- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Filmgoers who have long turned to the local newspaper to find theaters and show times for movies may have to start looking elsewhere, as theater chains rethink the value of paper and ink in a digital age.

The top two U.S. chains, Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc., have begun in recent months to reduce or eliminate the small-type print listings showing the start times for movies at individual theaters. Theaters typically must pay newspapers to print that information.

Looking to cut costs, the theater chains are instead directing consumers to their Internet sites or third-party sites, like Fandango, Moviefone or Flixster, which offer those listings for free and make money from the fees they charge for selling advance tickets to movies. Many of those sites also feature film reviews and movie trailers.

The effort may be gaining some traction, as U.S. Internet traffic to AMC’s Web site rose 21 percent in July compared with a year ago, according to comScore Inc., while visits to Regal’s Web site were up 18 percent.

The Newspaper Association of America doesn’t track revenue that newspapers generate from print movie listings, but believes the amount is relatively small. Yet every dollar counts as newspapers are forced to cut staff, reduce the frequency of print editions or even close completely amid the recession.

And readers have come to expect such listings. Seeing them curtailed or disappear could give them yet another reason to abandon their subscriptions.

“For a reader, some things that are ads are actually considered news,” said Mort Goldstrom, the NAA’s vice president of advertising. “Ads for concerts and things at clubs, for restaurants and movies - that’s a reason people read.”

He said the pullback in listings will hurt theaters by reducing their visibility among potential customers, sending those dollars to competitors that still buy listings or to other sources of entertainment like plays or clubs.

Readers formulating weekend plans “may look at something broader than Moviefone,” he said. “That’s the piece that newspaper Web sites have and niche [entertainment] publications have.”

AMC spokesman Justin Scott said daily movie listings are expensive and the theater chain believes that money would be better spent promoting its value programs or other theater events.

“In an era when many moviegoers are using alternative resources to access show times, AMC has chosen to reallocate its show-time information methods,” Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Scott wouldn’t say where else AMC has cut its listings or how much it has saved. But he said “so far we’ve seen no impact on attendance.”

Regal, based in Knoxville, Tenn., said its in-theater and online surveys found 60 percent to 80 percent of respondents saying they received their movie listings online.

“So we’ve evaluated our newspaper strategy on a case-by-case basis, and in a number of markets have eliminated our newspaper ads,” spokesman Dick Westerling said, adding that in other markets Regal theaters run movie listings only on the weekends.

The company has eliminated ads in such markets as San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Orlando, Fla. Mr. Westerling would not disclose how much Regal spends on movie listings, but he said ticket sales haven’t significantly changed.

He said that the company has also tapped social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, to communicate listings with customers who sign up for updates.

Carmike Cinemas, a Columbus, Ga.-based chain that operates primarily in smaller towns, also has cut back on newspaper ads in some markets, in most cases just buying listings on the weekends.

“Out of the 50 markets where we’ve done drastic reductions, I’ve received one complaint,” said Dale Hurst, Carmike’s director of marketing. “I’m not trying to be a soothsayer, but everyone seems to be going high-tech. They want it now.”

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