#384: Global Leaders Maintain Focus on Customers and Stakeholders

Today’s episode features a discussion with Eliot Hamlisch, the CMO of AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the world.  AMC has long been a leader and innovator in its category, where it pioneered the multiplex cinema and now has over 10,000 screens across nearly 1,000 theatres in the US and Europe.

As CMO, Eliot oversees a range of important functions for the company, including its Stubs Insider, Premiere and A-List programs.  In the podcast, Eliot shares how the value of his experiences working with companies including American Express, Deloitte and Wyndham prepared him for the role at AMC and of course, the common thread of strategically having a focus on the customer translates into innovation and delivering measurable value.

You’ll also hear about how AMC also focuses on investors, and not just institutional ones but individual retail investors.  There’s a program for them too, called AMC Investor Connect.  

Learn how committed leadership and a big brand translate into opportunities to innovate, grow and deliver a great experience for customers and other stakeholders.

Hosted by Phil Rubin.

Show Notes:

1) Eliot Hamlisch⁠

2) AMC Theatres

3)  Adam Aron – AMC Theatres CEO on Twitter

4) AMC Investor Connect. 

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m Paula Thomas, the Founder and CEO of Let’s Talk Loyalty. Today’s episode is hosted by Phil Rubin, the Founder of Grey Space Matters, an innovation and growth advisory firm in the US focused on driving profitable growth.

If you work in loyalty marketing, make sure to join Let’s talk loyalty every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to hear the latest ideas from loyalty experts around the world.

This show was brought to you by Comarch, a global provider of powerful loyalty management tools to increase customer lifetime value and improve your return on investment. Recognized as one of the top loyalty technology solutions providers in the Forrester Wave Loyalty Technology Solutions Report Quarter 1 2023, Comarch is responsible for over 120 loyalty initiatives in 50 countries around the world. 

Comarch technologies help companies design, build, and manage highly immersive loyalty programs that bring results. For more information, please visit comarch.com.

Phil: Hi everybody, and welcome back to Let’s Talk Loyalty. I’m Phil Rubin, Founder of Grey Space Matters, and your host for today’s podcast. Today’s guest is Eliot Hamlisch, Chief Marketing Officer at AMC Theaters, the largest movie theater chain in the world. Eliot started with AMC in early 22 after spending six years at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, where he led sales, loyalty and revenue management.

Prior to Wyndham, Eliot worked for Starwood Hotels, Deloitte and American Express. With that kind of experience, not to mention a couple of degrees from Harvard, and most importantly, as really good human being, it’s no surprise that he’s in the lead marketing role at AMC. With that introduction, let’s get to talking with Eliot and learning about what it’s like to be part of the leadership team at AMC Theaters.

Eliot Hamlische, it’s good to see you. How you doing today?

Eliot: Thanks for having me. Doing great, and really appreciate the time. Good to be here. 

Phil: Fabulous. Well, as always, on the Let’s Talk Loyalty podcast, we have to start with the first question. The first of many, but always the first question. And that is, Eliot, do you have a favorite loyalty program and what is it and why?

Eliot: This one’s easy for me, and I’ll answer it on behalf of both myself and my wife. The number of Amazon packages that we have on any given day show up on our front porch is enumerable. And it’s in part because the Amazon customer experience is so outstanding. We’ve been prime members for as many years as I can remember, and it’s not only because the program in itself is well structured and attractive from, an additional benefits perspective, but they deliver time, both literally and figuratively, deliver time and time again. 

And when we’ve got customer service issues, they are addressed quickly and effectively. And look, there’re lots of, lots of flavors for loyalty programs out there. Prime obviously a subscription program and we, we love everything about it. So long, long story short, Amazon is my go-to favorite loyalty program. 

Phil: It’s, it is kind of hard to beat, and I think your, your comment about delivering and not just the physical delivery that they make. But I, I think, and this ties well into the way you got started after, after school with American Express, but Amazon tends to take that same view, and that is they are fiercely focused and loyal to their customers. The same way American Express has always been.

Eliot: Yeah, I, I think that’s right. Look, Amex is a marketing machine. They’ve been at it since the mid 18 hundreds, and have an incredibly refined approach to customer acquisition, customer engagement, customer retention, and, and really do buy into the customer always being right.

They’ve, they’ve got a real myopic focus on the experience, and they’re constantly tweaking it to make it better. You know, one, one of the watch outs for a company. That’s as big as American Express is, is you, you sort of get stale, right? And you fail to innovate because you feel like you’ve got it all figured out.

And I found during my brief stint there, I, I spent about three years at American Express. But have many friends and former colleagues that have been there for many more years. They, they continue to innovate. They continue to transform, they continue to think about their business in new and distinct ways. And that’s why they, they’ve been a market leader for as long as they have been. 

Phil: Yeah. They’re not necessarily the most nimble organization. Right? But that they’re incredibly deliberate and, and disciplined and that discipline. I mean, I, I go back to the, to even some of the taglines that they’ve had in their brand campaigns.

Which I know as a CMO you can appreciate. But the one that stuck out to me, especially as we were talking a lot about loyalty camp, starting with the brand, not with the customer the Powerful Backing campaign really just says it. And, and like, like Amazon, they deliver. 

Eliot: Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly right. And, and even beyond that campaign that really pervades much of the way Amex goes to market, they, they do feel very strongly as Amazon does and, and others out there, that it’s that backing and that focus that that real myopic. Tenacious focus on the customer experience is what differentiates their service relative to others, which in the credit card market, and I know we’re not gonna spend a ton of attention on the credit card market, but, but it’s a crowded marketplace, right?

There are a lot of alternatives out there. And at the end of the day, yes, you can differentiate based on loyalty programs and benefits and, and other things, along those lines, but, but it’s the customer experience and the customer service that truly differentiates among the myriad products out there. And Amex has it figured out.

Phil: You mean it’s not the loyalty program? 

Eliot: It’s always the loyalty program, Phil. It’s always the loyalty program. But it’s, it’s a little about the experience as well. 

Phil: Yeah. We shouldn’t give that away. We shouldn’t give that away too, too explicitly, right? 

Eliot: That’s right. 

Phil: So, so starting your career there, that’s, that’s, that’s quite, it’s quite a hands-on business school type of an experience. What were your big takeaways? And, and from the time that you spent there? 

Eliot: Yeah. Look, I think we’ve touched on a, a couple of the most important, which is you have to start and end with the customer, right? It’s, you could have the best marketing in the world, the best loyalty program in the world, the best benefits in the world, if they’re not of value to your core customer. If it doesn’t help you to attract and engage and retain customers. It’s, it’s all for not right? So that, that real myopic focus on the customer is, is piece number one. 

Piece number two, and, and you highlighted this, it, it’s important to remain nimble and be mindful of ways in which your business needs to transform part of my time.So I split my time at American Express, part of which was in their strategic planning group, like an internal strategy group. And, and the other piece was in a sort of combination marketing and business development group. The, the premise of that ladder group was, was interesting. We were in this small business card unit within Amex, which at the time was called Open and I like to think about it as somewhat of a rogue operator.

We were given a budget and told to try to penetrate, difficult to penetrate segments, right? So the doctor’s offices and automotive dealers and, segments that, that weren’t necessarily inclined to have small business cards. These are, you know, you’re buying a million dollar x-ray machine or hundreds of thousands of dollars in, machinery and chemicals that you need to run a car dealership, right?

So the list list goes on. And, and a lot of these had trade terms associated with them and the, the merchants that were selling these things preferred, preferred cash in a lot of instances. And so it was on us to figure out, well, how do you get small business cards in, in the hands of these customers?

And it’s a great example. For me, it was a tremendous learning opportunity and a great example of how Amex is constantly trying to think about, you know, we’ve, we’ve figured out these segments and, and sort of have, have that down. But there are these others that we’ve had a difficult time, we as an industry and, and as Amex sort of figuring out, so let’s get after it.

Right? Let’s, let’s get creative. Let’s get innovative and, and, you know, give a, a, a group of folks the opportunity to go expand and explore and, and figure out how to get it done. And I appreciated, I’ve always appreciated that about my time at Amex, that, that they were willing to be thoughtful about how to, to get after segments that were tough and challenging.

Phil: So let’s, let’s shift gears a little bit. I mean, clearly, the link between loyalty and payments is, is so intertwined. What a great starting point. What really I mean, is that what led you to focus so much of your career on customers?

Was it, or was it business school or was it Deloitte? I mean, it, I’m always interested in how people, you know how so many of us ended up doing things around marketing in general, but especially loyalty related. 

Eliot: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, it’s, it started, I’d like to think it started way back in the day. I, I grew up in a house and I’ll, I’ll probably overshare. I grew up in a house with a, a psychiatrist, father and a social worker mother, right? So you can imagine our dinner time conversations, and the, the amount of psychoanalysis that that took place in the four walls of our, of our home. But it was really in those early days, as I reflect on it, that I got really interested in human behavior decision making, what makes people tick and why, why do they make the decisions that they do?

And, and actually much of my college career I ended up majoring in psychology, and focusing much of my time on, on those aspects of, of the customer behavioral decision making, behavioral economics, and was just again, very interested in what makes people tick and, and how is the information that they receive and or don’t receive, how does that impact the decisions that they make?

And so coming out of undergrad, I was really keen on finding, something that would let me leverage those learnings and, and that mindset and in the strategic planning group at American Express, I’m not sure I, I envisioned myself as a, a, you know, a career forever and always in the credit card space.

But man, was it a great learning ground to understand what we needed to do to make a compelling value prop for our customers across the myriad products and services that we offered. And SPG or the strategic planning group really gave me, tremendous opportunity to focus across multiple different parts of the business and, and put different hats on depending on the project and the leaders that we were working with. 

To think from a strategic marketing perspective, how to go to market and, and again, create those really compelling value props. And so it, it, it starts back in my early days, but, but over the course of my college career and, and certainly at American Express, that interest in the customer and, and again, what makes customers tick. Really, really sort of took hold. 

Phil: One of my favorite books entitled. Why, Why people buy, Why Customers Buy, you know, the Pa, the Paco, Underhill book. But, but let me before we leave this topic, and I appreciate you oversharing and I don’t remember if we’d ever talked about this. But my father was a psychiatrist who got trained and certified and taught psychoanalysis, and my mother was, was also a social worker.

So maybe there is something in terms of marketing and, and loyalty and trying to figure people out and would make some happy, satisfied, and, and wanting more or less.

Eliot: There you go. I’m not sure we have talked about that in the past, but that’s, another good conversation over, over a cocktail at some point.

Phil: We’ll spare the listeners, the, the tales of growing of those, those dinner conversations, but I will say I can, I can completely, completely relate to that.

So let’s j let’s shift gears and talk a little bit about travel. And, and travel and hospitality, which I think is a good bridge. I mean, what a great bridge really from, from somewhere like American Express or even Deloitte to go to get into Starwood, which, which really was an in such a, such a fascinating product of that merger, between Westin and Sheraton back in the day. 

And I mean, my, I was working for The Lacek Group at the time and we actually developed SPG in tandem with, with the team there. So I had a lot of insights into, into that organization. Tell me about your experience there and, you know, they were obviously a, a significant loyalty leader.

Especially when Marriott acquired them. Sorenson, that was the number one reason he cited as, as valid, rationale for the deal. But they were, they were so, they were so great at marketing in general and selling. 

Eliot: Yeah, look, Starwood was, was a powerhouse. I spent, again about three years at, at Starwood. And they were formative for me for, for a host of different reasons. But to your good point and to your good point, SPG really pervaded every, every single aspect of, of what we did. 

I was in the sales organization, so focused on North American sales, largely from a B2B perspective. So we were selling into Deloitte and McKinsey and the big airlines and the big retailers in pharma, trying to encourage them either to put groups or business transient, into our hotels and had incredibly, strong and, and longstanding relationships with a lot of those organizations. 

What was really at the center of the pitch was SPG, right? Yes. We delivered a great customer experience and the hotels were of high quality and, and that was, clearly important, right?

Safety and security thing, things of that nature from a traveler perspective, that was important in many cases equally as important, if not more, was I wanted my points right? I, I want, I want my SPG points. 

And so it was, it was again, a real central part of what we focused on as a sales organization and making sure, and my role was, was in large part as a sales enablement, sales enablement role, making sure that the sellers had what they need as they went out, went out to, to the various customers that they had what they needed to, to make a compelling pitch.

And again, SPG was central to every single conversation that we had, and it was because the value of the program. And the benefits were, one incredibly tangible and, and two incredibly valuable to the, the hundreds of thousands or millions of travelers that were staying at Starwood Hotels around the world.

Phil: Yeah, it, it really was central to that brand and, and you know, I remember when it, when it launched, the key value proposition was so focused on redemption, right? Last room availability, which was at the time nobody had done. And of course that’s, that’s a thing of the past at, at, at Bonvoy. But still, there’s, there’s a lot of residual and, and I still think they, they collectively probably set the standard in that industry though.

You, you went to Wyndham which was a very different type of organization, in as much as it was more of a franchise or versus an owner or a manager.

Eliot: Yeah. The, the scale and scope was, was certainly very different. Right. To your, to your good point my experience at Starwood was, was largely on the owned and managed portfolio.

Starwood was increasingly going toward a more asset light approach during the, the, my time there getting, you know, selling some of the owned assets and, and getting out of some of the management agreements and more toward franchise, right. Sort of thinking more about the distinction between a, a REIT and, and an asset light franchise model.

Wyndham at the time I arrived, I think had maybe two or three owned hotels and a very small portfolio of managed hotels. That grew over the course of, of my time there. But by and large, nine 90 plus percent franchised. And I had maybe 150 to 200 hotels that I was really focused on during my time at Starwood.

And that jumped in 9,000. Right? Eight or 9,000 hotels globally in 95 different countries, a across the world. And so again, just scale and scale and scope was vastly different. As you think about one of the first couple roles that I had there was leading the global sales team. At Windham, which I jumped into sort of four or five months into my tenure.

We had a hundred sellers, you know, that were, were selling more than a billion dollars of, of hotels, hotel room nights, over the course of a given year. And thinking about how to in, in a world where there are 9,000 hotels to be sold across so many different countries, it was actually a really interesting and compelling challenge to think about what differentiation we could provide and, and how that needed to be distinct by the customers to whom we were selling, right? 

Selling to a customer in Thailand, you know, who’s looking to send, you know, a small group on an incentive trip, very different from selling to a big pharma company in Boston. You know, that’s looking to have a thousand person conference in San Diego. Right. 

So it’s, it’s, it’s interesting and, again, back to our sort of central premise here, which is loyalty, thinking about what part of the value prop and what would drive behavior for the buyers, either from a B2B perspective or a  B2B to C perspective was a, a really interesting part of the challenge that we needed to think through at Wyndham. 

Phil: The other thing that strikes me from having worked with franchisors is you have that other customer that you have to account for, right? The franchisee which is very different than some of the other companies in in the industry. How did that impact was, was that, you know, was that a challenge in terms of I mean, forget loyalty just from, in terms of sales. 

Eliot: Yeah. We actually thought about three distinct customer groups. So there was the franchisee, which is, clearly an, an important customer set.

There’s the B2B customers that we, we thought about as a customer base, and then there’s the B2C customer, right? The folks that are actually staying in our 9,000 hotels, across the world. And because of that, I would say yes, challenging and interesting, right? That that’s what made the job, you know, during my time there.

So compelling is you need to be thoughtful from a sales perspective and from a loyalty perspective about the value prop for all three of those very distinct customer basis. And what might be good for a franchisee may or may not be good for, a customer, for and another customer, right? One of those other two customer sets, sets for any, any host of reasons. And so figuring out the right balance, again, I found to be a really intriguing and, and interesting part of my role. 

One of the things that I enjoy most about the, the variety of positions that I’ve been in, be it at Starwood or Wyndham or, or now AMC, which I know we’ll we’ll get to in a few minutes, is the opportunity to, to be out there in the field With our customers. 

And so I spent a lot of time during my time at Wyndham with franchisees in their hotels, at conferences, understanding what parts of the Wyndham value prop worked, worked well for them and how we could continue to enhance that. Be it from a loyalty perspective or from, from an overall sort of revenue generation perspective, more broadly.

Phil: Yeah. I mean, the people, people can look at franchisor, franchisee models as a bit of scans, but it really comes down to leadership and alignment. And can you get everybody focused on common wins that are gonna benefit all, all stakeholders. Really interesting. 

So let’s shift now, you know, you, you mentioned AMC. Oh yeah, AMC. Let’s talk about AMC. What number one, what an interesting sort of transition away from travel into really another form of hospitality and entertainment. Not to mention at a, at a slightly difficult time in the world. You know, just having, having read about the, the challenges and we, we all live through them.

We’re also now living through the aftermath, which really is sort of a reversion to so many things that are not that different than before. How’s that going? 

Eliot: Yeah, look there, there’s a very common thread, and this goes back to, or we started the conversation, very common thread from, the world of travel and hospitality to the world of, as we call it, theatrical exhibition, or, or movie theaters.

It’s all about customer experience, right? It’s, it’s all about, creating an environment in which people want to and will have a great time. Right. One, our, our tagline, is we make movies better. And we do for a host of reasons and, and a mission of the company over the past handful of years has, has been to put a smile on people’s faces.

And if you think about travel and hospitality, whether you’re traveling for business or traveling for pleasure, and certainly when you think about going to the movie theater, you might be scared if you’re in a horror film. You might be crying if you’re in, a drama. You might be laughing if you’re in a comedy. 

At the end of the day hypothetically, all of those are en enjoyable to, to the viewer in, in some way, shape and form and, and you know, what you’re signing up for. But I’ve, I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed the transition, and again, that common thread of the customer experience and, and making sure that we’re delivering on it.

As I’ve transitioned over the past, so call it 12 to to 14 months, you know, as you said, challenging time for the industry, right. We were industry-wide, call it between 11 and 12 billion dollars from an overall box office perspective in North America, that dropped to 2 billion dollars in 2020, which is almost all from the first quarter.

Right? There was a little bit toward the end of the year, but we had 600 theaters in the US and 400 theaters abroad that abruptly shut down, right? You go from, looks like 2020 is gonna be another banner year after the banner year of 2019, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t you going from 11, you know, 11 and a half billion, down to 2 billion dollars.

That climbed back to four and a half billion in 2021, 7 and a half billion in 2022. And industry estimates are sort of around the nine to 10 billion mark. Depending on who you ask in terms of where, where the industry gets back to in 2023. Our CEO talks about sort of a, a a five year recovery period, which feels about right, right.

As, as we sort of march back from what really was a, a decimating of the industry, during, during the Covid period. And, and we’re on the road to recovery now, which is, which is great. You know, it’s, it’s been an interesting tie in from a loyalty perspective. 

As we talked about earlier, you could have the best marketing program in the world, you could have the best loyalty program in the world. I would argue we have the both, we have both from a, a theatrical exhibition perspective. But if you don’t have great content coming out, and if you don’t have a great movie going experience it, it’s difficult to get people to come back to the theaters. 

And, and so we’ve been in very close partnership, a as we’ve been for the last a hundred plus years, but certainly over the last couple in close partnership with our studio friends, right? Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Sony, etcetera. To make sure that, that they’re continuing to be focused on and driving the production of great titles so that we can put them in our theaters and, and, and, and so goes the, the cycle. 

And so we’re, we’re spending a lot of time not only on that, but also on thinking about ancillary and or transformative revenue streams that can help to drive growth for the business outside of the core recognizing that while we have a role to play in getting, getting titles to our theaters. 

At the end of the day, it’s, it’s really up to the studios right? To, to create great content and, and, and put it in our theaters. And so whether it be a, a retail popcorn business that we stood up, just a few weeks ago in an exclusive partnership with Walmart or a co-branded credit card that we launched, just a couple of weeks ago as well.

It’s been really fun to think not only about the marketing of our core business theatrical exhibition, but also some of these new and, and, interesting revenue streams that, that exist outside of that core or adjacent to. 

Phil: And that’s such a part of, you know, organic growth when, especially when you’ve got this built in addressable customer base and a brand like AMC. I mean the, the popcorn thing is, it’s not just a popcorn thing when you launch a a, a package good like that at Walmart. 

Eliot: Yeah. 

Phil: Small regional test with, with Walmart and 20, what, 2,600 stores or whatever.

Eliot: Yeah. Talk, talk about scale. We started, we started call it smallish with about 550 and cap end caps in 550 Walmarts, a few weeks back, and then maybe a week and a half or two weeks ago. This is late April, launched at, at 2,600 Walmarts.

And you’re right, stand standing up. Literally standing up a, a full new business, right? New, district manufacturing distribution. Just a, a massive undertaking that was really more than a year in the making, and it’s been spectacular to see it come to life. Walmart’s been a great partner. And on top of that, the popcorn tastes great.

Right? So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been fun to take a product that we know is beloved in our theaters and, be able to, to scale that out to, you know 2,600 retail locations across the country. It’s been, it’s been fun.

Phil: So start to finish not, not to finish, start to market. How long did that take? Like when, when did you guys make the decision to get into the popcorn business? And how long ago was that relative to the initial 550 stores store test? 

Eliot: Yeah, I, so the, the decision to…

Phil: Not to put you on the spot.

Eliot: No, no, no, that’s fine. The decision to, and I’ll, I’ll caveat the answer appropriately. The decision to launch a popcorn business predated my tenure at AMC. So I’ve been at AMC for guess about 14 months. And I would say a, a few months before I joined Adam, our CEO came out and said we’re, we’re planning to launch a popcorn business. Now I’m, I’m sure there was some time between we’re gonna launch popcorn business and, and sort of, you know, putting, putting the detailed plan together on how we’d we’d go about doing that.

But 12, a solid 12 to 18 months from, from concept to you can go into Walmart and buy and buy an AMC theaters branded popcorn, which, which is exciting. 

Phil: That’s really not too bad when you think about the cycle times, to to scale products. 

Eliot: Incredibly, incredibly fast. 

Phil: So one thing. I want to go back to, and then let, then let’s talk about, not let’s move, talk about maybe the, the, the credit card launch and then definitely wanna get your takes on kind of loyalty overall.

But it’s interesting to think about or, or, or imagine it’s interesting. And it’s a complexity and challenge, obviously very different, but with some parallels to adding franchisor, franchisees into the mix in the hotel business, you guys are relatively, your success is, is directly impacted, not relatively.

It’s directly impacted by the quality of the productions that are coming outta studios. And some of those studios are also in the distribution business. In the, in in the presentation business. In the theatrical presentation. Maybe not theatrical other than home theater, but I’m thinking about specifically like an Amazon, which I, I read and I have it, you know, it’s obviously an interesting title.

But the Nike story that Amazon produced, the Air Jordan story that Amazon produced. It was such, it was so remarkable. I think, especially in the context of the world’s gonna change. Nobody’s ever gonna go out to dinner or to movies or whatever anymore to them releasing that title exclusively in theaters before putting it on prime video. 

Eliot: We are coming off the heels of what I consider to be the, the Super Bowl of the theatrical exhibition industry, which is a, a week in Vegas, which is too long ever to spend in Vegas. I can do 40 days. 

Phil: I can agree with that. 

Eliot: Two hours. Yeah. Six, six days is, is a long time. I, but it’s a, it’s a conference called CinemaCon, and it’s held every year in Las Vegas. And it, it’s an opportunity for the studios to roll out what their slate looks like for the next 1, 2, 3 years. And they bring all the movie stars in to talk about, to talk about the films that are upcoming. It’s a, it’s a really fun and engaging and, and insightful week, and the audience is, theatrical exhibitors, right?

So it’s, it’s AMC and our, primary, primary competitors and, and, you know, all the way down to, the individual, individual theater owners. And so it’s, it’s, a tremendous opportunity to hear about. What’s, what’s upcoming and, and sort of understand some of the key trends. 

The reason I bring that up is the, the primary refrain or what, what I took away from the week as sort of most insightful was exactly the point that you just brought up, which is you’ve got the Amazons of the world, the Apples of the world, the Disneys of the world, and others who either have been exclusively streaming and or split their business in, in some way, shape and form, as is the case with Disney as, as a good example, right? Some movies released theatrically, some movies released directly to Disney Plus. 

Literally to a person, as you, as you listen to the studio execs over the course of the week, there is a, a new slash renewed appreciation for the important role that theatrical plays and theatrical releases play for studios.

Air from Amazon is a, a perfect example. It also didn’t hurt in that case that you’ve got Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who are both huge fans of theatrical, that are really, really pushing that. But, but these, the studios have, have come to appreciate that a significant marketing push and a theatrical window actually helps the streaming to do better when it’s released in streaming afterwards.

Right. People one, know about the movie to a greater extent than they would if it was on streaming only. Two, they think about the movie more as a big release and therefore are more inclined. To engage with it when, when it comes on streaming. So that’s helpful from a customer acquisition perspective and, and engagement and a retention perspective.

And, and again, literally to a person, there was this, this real overture of the business was pre covid. The, there was, there was a bit of streaming, obviously pre covid. Very heavy theatrical. All the movie theaters shut in 2020. So everything went, everything that was available right there was production issues and sort of le less titles came out, but everything that was available went to streaming for understandable reasons.

And there’s this balance now coming back in a, call it post covid slash covid recovery period to we might have actually gone too far, right from everything going to streaming or, or even what we call day and date, which is coming out theatrically and streaming it at the same time. And so you, you now start to see, and whether it be the Amazon or the the Apples or some of the more traditional studios start to do more theatrical release window of X days followed by streaming release afterwards and, and based on the week in Vegas, we’re gonna start to see more and more of that in in the coming months and years. 

Phil: You think so? Do you think there’ll be hybrids too? Like I’m you know, we’re all sort of, maybe, maybe this is a presumptuous question, but being a fan of succession, which is gonna wind down, but also even looking at, at franchises like Yellowstone where, you know, that are sort of taking the playbook from Star Wars, where you’re going and, and then subsequent, you know, being subsequent with the prequel. It’s not that hard to envision a succession prequel that’s, that’s a two hour feature film. I’m not, that’s speculative, but it’s interesting to think about.

Eliot: Yeah, could, could be that, or as was the case with Yellowstone, we actually played Yellowstone. I think it was the premiere of Yellowstone season, premiere of Yellowstone in our theaters before it was available on streaming, which again gets back to the thesis of more people know about it, marketing push behind it, and therefore more people are inclined to go view it on streaming afterwards.

So yeah, I could absolutely see, I’m a huge succession fan as well. I would, would love to go see a, a two hour version of succession in my local AMC theater. I could see that, or I could see more and more of, again, pick, pick your streaming service or, or studios start to do, start to leverage theatrical as an opportunity to get it out in a, in a way that makes it very distinct. Get a, a title out in a way that’s very distinct relative to just putting it on streaming and then, and then sending it to streaming afterwards. Once more and more people know about it, and it’s, it’s gained a lot of steam. So I, I think, I think we will see more of that. 

Phil: I hope so. Did, you know, the, I’m not saying this, just because you’re a guest, seeing films the way they were envisioned to be screened is very different. No matter how great your home theater. Yes. Yeah. You, you can’t, you can’t replicate that type of audio and video and other effects in, even in your pimped out basement.

Eliot: Ss, as our tagline says, well, we make movies better.

Phil: Yeah. Yeah. Now it, it, it’s, it’s a, it’s a great, it’s a great tagline. Let’s spend a little bit of talking about loyalty, especially because, films sort of by their intent are an art form and focused on creating an emotional reaction from the audience. I think, well, number one, that underscores the quality of, of your tagline. Cause you can’t, there’s only so much emotions you can add to the experience of seeing something like that, in, in, in a theater.

But competing around the experience is, it’s not a new thing to be talking about, but gosh, why is it so, why, why did so many brands still struggle with that in 2023 and beyond?

Eliot: Competing around the, experience is expensive. Right. And I think that’s, that’s one of the core, the core two things. One is prioritizing what matters from a customer experience perspective? And then two, making the right investments to bring that customer experience to life in a meaningful way. AMC is a tremendous example of being an innovator in the space, right? First multiplex, moving from one auditorium to two to up upwards of 28 or 30 in some cases now.

First company to have recliners. First company to have love seats, right? Where two people could sit together and raise the armrest up in the middle. Cup holders right there. There are things that we take for granted now. Reserve seating is, is another example, you know, of, of something that AMC brought, brought to market first.

And so being at the forefront of what are the things that are truly going to differentiate the customer experience and, and make your location, the compelling place to go you know, is, is really at the core of, of what, what companies need to be focused on. 

And to your question of what, why do companies struggle with it, that’s hard to do, right? It’s, it’s hard to do and hard to do well. And it does come down to, to a prioritization exercise. And, and so you need to, to bet on the right horse. And you need to put the right amount of money behind it to, to really bring it to life and, and bring it to fruition. And AMC has a track record of 103 years since, since 1920 of, you know, being, being a first in a lot of different ways. And, and that’s, you know, certainly been part of the company’s success. 

Phil: It is pretty incredible to think about that kind of history. And that was really the beginning of the beginning of the industry for the most part. 

Eliot: Yeah, it’s, it’s a long time, to, to be sure. It’s interesting. We had a, a meeting, this is slightly off topic, but, but indicative of the, the length of time we had a meeting with, one of our key partners, Coca-Cola, that we’ve been partnered with for more than a hundred years.

If, if we’re not the longest standing Coke partner, I, I’d certainly imagine we’re in the top five. And being partnered with companies like that for such a long period of time, that one that’s difficult to replicate. But longevity of, of partnerships in general really is helpful as well to differentiate,on the customer experience, you know, part of what, part of the, the value prop and, and why we make movies better is not just the quality of the screen and the quality of the seats and the quality of the, the site and sound experience broadly, but also the outstanding food and beverage experience that you have. And, and much of that is predicated on the, the tremendous relationship that we have with Coca-Cola and the joint innovation that we’ve done over the past handful of years. And that’s certainly additive to, to the overall experience in theater as well. 

Phil: That’s an incredible, that’s a great piece. I’m sure an underappreciated fact or something you could win some money on in a barbette or on trivia night about the longevity of that partnership.

But I think it’s interesting. Again, sort of being in Atlanta where a coco, where co the Coca-Cola company is such a huge part and everybody thinks of Coke as this big consumer brand. And yes, Coke is, but the co, the Coca-Cola company thinks about its partnerships with companies like yours, AMC and like McDonald’s as customer marketing.  

Eliot: For sure. Yeah. It’s, it’s yes and yes. Right. It’s, it’s, an opportunity to get their brand out. They’re on, they have a a 32nd spot that plays before every single show everyone sees at every one of our theaters across the country. And they’ve got incredibly prominent placement of marketing. The second you walk into our lobbies and, and you see the, the concession area and, and, explore your food and beverage options.

And it’s part of the movie going experience. And we’ve embraced that over the past a hundred years in, a number of very meaningful ways. And you’re right, it’s, it’s a real, it’s a differentiator. And, and again, part of what makes AMC the the best place to go see a movie.

Phil: And given that AMC’s been around a hundred plus years, you guys actually probably invented this idea of variable pricing back in the day with Matinee, right? 

Eliot: That’s right. That’s right, That’s, that’s probably right. 

Phil: It’s, it’s that, that’s awesome. there’s so much to, to talk about. I, I’ve got two, two questions before, before, before we wrap up. Number one, you guys, you know, stakeholder capitalism. Again, not a new thing. It’s been around for decades. It came to the forefront a few years back. But it was interesting to read the transcript of the earnings release that you guys did the other day. And the idea of including shareholders in, and the program that you guys do for shareholders also, not a new thing, but it’s, it’s, it’s so amazing that more public companies don’t think about shareholders the way they think about other audiences, including customers.

What kind of reaction have you guys gotten to that? And, and that’s under your purview area of responsibility too. Yeah. 

Eliot: Yeah. So you’re, you’re referencing our, what we call AMC Investor Connect program, which was born in, I wanna say June of 2021. So in a, as as we went through Covid and the, the meme stock craze that, that, took, took over, in those, you know, latter days of 2020 and into 2021. We, we have an incredible base of retail shareholders, right? So the, the, makeup of our shareholder base looks a little bit different than many other publicly traded companies, and, and we’ve got millions and millions of retail shareholders out there.

They care tremendously about AMC and, and in turn we care tremendously about them. And, this was a brainchild of, of Adam, our CEO who identified an opportunity to engage that retail shareholder base in a new and different way. And, and thus AMC Investor Connect was born. And, and we think about it very much as, as a distinct, there’s a lot of overlap obviously, between our investor connect community and our AMC Stubs loyalty program.

But we offer a lot of things that are very special, specifically for Investor Connect members. Be it advanced screenings or special food and beverage offers. And, and the premise is that’s our opportunity to say thank you for being a shareholder. And, and you’re right, it is interesting that more companies don’t take the opportunity to do that. Seeing, seeing how our investors have responded so positively to it. And the, the number of folks that are participating in AMC Investor Connect continues to climb on a day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month basis. And feedback has been tremendously positive. 

And so finding ways that we can continue to say thanks and, and gender loyalty amongst, an investor base that that’s already loyal. You know, is is something that, that we continue to be very focused on and it’s, results have been great. 

Phil: It’s a great, it’s a great illustration. Your shareholders ought to be your, among your best customers. And it reminds me, IBM used to have this great, maybe they still do, but they used to have a benefit for shareholders that you got shareholder pricing to buy. I used to buy nothing but ThinkPad laptops for that reason. Now I pay full price for Apple laptops. But Apple sees the world differently. 

Eliot: Yes, they do. They, they certainly do. 

Phil: Well, Elliot, I know we’re running up against time. it’s been great talking with you. There are a million other things that I think we could, we, we could talk about. But hopefully we can do this again one of these days. And thanks for being here. I really enjoyed it. 

Eliot: Well, that sounds great, Phil. Really appreciate the time. I’ve enjoyed it as well. And yeah, look forward to reconnecting soon. Thanks so much. 

Phil: You bet.

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