Cinemark, the nation's third-largest theater chain, began a subscription program that gives customers discounts on tickets and concessions, in the latest effort to boost attendance.
The Plano, Texas-based company said Tuesday that customers who pay a monthly fee of $8.99 will receive a credit for one movie ticket a month. Subscribers can also buy additional tickets for $8.99 each and get a 20 percent discount on food and drinks.
Cinemark's offer, called Movie Club, is the latest move by theater chains to draw customers at a time when theaters are contending with increased competition from other forms of entertainment, especially streaming services in the home such as Netflix. It's also the cinema industry's first direct answer to MoviePass, a New York startup that offers unlimited movies in theaters for $9.95 a month.
Theater chains have long resisted discounting tickets, fearing that doing so would erode profits. But long-term pressures on the industry have prompted some exhibitors to reconsider their opposition.
Domestic cinemas have experienced a steady decline in moviegoing in the past decade. The number of tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada hit 1.32 billion last year, compared with 1.4 billion a decade ago, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Box office revenues this year are down 4 percent so far, according to ComScore.
The Cinemark deal also comes just months after MoviePass sparked a backlash from AMC Entertainment when it reduced its monthly rate to $9.95 this summer. It previously charged up to $50 a month.
That represents a substantial discount for moviegoers. The average domestic ticket price (including matinee showings) reached a near record level of $8.93 in the quarter that ended in September, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade group for the exhibition industry. In places like Los Angeles and New York, the cost of moviegoing is much higher.
Mark Zoradi, CEO of Cinemark, said the subscription is not targeting people who already go to the movies multiple times a month. Instead, the chain is hoping the deal will encourage people who go to three to four movies a year to increase their annual moviegoing to about six trips.
The company, which has been working on the program since at least March, hopes that additional attendance will boost theater revenue through added sales of popcorn, soda and other concessions. Cinemark operates 533 theaters.
"Our goal was really simple. It was to increase attendance and remove all of the pain points around it," Zoradi said. "It helps us, our studio partners and the overall business."
Cinemark's deal may not have the same all-you-can-eat appeal as the MoviePass bargain. Still, the offer has benefits and flexibility that could drive customers to sign up, Zoradi said.
For example, if customers don't use the ticket credit in a given month, it rolls over into the following months and does not expire. The program also includes the ability to reserve seats and buy tickets in advance with no online fees.
MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said Cinemark's new offering will not hurt his company's business.
"It is recognition that moviegoers want different ways to transact with movie theaters," Lowe said. "I think they're seeing that this is really energizing people into going back to the theaters."