Landmark Theatres operates 53 theaters in 27 cities, specializing in the kind of art-house fare that crosses over to mainstream audiences.
Currently showing at the Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner company’s New York outlet, for instance, is a mix of hit documentaries, gentle British dramas, Sundance winners and one studio title (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”) — not mass-market but hardly experimental, either.
In other words, Landmark is the movie theater version of Whole Foods, the grocery giant bought by Amazon.com last year.
Now, according to Bloomberg News, Amazon is exploring a purchase of Landmark Theatres, too. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on the report. (Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
The acquisition would appear to offer tantalizing benefits to the company.
“I absolutely expect this to be used as a gateway to Prime,” said Stephen Beck, the founder of management consultancy Cg42, referring to the company’s $119-per-year loyalty program. “Movies and TV shows are some of the biggest reasons people sign up, and once they do their spending habits totally change.”
Amazon could bundle movie admissions with subscriptions for Prime, similar to the way it packages the latter with Whole Foods purchases — offering discounts on salmon, peaches and more. That could help drive Amazon customers to theaters — and drive moviegoers to Prime.
Meanwhile, as tech companies such as Netflix and Hulu compete for prestige content (and the awards with which they come) for their streaming platforms, owning a theater could help give Amazon an edge with voters, who favor physical theaters.
But while having another physical way to reach customers might seem attractive a la Whole Foods, it’s far from clear that a Landmark buy would offer the same benefits the grocery chain does. That’s for a simple reason: Amazon doesn’t need a physical presence in entertainment, a sector that is existentially (and increasingly) digital, the way it does in the supermarket business.
Whole Foods allows Amazon to warehouse and ship groceries, making the company more nimble at the mail-order food-delivery game. But Amazon doesn’t need to do that for movies and TV shows — the firm already is as nimble as one can get, zipping a movie or TV show to you and your device in two seconds flat, no warehousing required.
Amazon doesn’t really need theaters for awards, either, for another simple reason: It can simply do that in chains it doesn’t own. The company had no problem doing just that with “Manchester by the Sea,” its multiple-Oscar winner from a couple of years back. If you have an awards-worthy movie, theaters will program it.
The larger idea that it would stock the theater with its own movie titles doesn’t completely add up, either. The company is likely to exit the art-house-theater business for which a small upscale chain such as Landmark is built, informing Hollywood’s creative community in recent months that its “Manchester”-esque ambitions under Amazon Studios executives Bob Berney and Ted Hope are likely to shift to a more broad-based commercial business under new overall content chief Jennifer Salke. Essentially, Amazon is moving out of the Landmark business and into the AMC and large-chain business.
As for whether Amazon needs movie theaters for Prime, well, it certainly couldn’t hurt. But the company has many ways of building its membership — it didn’t exceed 100 million subscribers with movie theaters, and it’s not clear a few dozen theaters will significantly move the needle.
The best way a Landmark buy could pay off for Amazon might be if the company took these physical spaces and remade them, not as places to watch the movies that Amazon can already get you with no overhead but as a venue for other sorts. Esports and other forms of live-gaming, Ark and VR location-based experiences — communal entertainment in the 21st century is evolving past just sitting in a darkened theater quietly watching the same two-hour film as the strangers next to you. A company such as Amazon could take these spaces and outfit them for that purpose.
“This all may be opportunistic, a real estate play to do many other things,” Beck said.
Of course, that wouldn’t really be about buying movie theaters. It would be like buying Whole Foods — and then turning around and selling something that wasn’t food.