Theaters Hope Recliners Lure Homebodies Off Their Sofas

Movie theater seats are getting more deluxe. A couple chains are installing recliners in the latest effort to give movie-goers more of the comforts of home. (This story originally aired on Nov. 29, 2013, on Morning Edition.)

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Movie theatres have tried different ways over the years to combat declining ticket sales. In this encore broadcast, Topher Forhecz reports on the latest attempt to bring in audience by recreating the comforts of home.

TOPHER FORHECZ, BYLINE: When I decided to see a movie at an AMC Theatre in upper Manhattan, the first change I noticed was I had to reserve my seat when I bought my ticket beforehand. So I just walked in and there are about nine rows of leather seats and I am in D6, so I've got to go find it.

But that wasn't the biggest change at the theater. A bunch of people are taking pictures of the different seats and chairs. And they lean back.

And people are taking pictures because there's something in the cinema that they've never seen before. Gone are the fold-up stadium seats. Instead, there are rows of plush, leather recliners that customers can stretch out on at the push of a button, myself included.

I'm about to sit down. And the moment of truth? Much better than my sofa at home. And that's the thing. Will moviegoers leave the comfort of their homes for the big screen experience, or do they want to sit on their own sofas, binging on programming they can't even get at the cinemas, like Netflix's "Orange is the New Black," and "House of Cards?"

To lure the homebodies, theatres have tried beefing up their screenings with digital film, better sound and 3-D. Now, AMC's spokesman, Ryan Noonan, says the company is introducing one element that your pad always had cornered - comfort.

RYAN NOONAN: We feel like you're not going to be able to match the experience you get when you're in a movie theater, but we feel like we could up our game on bringing the comfort of your living room into our theater.

FORHECZ: But it's a calculated risk. Noonan says those big recliners reduce the seat count by 50 to 70 percent. But even as the number of seats shrinks, attendance is rising. The company says it's seen an 84 percent increase at theaters with the new seats. That sometimes means changing the way those theaters operate.

NOONAN: We want to accommodate as much demand as we can and you know, whether that's through more showings or a longer day, we will start a little bit earlier or maybe we might run a little bit later than we used to at the theater.

FORHECZ: And in some instances, a slight increase in ticket prices. It's part of a long-term strategy: the company plans to spend $600 million installing new seats over the next five years. AMC theaters with recliners have already popped up in Washington, Ohio, Texas and other states.

NOONAN: We've got a number of them done and we have some in under construction. So I want to say it's somewhere in the mid-20s.

FORHECZ: AMC's competitors are doing the same. Regal Cinemas also operates theaters with large, plush leather seats. And sure, they're comfy. But if we're being honest, I've never had to ask a stranger what button I press to get out of my chair at home. For NPR News, I'm Topher Forhecz.

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