Stelios raises £17m for easyCinema fund

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The Independent Online

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet, cashed in another £17.4m worth of shares in the low-cost airline yesterday in order to help fund his latest business, a cut-price film venture called easyCinema.

Mr Haji-Ioannou said the proceeds would be used to top up his "fighting fund" in the battle easyCinema is fighting with the big Hollywood studios for the right to show first-run films.

So far easyCinema, which consists of one 10-screen multiplex in Milton Keynes, has been limited to showing Hollywood blockbuster movies several months after their release or art-house films.

Since it opened in May, it has been attracting 2,500-3,000 customers a week with ticket prices as low as 20p. "I remain as confident as I was two months ago about easyCinema but it will require access to first-run movies," Mr Haji-Ioannou said. "The problem with cinemas is that it is very difficult to sell a film beyond the period when it is being hyped by the studios."

All of the big studios are continuing to hold out against easyCinema. But recently it has had a limited success with Colombia Tristar, part of the Sony Group, which has agreed to allow easyCinema to screen its latest blockbuster Charlie's Angels - which goes on general release today - from 1 August. EasyCinema is likely to charge about £2 a ticket which is still less than half the amount the big cinema chains charge.

The £17.4m was raised by selling 7.5 million easyJet shares, which represent 2 per cent of the airline. The sale will reduce Mr Haji-Ioannou's shareholding to 20 per cent. He raised £60m from selling off part of his stake in November, 2001 but that was when the share price was higher.

Mr Haji-Ioannou, who has now severed all ties with easyJet, said he would not necessarily spend all the money raised yesterday on his cinema venture. He also plans to launch a cut-price inter-city bus service this autumn followed by a pizza chain, a low-cost hotel business and a cheap cruise line.

"I have a back pocket and I have some money and whichever company needs it, gets it."