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How do movie theaters decide on showtimes?

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Listener Amy Ford from Suffolk, Virginia asks:

Why can’t I get movie times more than a few days in advance?

When many of us go to the cinema, we are aware of the amount of skill that has gone into the production. But we may not know much about the skills needed to book this film for the cinema screen.

“Movie programming is an art, honestly,” said Guy Austin, vice president of movie and content acquisition for CMX Cinemas, which has locations in several states including Alabama, Florida and Las Vegas. Virginia.

Setting movie showtimes – their exact times and how far in advance – is a delicate balancing act that takes into account the film’s financial performance, the type of film, the needs of moviegoers and the deals that cinemas have with studios.

Weekend Ticket Revenue

“Movie theaters get most of their ticket revenue on weekends, so a big part of what drives showtime scheduling at multiplexes is how movies performed the previous weekend,” said assistant professor Derek Long. in media and film studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

Long added that as of Thursday night, his two local multiplexes in Champaign had yet to set most showing times for next Friday.

“That’s because they’re waiting to see how their current movies perform at the box office this Friday and Saturday, which helps them decide which movies to drop in order to make room for the week’s new releases. next,” Long explained via email.

Tuesday registrations

When Jared Comess, vice president of marketing and public relations at Paragon Entertainment Group, receives questions about programming, he likes to advise people to check the showtimes on Tuesday afternoons.

“It gives us enough time to update the website, make sure all the deals have been closed,” Comess said. “We have our full schedule for the coming weekend.”

But there are exceptions, especially when it comes to big blockbusters, like “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Session times could be listed a month before the initial release, Comess said.

CMX Cinemas’ Austin said scheduling is ultimately a supply and demand issue: “The higher the demand, the sooner the film will go on sale.”

The size of the theater is another part of this equation.

Sometimes customers point out that a major movie theater chain has tickets on sale for a particular movie, Austin said, while wondering when CMX Cinemas theaters will have them. That’s because this bigger channel has more screens, which means it can bet more on some of its titles.

“It’s a gigantic puzzle that’s constantly changing,” Austin said.

Even if a theater knows it’s showing a popular movie in the coming weeks, it can’t guarantee showtimes too far in advance, Austin explained, because the theater has to consider other movies it needs to show. .

“So if you’re running a theater that has six to 25 screens, once you’ve added movies, you also have to build a schedule around traffic flow,” he said.

You can’t show all of your movies at 7 p.m., one of the most popular movie times, so you have to figure out how you’re going to distribute them, he added. Otherwise, there will be long lines at the box office, long lines at food and drink counters, and long waits for orders in dining rooms.

It’s like when you go to brunch on Sunday and have to wait an hour and a half to get in, Austin said. But theaters can help mitigate the risk of everyone showing up at once.

“In order to meet this surge in demand, this schedule then needs to be reworked weekly to create a steady flow so that it helps the customer have a more seamless experience, rather than dealing with crowds,” a- he declared.

The planning game plan

Studios and theaters regularly negotiate show times.

“I like to say it’s like a marriage that’s constantly in therapy,” Austin said. “[Theaters and studios] always work together. It’s very relational. »

Paragon Theaters — which has locations in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia — typically rates its schedule week by week like many other exhibitors in the United States, said Comess, the director of Paragon Entertainment.

CMX’s Austin said that every Sunday night he sits in his office looking at all of the weekend’s box office takings, taking note of the worst-performing films.

When new films are released, the finite number of screens in a cinema means that the worst performing films may have to be dropped.

Sometimes he rearranges the schedule so that the theater shows a film in the matinee or on an alternate schedule.

Every Monday morning is a battle between studios and exhibitors, Austin said — a battle between studios wanting to keep a movie on screen and theaters trying to bring in new movies, and keep each studio happy.

“It’s not always easy to do,” Austin said.

Sometimes when he tells a studio that he is considering limiting the showtimes of a movie, he may say no, which would violate the “cleanliness policy” the studio has in place (meaning that theaters don’t can’t override schedules to play something else).

“So I have to go back and rework it, or I have to talk to them and convince them that it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The studios will also make their case – maybe they really want a $150 million movie.

“They’ll start saying, ‘OK, I know I’m No. 10, but can you get me an hour show here or there? ‘” Austin said. “[It’s] to stay on screen because they know next week there won’t be much product. There’s a chance they could go back to a full screen or more shows. And so a lot of their arguments are also based on their calculations of the weeks ahead. »

While Austin negotiates with the studios, the theater’s general manager is ultimately responsible for scheduling. What Austin does is give these managers guidelines, which also include recommendations such as the best time to air for a movie based on its length and how many shows should air after 7 p.m.

“General managers, in fact, are the ones who drive this bus,” he said.

That takes us back to Tuesday, the day some theaters say it’s best to check out weekend listings.

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