I want cheap movies!!
May 26, 2003 11:13 PM   Subscribe

Easycinema - Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of the European no-frills airline Easyjet, is planning to open Easycinema, the first of what he hopes to be a no-frills theater chain, in Britain (the London suburb of Milton Keynes) on Friday. All ticket buying will be conducted on the Internet (there will be no box office at the theater); tickets must be printed out at home; early buyers can purchase tickets for as little as $.35, while tickets purchased on the day of the screenings will cost $8.00; there will be no concession counter, no trailers, no ads. In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Easycinema claimed that movie distributors representing the majors have balked at providing new releases or even quality second-runs.
posted by suprfli (31 comments total)
I think it opened last week already in Milton Keynes.
posted by timyang at 11:21 PM on May 26, 2003

No concession stands? I'm a little surprised at that. I understand (from talking to a friend whose family once operated a cheap theatre in Utah) that the money discount, "dollar house" type theatres make is mostly from the (quite expensive) popcorn & drinks. Plus, $8 US is *more* than what regular cinemas charge here in Calgary (last I looked, anyway) which probably limits the appeal considerably. (How many people actually order/would order movie tickets ahead of time? I can see people doing so for "event movies" like the Matrix/LOTR/Star Wars sequels, but for me at least, the movie I see is usually one chosen by consensus an hour or so before showtime.)

Having said that, bravo to the "no commercials" policy, although I do consider trailers an accepted part of the movie experience. (Not bloody so on DVD or VHS, though, grumble grumble.)
posted by arto at 11:41 PM on May 26, 2003

If the sound and picture quality were good, I would love this. I rarely buy food or drink at the theater anyway, and I always try to catch matinee showings, because A) I'm cheap and B) theaters tend to be less crowded. I often get tickets from Fandango, so this would be no different. I wonder if they plan to open a chain in the US.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:47 PM on May 26, 2003

This sounds horrible. Why go out to the movies if there's no popcorn, no trailers--and no one to clean the floors?!? This whole endeavor sounds so joyless to me. Going to the movies is a total experience which involves more than just watching the actual movie. Interacting with the people in the box office, tearing into a box of Mike and Ikes, enjoying (and/or laughing at) the trailers--all of this is part of the fun. What next--EasyRestaurants with no menus, no waitstaff and no restrooms?
posted by notclosed at 12:07 AM on May 27, 2003

Hmm, another commodity added to the easyEmpire... I wonder how many more services he'll continue to tuck into his little orange portfolio.

I have mixed emotions about franchised discounting. I'll readily admit that I appreciated the easyJet flight schedule and the easy-to-find easyInternetcafes when I visited the UK last year ... but on this side of the pond, I'm getting really frustrated by the aggressive expansion of big-box blandness every time Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. claim yet another highway exit.

Back to moviegoing: arto, flicks are just dang expensive in London. Cost ~US$12 for a first-run matinee showing of "Bend it Like Beckham" last summer in Leicester Square. The service was poor and the theater was tiny (imagine a large projection TV)... for $12 I expected a lot more. So easyCine would seem to have a price advantage.

easy* relies heavily on customer self-service, so I'm not surprised they are ditching the concessions -- probably in hopes they won't have to clean the joint after showings. No thanks, I think I'll just keep skimming off my Netflix queue...
posted by skyboy at 12:12 AM on May 27, 2003

I'm curious, skyboy, was that a mainstream theatre you saw "Bend it Like Beckham" in? That would definitely be considered art-house fare over here, though presumably a (football|soccer) themed flick would go over a lot better over there, even if it was about an Indian girls' soccer team.

If anything, in Canada, mainstream theatres are going the opposite direction. The Eau Claire (and I assume Westhills and Chinook) Cineplex Odeon here in Calgary has an arcade and a licensed lounge with pool tables, presumably to emphasize the "whole evening's entertainment" aspect of movie-going. After all, if all you wanted to do was watch a film, any film, you'd rent the damn thing, right?
posted by arto at 12:58 AM on May 27, 2003

In checking the site, it seems that they only take bookings a couple of weeks in advance. I can see this being very good for students or families with a few young children for whom seeing a movie in a regular cinema would be very costly and fraught with the possibility of throwing several bucks down the drain if the little ones aren't able to manage an entire showing. I'd be all over it for that reason alone.

I suppose I 'd need to have my printer fixed first.

If anything, in Canada, mainstream theatres are going the opposite direction.

In the U.S. too. There's the Loews chain, many of which feature restaurants (with liquor licenses) and upsells on seating and service, and Los Angeles has the Arclight, which Joel Stein (Entertainment Weekly columnist) described as being sorta like SuperStarbucks where you pay $8 for a Venti Frappucino but the lighting is better and there are no lines. Sometimes, especially when I see people shelling out $8.50 for something like Daddy Day Care or Boat Trip, I think that simplicity - in the vein of EasyCinema -- could be a very good thing. As lovely as the 8 foot tall papier mache sculptures of popcorn kernels, M&Ms and soda cups are, charge me $5 and keep your "artwork," ya know?
posted by Dreama at 1:18 AM on May 27, 2003

arto, I don't know about Canada, but in the U.S. there was good buzz about BILB and so it was opened in a lot more theaters, including a number of mainstream ones. It's made over $15M in the U.S. thus far, which is pretty great for a small film like that.
posted by gluechunk at 1:23 AM on May 27, 2003

There is an interesting article in the Star Tribune about the economics of movie theatres.

Some of the interesting points include:
For blockbuster releases, the studios portion of the ticket sales can be up to 90%, but typical movies have the box office sales split about 50/50. During a typical 4 week contract between the movie theatre and the studio, the studio's cut drops by 5% to 10% every week.

An interesting statistic: "Candymaker Nestle studied moviegoers' habits and found that 87 percent of frequent moviegoers buy concessions. It found that 78 percent buy a drink, 68 percent buy popcorn and 43 percent buy candy."

I've been bugged by the commercials before movies, but advertisers are willing to pay the cash strapped movie theatres a lot of money, and customer annoyance and grumbling doesn't seem to stop the theatres. I think it's a sign of a dieing business model when a company starts alienating it's customers.
posted by lockle at 1:27 AM on May 27, 2003

the London suburb of Milton Keynes

That's funny, I thought MK was 50 miles from London...

Well I think it's a great idea. The BBC article says the prices start at 20p (around 13 cents) with the average price likely to be around $1. Although it won't be for everyone, there's a big multiscreen cinema right nearby so at least people will have the choice, and I think it'll be interesting to see how well it does.

The fact that the movie distributors are refusing to offer the latest films is what could cause them problems, and the BBC article hints that they might be considering legal action about that. I don't know enough about law but could it be considered anti-competitive to artificially keep your prices high? There was a case a while ago involving car manufacturers here in the UK where they got in trouble for 'price fixing'.
posted by astro38 at 1:37 AM on May 27, 2003

[From memory from the news feature I saw on Friday. Appologies for any errors]

The Cinema opened Friday.

He decided on no Popcorn because it meant they didn't have to worry about getting food licenses (although I guess this may have started the other way around). Why no sweets and drinks though, I have no idea.

One of the film distributors (my mind says Sony, but I don't recall them doing films) stated that he wasn't allowed to sell tickets for less than £1.30, so the expensive tickets are subsidising the 20p tickets. Not sure how that fills the £1.30 requirement, but Stellios has always been a law unto himself.

Milton Keynes isn't a suburb of London. Even London isn't that bad.

[£5 says someone posts a picture of a concrete cow...]
posted by twine42 at 1:46 AM on May 27, 2003

early buyers can purchase tickets for as little as $.35, while tickets purchased on the day of the screenings will cost $8.00

No. Not at all. As an independent country (!), we don't accept dollars and cents in the UK - like most of the rest of the world. We even have our own currency! Called Pounds Sterling.

posted by dash_slot- at 2:12 AM on May 27, 2003

Well said that slot.
posted by twine42 at 2:16 AM on May 27, 2003

Hrm, I wonder if they'll allow people to bring in their own refreshments? That would be nice, although I could see that being... problematic...
posted by delmoi at 2:37 AM on May 27, 2003

How many people actually order/would order movie tickets ahead of time?

Well, they may well be motivated to do so if its only 20p, I checked the easycinema website on friday and it was still possible to get tickets for that night for 20p.
I'll be interested to see how the concept develops in competition with the big chain, all the amenities cinema which is only 5 mins walk away. The building they're based in is an old UCI (the 1st multiplex in the UK) 10 screen building that already had its own sales collapse due to the new 16 screener so Stelios probably picked it up for a song. It makes me wonder how easy it would be for him to expand the brand if he had to construct something specifially, there can't be that many multiscreens on their way out in the UK.

Delmoi: People can bring their own refreshments but are asked to take their rubbish away with them.

Twine: Concrete cows are so passe, Shopping Trolleys of Milton Keynes is where its at.
posted by biffa at 2:47 AM on May 27, 2003

Something that just occurred to me is how they handle credit card transactions for only 20p. I had a brief look at the website and I don't see any minimum charge when booking over the Internet. If that's the case, then I'm pretty impressed at how they've seemingly managed to implement 'micropayments'.
posted by adrianhon at 2:59 AM on May 27, 2003

Stelios, Mr Easycinema, explained what he was up to in a Guardian piece Friday week ago..
posted by ascullion at 4:52 AM on May 27, 2003

Concrete Cows.
posted by humuhumu at 4:56 AM on May 27, 2003

Skyboy and Arto - Bend It Like Beckham was a mainstream release over here. It wasn't major blockbuster fayre, but it certainly wasn't arthouse.

I wouldn't worry too much about the prices in the cinema in Leicester Square either - they bear no relation to the prices in any other cinema in the country. It's there purely for Film Premiers and to remove money from American tourists. Seeing a film in Leicester Square is a rip off, pure and simple. It's one of the useful bits of information that should go in tourist guides but doesn't.
posted by Gnome at 5:17 AM on May 27, 2003

So, what's to stop some less-orange business minded Miltoner buying a bagload of 20p cinema tickets two weeks in advance, then selling them outside easyCinema on the day for £1 each?

I could make a living...
posted by armoured-ant at 5:19 AM on May 27, 2003

So, what's to stop some less-orange business minded Miltoner buying a bagload of 20p cinema tickets two weeks in advance, then selling them outside easyCinema on the day for £1 each?

Well, never mind the legal issues, there's only a limited number of 20p tickets. The system is a basic supply and demand model, so as soon as the allocation of 20p is gone, they go up in price.
posted by ascullion at 6:28 AM on May 27, 2003

Well, never mind the legal issues, there's only a limited number of 20p tickets. The system is a basic supply and demand model, so as soon as the allocation of 20p is gone, they go up in price.

This is actually the upside of armoured ant's plan, the downside is if he buys 20p tickets and attendance is low, and he is left with unwanted 20p tickets plus his own time costs to consider.
posted by biffa at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2003

I should think even the cheapest of English filmgoers will soon tire of this experience, if it is anything like "discount cinema" in the States. Here, one can see a second-run hit for a dollar or two on an off night, but typically in a theatre run so close to the break even point that there are insufficient (or, no) between-show-clean-up staff. Here in the Chicago area, it's a revolting experience. All it takes is one spilled can of Coke to turn huge swaths of a theatre into a smelly, gooey mire. Personally, I'd rather watch DVDs at home, where at least I know the trash is all mine...
posted by JollyWanker at 8:03 AM on May 27, 2003

And ten to one the projection'll be shitty ... and who do you complain to when it is?
posted by Vidiot at 8:25 AM on May 27, 2003

And ten to one the projection'll be shitty ... and who do you complain to when it is?

That really wouldn't be any different from the full-priced megaplexes, would it? I'm guessing the theater would be good for guilty-pleasure movies that really isn't worth the full price, but then I guess people don't really plan ahead to watch those.
posted by gyc at 10:07 AM on May 27, 2003

...the downside is if he buys 20p tickets and attendance is low

I was trying to point out that he wouldn't make much money touting ten cheap tickets per showing!
posted by ascullion at 10:09 AM on May 27, 2003

Stelios is a dangerous man. He has a personal fortune of some £30 million and is bored. He likes to take a crack at markets that he believes inefficient and doesn't much care how much money he loses. Easyinternetcafe is a case in point. It's lost vast sums since its inception, the original staff were fired in a series of rationalisations and in the meantime it has screwed the independents.

Something of the aggressive paranoid (attested to by those who know him) comes through in his marketing and constant vitriolic press campaigns, against Barclays Bank, the Advertising Standards Authority and now the Cinema distributors. If you've experienced EasyRentacar you'll know that it surfaces in the T&Cs and makes renting a car a voyage into Stelios's soul.

Be afraid.
posted by grahamwell at 11:07 AM on May 27, 2003

Jollywanker, I have to say my experiences of maybe 15 or 20 visits to the only $1 theater in the South Bay area (CinemaSaver 10 over in Milpitas) doesn't generally agree with your assessment. There are staff to complain to, as I had to get a volume problem corrected, and the theater is not all that much worse than the full-price Century and AMC multis nearby. Though they did raise the Tuesday special price from $1 to $1.50 this month. If I were in the vicinity of MK, they were showing something I wanted to see, and I had access to a printer, I'd give it a chance.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:27 AM on May 27, 2003

In related news, a class action lawsuit has been filed here in the US against Loews Cineplex, for running holding its audiences captive at the start of each film while it runs all those ads.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:13 PM on May 27, 2003

I don't bother with the megaplexes when a few weeks later I can see most movies at the theater pubs. All shows except the first matinees are 21 and over (no screaming kids!), plus you get microbrews, good pizza, and the usual popcorn and candy selection.

Traditional movie theater:
$8 ticket
$3 soda
$5 popcorn

Theater pub:
$3 ticket
$3 beer
$3 pizza or $2 popcorn

It's a no brainer for me. :)
posted by illusionaire at 1:47 PM on May 27, 2003

If it's anything like EasyJet you can only get the 20p tickets if you're prepared to watch a film at 7:30am on a Wednesday morning.

Anything at a more sensible time (say, 9pm on a Friday night) will only be slightly cheaper. In the end you'll go and then end up thinking that for an extra quid you could have had comfy seats, popcorn and everything else that a "normal" cinema gives you.

Suddenly it won't seem quite that much of a bargain.
posted by ralawrence at 4:47 AM on May 28, 2003

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