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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Film firms 'block' cheap seats plan
Stelios Haji-Ioannou
Easycinema want to change film going

A plan to let cinemagoers see films from as little as 20p each is meeting resistance from major film distributors, the company behind the scheme says.

Easycinema - run by Easyjet airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou - plans to open its first discount cinema in Milton Keynes next month.

Mr Haji-Ioannou intends to turn it into the kind of large-scale success that has provided stiff competition for Britain's established airlines.

But his company says the film industry's big players - Columbia Tristar, Warners, Universal Paramount, Fox and Disney - are yet to agree on a formula which would allow it to show the latest blockbusters.

If any other business were four-fifths empty there would be a shareholders' revolt - but for some reason the cinema industry limps on
James Rothnie, Easycinema

Easycinema says it intends to resolve the issue - either by negotiation or litigation - by the proposed opening date of 23 May.

That gives Mr Haji-Ioannou little more than three weeks to reach a settlement with the distributors - or challenge their position in the High Court.

The company wants to pay distributors a flat rate in return for being able to show "first-run" films for an agreed period.

It says its plan has so far been met by a mixture of "surprise, listening with interest and scorn" by the film companies.

Mr Haji-Ioannou's spokesman, James Rothnie, said: "We want to introduce a new way of doing business where we give the distributors the going rate for the film."

The Point cinema, Milton Keynes
The Milton Keynes cinema will employ 12 staff

He said the company would try to negotiate an agreement, but if this was not achieved it would look to challenge what it believed was "restrictive pricing" by the film companies.

Easycinema plans to charge between 20p and 5 per film, with an average price of about 1.50, depending on what day and time of the week the film is shown.

As with its airline arm, it will encourage customers to book online days and weeks in advance, keeping its overheads relatively low.

"At the moment a film generally costs the same on a Tuesday afternoon as it does on a Friday night but the demand is entirely different," said Mr Rothnie.

"For a family of four who want to go to the west end of London to see a film it can be 15 a head and 10 for popcorn. We're saying it's 20p a head - and bring your own popcorn."

The big film studios own the distributors and so they have a vested interest
James Rothnie, Easycinema

He said that on average cinemas were only about 20% full.

"If any other business were four-fifths empty there would be a shareholders' revolt - but for some reason the cinema industry limps on."

The company has leased a loss-making 10-screen cinema in Milton Keynes from the UCI chain as its test venue for the project.

It is investing an undisclosed six-figure amount in the early stages of the business, employing about a dozen staff.

Easycinema calculates it would need to sell about a million seats at 1.50 each to break even in its first year.

Mr Rothnie said the film companies were "entrenched in a cartel" and were resistant to the idea of change.

"The big film studios own the distributors and so they have a vested interest," he said.

None of the distributors contacted by BBC News Online was available for comment.

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