Seniors at the Movies

(Photo: David Thompson)

Our local movie house in suburban London charges £11.90 for a regular ticket, and even seniors pay £8.90 (over $13).  But there is a special for seniors (ages 60+):  Every Tuesday they show a recent movie (e.g., Lincoln is showing on May 21) and charge only £3 ($4.60).  Moreover, you get “free tea, coffee and biscuits!” Such a deal—so how can they make money off this, or is it just altruism by the theater owners toward us old folks?

The movie costs no extra rental, and the only variable costs are the wages of the one or two workers who sell the tickets and make the eats.  The fixed costs—of the movie rental, the theater and heating/electricity, are irrelevant for the owner’s decision.  I should think that, if they can sell even 20 tickets, they will increase their profits.


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  1. Eric says:

    It’s not as if they’d close on Tuesdays, even though it’s probably their slowest day of the week — so at least they derive some economic benefit from having a few extra people in the seats, even if they only paid a fourth of the normal price for other days.

    My first thought is that it’s probably better to persuade seniors to go on a slow day like Tuesdays so the cinema owner has more full-price tickets to sell on busier nights, and doing so may help protect the idea that the film is “cool” to a younger crowd that comes on the weekends — a notion that might suffer if the kids arrived to find a group of seniors ahead of them in line.

    But I would guess that in addition to that, there are probably other intangible benefits: maybe some seniors come with their children or grandchildren who pay full price, for example, or perhaps the gesture is seen as building good will in the community. It might even possible they can write off part of the £8.90 “gift” they give the seniors (the difference between the discounted tickets and a full-price ticket) in some way.

    It does seem like a nice thing to do, but one thing seems sure: I doubt there’s much altruism behind the decision.

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    • greg says:

      I think it is more getting them in at all and selling them something they otherwise wouldn’t buy at no extra cost while using otherwise under utilised capacity. It’s a very good form of price discrimination.

      Pensioners are often very price sensitive and not great film goers. I’m not sure if it is different in the US but unless it is something oscar nominated or that has become a cultural phenomenon seeing a pensioner in the cinema is a pretty rare event and I’m a huge cinema goer and when I worked shifts and was unemployed I’d always go in the day as it was much cheaper and now I work office hours and go in peak times in both I never saw pensioners in any numbers or regularity. I would bet good money the average number of normal cinema visits by pensioners is probably 1 or fewer a year.

      Also the pensioner films are often films going out of the cinema not just in. I still think they want to give them a chance to pay full price.

      I’m with DH.

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  2. Thisson says:

    Also consider that they may be shifting the seniors to less-busy showtimes and freeing up capacity at peak times so they can charge peak rates!

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  3. Will says:

    There is a second-run movie theater near me that charges only $1 for Tuesday showings. They have a self-service ticket machine, but curiously have had no ticket-checker at the theater entrance to ensure purchase.

    I presumed that the cost to pay an employee to verify the ticket purchase must be higher than potential lost revenue, but that seems hard to believe. Or perhaps they are relying on the honor system of their patrons – after all, who can’t afford $1? – and saving cost by not paying another wage.

    Personally, the $1 ticket usually leads me to buy $5+ worth of concessions – which is where the theater’s true profit must come from – but why not ensure the $1 price is paid, even if it’s so small?

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    • pawnman says:

      As you said, it’s not exactly the profit center for the theater, and it costs money to have someone check the tickets. Sort of like why dollar stores seldom have the same level of security as, say, Best Buy.

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  4. Rafael says:

    Exactly. They are increasing Throughput with minimal increase to Operating Expenses and no change to Inventory. Throughput accounting FTW!

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  5. Andrew says:

    It is also important that they are not showing movies that are just out. Theaters have to pay more to studios for the first 2 weekends of a release than they do a few months later. I’m sure it’s an even better deal for Lincoln, a movie which has had its theatrical run and is even out on DVD/Blu-Ray

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  6. Matt says:

    You’re ignoring substitution effects–every senior who would be willing to see a movie at the regular senior price but sees it for one-third the price represents lost revenue for the owner. You also seem to think that they leave the heat turned up and all the lights on even when no one is there.

    That said, the costs are probably still low enough to make it profitable for them.

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    • greg says:

      Have you not been to a cinema in the day. Even multiplexes do not close screens (and this may well be an indie cinema with only 1 or a few screens) while they are open at all and all screens are are always playing something or in change over and about to.

      Pensioners barely ever go to the cinema, they watch films on tv if they watch films. The substation effect will be at most minimal. Also you wouldn’t know what the film would be so couldn’t rely on it being there.

      They play the scheduled film even if no one has bought a ticket (particularly now they are all DCPs so it’s automatic), the screens are always lighted/heated etc. I also doubt they have extra staff on. Yet here instead of 2 or 3 people paying probably about £6-7 (grosss not net) for a daytime ticket the cinema will, they make it an event and get probably at least 50, maybe considerably more and likely more money per ticket sold even if they sell less at the concessions stand per person.

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  7. HMT says:

    If it works like it does in the USA…

    The movie theater gets very little from each ticket sale in the early weeks of a movie release. Most of the ticket price goes to the releasing studio/distributor. That split gets better for the theater as the release date moves into the past. This is why theaters like movies that stay popular over a long period of time vs movies that have a huge release then fall off quickly.

    The strategy outlined in the article would be a way to take a movie that is long past it’s release date (so heavy on theater split for the ticket price) and bring it back. The question is, how do you find an audience for a stale movie? What if your demographic research shows that older people don’t go to your theater for new releases? You try and lure them in with a discount price and find out that there’s a demand for movies that cost less. Sweeten the deal by adding in some coffee and cakes and the demand goes up even more.

    It’s also quite possible that the older theater goers are turned off by the younger crowd who (in my experience) are used to chatting, checking phones etc during a movie… I don’t think this is an innate rudeness I think it’s because they watch a lot of movies at home where this behavior isn’t a big deal. Older viewers watching with others who share a more traditional view of theater behavior may also be attractive.

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    • greg says:

      I think you are spot on.

      Although in my limited dealings with pensioners in the cinema (usually around oscar time, The Artist and Zero Dark Thirty are two I particularly remember this happening in) because they don’t go often a whole group seem to treat the cinema like it is their living room and are far far worse and ruder than your average 15-30 year old who I never really have a problem with (just don’t go on friday night and you are usually fine). I tell people to be quiet in cinemas and it’s people over 50 that are the ones I predominantly have to tell to shut up. Although I do have to tell more young people to turn their phone off, but it’s not the huge problem some people make out. But then I always avoid big or at least new films on friday and saturday nights.

      Also by all accounts I’ve heard from my cinema manager friend if you want the ‘classic’ quiet cinema visit pensioner screening are second only to parent and child and autistic screenings in terms of talking, noise and generally not following the code.

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  8. Carl says:

    The risk is that they will cannibalize demand for regular-priced tickets from seniors willing to wait for that cheaper second run. If they are already selling out their first run or mainly attracting incremental business then it will increase their profits. Otherwise, not necessarily.

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