Cinema Comforts: IPic movie theaters feature ‘pods’ where audience members can recline and order food and beverages delivered to them during films.

Cinema Comforts: IPic movie theaters feature ‘pods’ where audience members can recline and order food and beverages delivered to them during films. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

A new day dawned for selling the old experience of movie going last week as iPic Entertainment Inc.’s Pasadena location unveiled luxuriant pods, chaise lounges and the ability to order cocktails and three-course meals at the push of a button.

Patent-pending on the design – no holding back on the hype for the April 27 debut.

“If Tesla and Porsche had a baby they would give birth to this pod,” said Michelle Soudry, a spokeswoman for Boca Raton, Fla.-based iPic.

Waiters taking movie goers’ orders won’t disturb other patrons’ movie watching, Soudry said, because, “You have a ninja waiter,” who arrives in stealth and discreetly serves you.

The premier of iPic’s ninja waiters is part of a larger effort by theater owners to combat with niche offerings a decline in ticket sales since the early 2000s. While there have been fluctuations from year to year, data compiled by Nash Information Services shows North American ticket sales peaked in 2002 at 1.6 billion and bottomed out in 2017 at 1.2 billion.

“This industry is wracked with disruption,” said Gene Del Vecchio, business professor at USC.

The decline in ticket sales looks disappointing but not necessarily alarming, reflecting the experience of Greg Laemmle, president of the Los Angeles-based Laemmle Theatres. Laemmle’s eight current locales focus on independent cinema, and films seeking to qualify for Academy Award nominations.

“We do see declines in ticket sales; there’s no denying that,” Laemmle said.

But the dips are in the single digits each year, said Laemmle, who despite the decrease in ticket sales plans to open a five-screen location in Glendale later this year.

Laemmle said his business is about the appeal of the movies themselves.

“It all comes down to product,” he said.

Protective niches

The strategy to focus on a particular audience segment has helped keep independent chain afloat, Del Vecchio said.

“Right now Laemmle is benefiting because they have a niche, which is providing art house fair,” he said.

The professor put Los Angeles-headquartered Landmark Theatres, which has three outposts in the market, in a similar spot. But, Del Vecchio added, the demands on Landmark are different, since they have theaters across the country.

Other players in the market rely on different tactics to get audiences to theaters.

The biggest exhibitor in Los Angeles and nationally – Leawood, Kan.-based AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., which is owned by China-based entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group – bills itself as an industry leader whose innovations include recliner seating and offering alcoholic drinks to theater goers. These measures have been “duplicated throughout the industry,” according to company spokesman Ryan Noonan.


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