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As AMC returns to Wall Street, it plans to make moviegoing even more special

Updated: 2013-12-19T03:56:29Z

By MARK DAVIS

The Kansas City Star

Cinema giant AMC Entertainment again plans to change what it means to go to the movies as the Leawood-based company returned to Wall Street on Wednesday.

Moviegoers accustomed to multiplexes, an AMC innovation, are starting to see electronic plush recliners with footrests that rise with the push of a button. Seats at some theaters are reserved, allowing ticket holders to spend a bit more time (and money) picking out snacks and choosing from among 120 drink flavors.

Dinner and a movie sound good? Already, 11 AMC theaters cover both ends of that proposition with casual dining restaurants on the premises. Twenty more are coming.

Or stop at the MacGuffins Bar & Lounge, at 45 AMCs currently, whether on the way to or after a show.

“We are providing a different experience,” chief executive Gerry Lopez said Wednesday, hours after ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange, where AMC shares were being traded after a nine-year hiatus.

AMC says that the U.S. cinema industry is in transition again and that it has about a three-year head start. This time, success will depend not on building more and more seats in front of more and more screens but on focusing on the quality of the experience.

For example, one recliner will take out three standard seats.

Many of AMC’s ideas emerged in the last few years when it was privately owned and shielded from the demands of stock traders, investment analysts and impatient shareholders.

“It gave us time to experiment,” Lopez said.

AMC’s owner since September 2012 has been China-based Dalian Wanda Group, which is the largest movie exhibitor in China. Wanda has kept a long-term perspective on AMC’s business, Lopez said, as well as provided capital.

Combined, the two cinema companies are the largest in the world, which Lopez said gives them greater leverage in working out deals with suppliers such as Coca-Cola and Imax.

Wanda Group still owns about 80 percent of AMC’s stock.

The remaining 20 percent sold Tuesday at $18 a share, bringing in $331.6 million. Shares jumped nearly 10 percent at their apex Wednesday and finished their first day of trading at $18.90, a 5 percent gain.

Now that AMC trades publicly again, Lopez said, it gains a potential source of capital for expansion, innovation and other business needs. Any funding raised there would supplement money AMC can borrow and generate on its own.

“It’s all about having that extra trick in your bag,” he said.

Moviegoers will need to bring a bit of extra cash where those plush recliners, full bars and dine-in theater experiences pop up. AMC, however, said it hasn’t raised ticket prices as much as it probably will be able to for, say, those recliner seats.

Its AMC Stubs loyalty program gives some of that back with in-theater credits while encouraging customers to visit more often.

For the company, it’s about collecting, on average, an extra 4 cents per visitor one way, 30 cents another. AMC also is expanding its network of giant screen Imax theaters and its own version of Imax, both of which add to its revenue.

Lopez also acknowledged that there is a limit to what consumers will spend, however great the product offered.

“We will always will be competitive with the theater down the street,” he said.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com.

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