Chance the Rapper’s deal with AMC previews the future of movie theaters

If the theater industry has any hope of growing, it needs to provide experiences that actually cater to the consumers who have abandoned it. …

Movie theaters aren’t usually where you go to watch concerts. But, in the future, they might need to be.

Grammy-winning musician Chance the Rapper will release a concert film exclusively in AMC theaters this summer, the company announced May 7. The film, titled Magnificent Coloring World, marks the first time a recording artist will distribute a movie through AMC. Chance the Rapper previously released a holiday concert film for free on YouTube.

The theater industry has persevered through a catastrophic year during which they had no mainstream movies to show. That forced chains like AMC and Regal to close their doors in most parts of the world, and they’ve only recently started to open again—at limited capacity. Showing concert films is one way to increase foot traffic in theaters without relying on Hollywood to provide all the content.

But it also could be a way forward for theaters well beyond the pandemic, as part of a broad expansion of offerings that cater more toward younger consumers who increasingly consume all of their entertainment on the internet. Movies alone may not be enough to get them out of their homes and into theaters. If the theater industry has any hope of growing, rather than just treading water as consumption habits shift, it needs to provide experiences that actually cater to the consumers who have abandoned it.

A new kind of movie theater experience

Theaters have long showed concert films and other forms of media besides mainstream Hollywood movies. For instance, Fathom Events, a joint venture of AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, shows special events like opera performances and classic films on the big screen every day. These offerings, however, have not materially changed theaters’ outlook—perhaps because their target demographics are the consumers who already like going to the movies. AMC’s deal with Chance the Rapper is one example of a partnership that might entice younger viewers out of their homes.

It’s just one experiment, and companies like AMC will have to do a lot more. They will have to lean into interactive experiences, gaming, and social media, analysts argue. Virtual or augmented reality could be another option. “It’s too early to suggest that’s going to be the new theater experience, but I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see it at least attempted,” Neil Begley, a senior analyst at Moody’s who covers the US film studios, told Quartz last year.

In short, theaters will have to be cultural centers that, in addition to showing the latest blockbuster movies, serve as hubs around communal experiences of all sorts of entertainment offerings. (Amazon, should it decide to invest in or outright own a chain of theaters, would likely integrate its live-streaming gaming platform, Twitch, into its cinemas.)

AMC, for its part, is welcoming the Gen Z and millennial-driven frenzy surrounding its stock. It has accepted it’s now a cultural meme, and the company’s CEO, Adam Aron, apparently loves it. That attitude could go a long way to endearing itself to a new generation of consumers—but that honeymoon phase will end eventually. At some point it has to figure out more ways to get its fans off of Reddit and into the cinema.

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