Stars and Stubs: AMC Theatres redefines rewards for movie watchers
“AMC has a long history of innovation,” declared Stephen Colanero, AMC Entertainment’s chief marketing officer, during the CinemaCon media launch of the new spend-based AMC Stubs membership rewards program (www.amcstubs.com).
Going back to 1990, AMC’s original MovieWatcher program was “the first large-scale loyalty program in the industry and it was certainly revolutionary in its day.” But those days are gone, Colanero feels. The points-per-visit-based program had dwindled to some 1.5 million active members, defined as participating at least once over the past year, from a one-time seven million high and eventual five million plateau. “People were seeing less value as the program became less relevant to them,” Colanero surmises.
With AMC Stubs, that is all about to change. “We are always looking to improve services and create better options for our guests,” Colanero says of the circuit’s new approach. “We did a lot of research with our guests to find out what is the right combination of benefits and have come up with something that we believe our guests want and will appreciate as moviegoers.”
Initially, Colanero notes, consumers indicated that they didn’t want any changes and that they found MovieWatcher “just perfect as it is.” But going deeper, they also mentioned how a “couple of tweaks” like getting rewards for concession purchases and extra points for visiting 3D and premium IMAX/ETX presentations would be much appreciated. (After all, 20 years ago, ticket prices were pretty much the same, so rewarding each visit with a credit towards a free popcorn or movie made good sense.) Another must-have perk, Colanero learned, was to extend the free online ticketing that MovieWatchers enjoyed from MovieTickets.com to Fandango too.
“If we were going to implement all these suggestions,” Colanero and his team realized, “we wouldn’t even have the same program any more.” Deciding to be innovative once again, “we went back to the drawing board to design a program that would meet all of current moviegoer needs.”
AMC Stubs is based on the amounts spent at AMC Theatres, be it for tickets or gift cards or concession items. For every $100 accumulated, AMC issues a $10 reward that can be redeemed on anything at the theatre. That’s already like getting a 10% discount. But members also receive free one-size upgrades on popcorn and fountain drinks on every visit to the snack bar. “No limits,” AMC guarantees.
Last but definitely not least, AMC Stubs brings the cherished tradition of collecting movie tickets, and memories that go with them, into the digital age. AMC will automatically populate an online AMC Stubs book with virtual tickets for the movies that the member watches. For Colanero, this functionality “extends the movie experience into relevant social media by enabling members to tag friends and family they attended with, rate the movie, make comments and share them within the AMC Stubs member network or on their Facebook pages. This creates an online, interactive movie experience never before seen with a theatre-industry loyalty program.”
Going back to the original first, AMC assured that all MovieWatcher credits that patrons had collected “were rounded up to the next reward level that they were eligible for” and subsequently sent out the corresponding redemption coupon. “Not only did we attempt to end MovieWatcher in a nice way,” explains Sun Dee Larson, VP, film marketing and communications, “but we also wanted to give current members the benefit of joining AMC Stubs. A certain percentage of those very frequent MovieWatchers receive a free first-year membership on us.” And for those who don’t go quite as often, AMC is rewarding their loyalty with a discount coupon towards a new AMC Stubs membership.
Larson also greets another group of loyal AMC followers by regularly hosting special suites during awards season. “Consumers inherently want to do what celebrities do and be where they are, so we enjoy seeing them populate our theatres,” she recently told Film Journal International on the subject of engagement. “There are certain theatres in New York and Los Angeles we know industry influencers enjoy frequenting. When they receive an AMC Signature Pass at an event, they are overjoyed and tend to go out to the movies more often.”
Increasing frequency is an obvious goal for AMC Stubs as well. To kick off the program social-media style, AMC developed the “Search for Stubs” Challenge. Larson explained at CinemaCon that AMC invited three well-known movie bloggers—Steve Weintraub of Collider, Mike Eisenberg of Screen Rant and Wilson Morales of Black Film were all in attendance at Caesars Palace—to compete in watching the most movies and collecting the most points possible. The winner will receive a five-year pass to AMC Theatres, she promised. To make the April 15 to May 6 Stubs hunt even more exciting for regular moviegoers, the bloggers were empowered to randomly reward their followers “with all the aspects of the new AMC Stubs program.” At article closing time, AMC Theatres had 625,771 “likes” on Facebook (www.facebook.com/amctheatres).
Asked about current and future demographics, Colanero notes that MovieWatcher “shifted a little bit older, predominantly female,” as it reflected a single account for each individual. By contrast, “AMC Stubs is designed to be a family membership…that pulls your spend, because that’s more like how people go to the movies—together.” MovieWatchers did go more often than the nation’s average moviegoer, he advises, but not that significantly. “We do expect AMC Stubs members to go more often than MovieWatchers,” he predicts, as all research has indicated people are excited about “getting this kind of value.” He also believes that “some will shift to AMC potentially from some of the other movie theatres.”
One possible caveat is that MovieWatcher, just like the majority of loyalty programs that will be featured in our new FJI series, was free to join. AMC Stubs, by contrast, will carry a nominal fee of $12 per year. “As we heard from our guests what they expected, they wanted richer, more substantial rewards,” Colanero elaborates. “In order to be able to do that, we needed them to raise their hands and say, ‘Yes, I want to invest in this.’”
He does not expect to see a change, as members who sign up will use the program more often now. “Because of the attrition we had seen with MovieWatcher, we expect to actually have more members with AMC Stubs very, very quickly. So, yes, we will have more members, and, yes, they will be more engaged.”
Reviewing the launch, “the response exceeded our expectations and has made us very confident that our goals for membership and engagement will both be met,” Colanero confirms. Based on comments received during the three-phase regional rollout leading to an April 1 circuit-wide adoption of AMC Stubs, “the eagerness to get into the program is very palpable out there.”
This article begins an exclusive new FJI series on cinema loyalty programs.