Stelios cinema revolution: Cheap seats and B-movies

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Six hundred cinemagoers paying a paltry 20p each last night became the inaugural customers of easyCinema, a tangerine multiplex which is the start of entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou's latest mission to revolutionise what he claims is a self-serving service industry.

Six hundred cinemagoers paying a paltry 20p each last night became the inaugural customers of easyCinema, a tangerine multiplex which is the start of entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou's latest mission to revolutionise what he claims is a self-serving service industry.

The 10-screen cinema beside a Milton Keynes car park, formerly run by UCI, has been leased by the easyGroup in a £1m deal to extend the bums-on-seats ethos which turned easyJet into Europe's biggest budget airline. To those familiar with the "no frills" philosophy of Mr Haji-Ioannou, easyCinema is a familiar cost-cutting assault on an established industry.

Rather than a box office, tickets are bought on a website; instead of ushers there are turnstiles; and prices are supposed to be eye-catching rather than eye-watering; rather than overpriced popcorn, customers bring their own snacks.

But anyone rolling up to central Milton Keynes yesterday expecting to be able to see Keanu Reeves doing balletic battle in Matrix Reloaded, or any other new film, would have been disappointed. The sell-out first night at easyCinema featured three films - Blue Crush, a romantic comedy about surfers; a horror flick called Darkness Falls; and the martial arts movie Bulletproof Monk.

Quite apart from the fact that none had elicited rave reviews from the critics, the films were also a prime example of the key problem facing easyCinema - it is only showing titles that have already been released to the main cinemas.

The absence of the latest releases from the easyCinema programme is the result of a bitter row between Stelios and six main distributors, who are refusing to supply their films. The flamboyant entrepreneur wants to challenge the dominance of the Hollywood studios by paying a set fee to show a film for a defined period. By doing this, his easyGroup wants to use the "yield management" techniques it has so far applied to the airlines, car hire and internet cafés.

With even the best cinemas filling only an average of 40 per cent of their seats and most averaging about 20 per cent, easyCinema wants instead to fill its screens at all times by selling 20p tickets and upwards on a sliding scale. The company claims it will sell 80 per cent of its tickets between 20p and £4. The maximum price will be £5.

But this is a departure too far for the main distributors - 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Disney, Columbia, Universal and Entertainment - who operate by taking a percentage of the takings from the cinemas. Industry sources said that in the cases of blockbusters the figure is about 60 per cent.

Comments