The premium seating business has boomed in the last few years by as much as 60-70%, vendors tell me. That’s thanks to the new industry emphasis on high end moviegoing and the fact that the costly conversion from 35mm to digital projection is nearly complete across the industry. Per unit prices offered by a half-dozen companies at CinemaCon this year range from $500 to $5,000. Upgrade costs range depending on theater sizing and seating choices but one firm told me their clients’ average spend on seating alone is $200K per theater. Exhibitors of all sizes and regions are taking out standard 18- to 19-inch seats in favor of upgrades as wide as 25 inches or more, even if that means fewer seats in theaters. The polite reason is that “people are getting bigger” and will pay for comfort. (Could candy, food, and supersized soda sales have something to do with that?) Premium seats mean high-end theater operators can charge higher ticket surcharges “for comfort” – as much as $18 or more at premium theaters like iPic and Cinepolis. (AMC offers premium seating in some locations for no additional charge.) Popular add-ons include padded recliners, electric controls, footrests, lighted cup holders, and trays. On the even higher end are attendant call buttons and back massagers, but I hear seat warmers are the next big thing.

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