Canadian moviegoers are again paying the price for the "experience" of taking in a flick at some of the swank megaplexes popping up at breakneck speed across the country.
In the latest price hike, cinephiles will have to cough up one buck more -- $11 in total -- to see the latest flicks at Famous Players' newest movie palaces.
Famous Players president John Bailey says the boost in the price of adult tickets was necessary to offset the cost of building billion-dollar extravaganzas that have given audiences big screens, concessions galore, VIP boxes, valet parking -- even love seats with retractable armrests.
Virtually every major theatre chain -- Famous Players, Cineplex Odeon, AMC, all wholly U.S.-owned -- have been gripped by the building frenzy, bulking up both in locations and screens. Industry pundits say the expansion has meant incredible cost to the chains -- a portion of which, inevitably, had to work its way down to the consumer.
"It's not something we have done lightly," said Bailey, reached in London, Ont., yesterday where his Viacom-controlled firm is opening another glitzy multiplex in its burgeoning circuit. "We don't do this without a lot of careful thought. We don't want to offend people, or feel like we're gouging people. But it's a business matter.
"The reality is, after you take into account carrying costs, there's no profit," said Bailey, adding theatre operators make their money in concessions, where margins are typically 80 per cent. "The new complexes, with all the bells and whistles, cost more. These buildings have revived the business, lured more people into the seats, but they're hugely expensive. People have to remember this is not the same old movie experience."
Outside Famous Players' glitzy Paramount Theatre in Toronto's downtown core yesterday, some moviegoers were dismayed, others nonchalant, about the price hike news.
"Oh, it's gone up to $11?" said Jennifer Deering, a 27-year-old registered nurse, who was waiting in line to buy tickets for the off-beat comedy, Where The Heart Is. "Well, for these nice new theatres, I guess you have to accept [the increase] I mean, you can go to the Eaton Centre and pay $3.75. . . ."
"And get mugged," her friend, Corinne Kaczmarczyk, interjected.
Deering nods. "The last time I went there I saw a syringe on the floor. It was dirty and smelly and gross."
But pensioner Janet Gallagher was annoyed. "They build these great big theatres and then they hit you later," she said. (She won't be affected by the price change, since children and seniors' tickets remain unchanged at $5.75). "I'd rather a little less glitz. Why don't they charge the concessions more?
"I've got free coupons. But when they're gone, it's back to the Carlton theatre for me."
Famous Players' $1 hike -- which comes roughly a year after a same-size price increase at the chain -- only affects the company's megaplexes. Arch-rivals Cineplex Odeon (which charges $10) and AMC (its nighttime megaplex tickets are $9.75) say they have no immediate plans to follow suit.
But one long-time industry watcher believes the major theatre operators in Canada will all fall in line shortly with a ticket-price jump, primarily because they can't afford not to.
"I don't buy it for a minute," he said. "I think everyone is feeling the pressure of rising costs. It's not realistic to think prices can't go up. They'll follow suit, and I bet prices will be $12 by next spring."
In recent years, exhibitors across North America have struggled with the astronomical cost of a five-year boom in theatre construction. The market has taken an increasingly dim view of the movie theatre business and some of the major investment houses in New York have downgraded the three leading theatre circuits -- AMC, Carmike Cinemas, and Loews Cineplex.
Yesterday, Bailey was unapologetic about the price hike, adding that even at $11, "it's still tremendous value. "Look at what it costs to go to Lion King or even buy a hardcover book.
"It has to be put into perspective with what entertainment truly costs today."
Ellis Jacob, chief executive of the upstart movie theatre chain Galaxy Entertainment in Toronto, agrees: "A movie is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment. The consumer's still getting considerable value.
"If I take my family to a hockey game, it costs me 10 times as much as going to a movie. For four of us, it's $500 to see the Leafs, and that's before eating. A movie is $50, and everybody complains about it."