Q&A: Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob tackles the future of movie theatres in Canada

TORONTO – Going to the movies isn’t as simple as it used to be, and don’t expect that to change in the future.

Between 3D, the VIP screens and DBox motion seats, the list of options at the box office can be overwhelming.

In an era of binge-worthy TV shows and popular streaming video services, Canada’s largest theatre chain Cineplex is pushing ahead with plans for more super-sized experiences in its auditoriums across the country, which also come with steeper ticket prices.

Cineplex, which owns 79 per cent of the national movie theatre market, reported Tuesday that premium-priced tickets, and a slate of impressive Hollywood films, helped drive record attendance numbers at its theatres during the first quarter.

Chief executive Ellis Jacob talked to The Canadian Press about the evolution of cinema and what it means for moviegoers.

CP: Cineplex recently announced plans for Canada’s first 4DX auditorium — a higher-priced theatre where action movies become a sensory experience with artificial rain, wind and lightning that reflect what’s on screen. Who do you expect this will appeal to?

Jacob: It’s going to be kids and millennials who would probably be the target market. Me, as a 60-plus (viewer), is probably not the biggest demographic. And it’s very big for tourist areas. Yonge and Dundas in downtown Toronto is kind of, to me, the Times Square of Canada, so we thought it was a good place to put it (first) and see how it performs.

CP: Cineplex has focused on offering price tiers on movie tickets — premium experiences like UltraAVX and 3D are more expensive — but where do you stand on raising the general ticket price for a movie?

Jacob: We have been very conservative when it comes to ticket prices. There come points where you have to look at the overall situation — when minimum wage keeps increasing and cost of procuring concession items come up — then we have to re-look at things, but we don’t want to use (general ticket price increases) front and centre.

CP: You told analysts on Tuesday’s financial results conference call that you’ve considered something you called “dynamic ticket pricing.” What is that?

Jacob: Dynamic pricing is basically when you increase your price based on demand. Say you’re busy on a Friday or Saturday night (so) you charge more, and when you’re not busy on Monday nights you charge less. It’s kind of what the airlines do, in a way. We look at all different models.

CP: In the United States, one of the popular alternatives to single movie tickets is a subscription service called MoviePass, where patrons pay a flat fee to see unlimited movies. Have you considered a similar service in Canada?

Jacob: We look at all those opportunities, but we also have our studio partners we’ve got to work with and make sure that overall it’s a benefit for everybody.

CP: Movie exhibitors and studio executives have been sparring over Screening Room, a new company that wants to let viewers watch newly-released blockbusters in their home for a higher price. Where do you stand on this potential service?

Jacob: When I think about it there’s a lot of things that get talked about, and a lot of disruptions people are trying to put into place. One thing we can’t forget is this is … close to a $1-billion business in Canada, so I don’t think studios are looking to trade their dimes for nickels and take a risk.

— This interview has been edited and condensed.

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