movie theater chain that was acquired by China’s richest man last year, has filed to go public. The company operates 343 theaters with 4,937 screens, almost all of them in the United States. It turned a profit of $41.4 million on revenue of $2.69 billion in the year that ended on June 30.

The American movie business is struggling as fewer people choose to watch films in theaters. Increasingly, Hollywood sees its most promising audiences in China, which is why it made some sense that Chinese mogul Wang Jianlin bought AMC in 2012 for $2.6 billion through his company, Dalian Wanda Group.

Here are some highlights from AMC’s IPO filing:

• The average visitor at AMC movie theaters last year spent $9.04 on the ticket and $3.92 on food and drink. AMC says those figures are higher than at any of its competitors in the US. Its ticket prices rose 3.5% in the last year, but overall attendance was down, so AMC has focused its strategy on getting people to eat and drink more while they’re there. Currently, tickets comprise 67% of the company’s revenue, while food and beverages account for 29%.

• AMC’s “enhanced food and beverage” options, aimed at increasing this source of revenue, are turning some of its theaters into full-fledged bars and restaurants. Forty-four AMC theaters now serve alcohol at bars called MacGuffins. And at 11 theaters, people can get served full meals at their seats during the film. The appeal of this, AMC says, is that it compresses by half the time needed for a typical night out of dinner and a movie. (Busy families and impatient lovers, take note.)

• Some AMC theaters now also let customers reserve specific seats in advance—a standard in many countries that remains bizarrely rare in the US, considering how much time the nation collectively loses by arriving early to get good seats. “We believe reserved seating will become increasingly prevalent to the point of being a pre-requisite in the medium-term future,” AMC says.

• That said, only 8.5% of ticket sales are made ahead of time online.

Just over half of AMC’s customers are African-American or Latino. Hollywood has begun targeting more films at Hispanics (paywall) by casting Latinos in starring roles, interspersing Spanish in some films, and focusing on genres like action and horror. AMC says it is well positioned to capitalize on the trend.

• Even though ads and movie trailers can take up over 20 minutes before a movie starts, advertising isn’t a big part of AMC’s business. Most trailers are actually shown by the theater in order to pay for licensing the feature film. Other ads, which are typically shown before previews, are handled by National CineMedia, a publicly traded company in which AMC owns a 15.5% stake. NCM made $409.5 million in revenue last year, but that was up only 6% from the year before. AMC itself recorded only about 4% of its revenue from ads.