How ‘unlimited’ could save the cinema experience

Less than a gym membership, and just as healthy. Well, if you count exercising your brain as exercise*
*will not work if you go to see Storage 24

One thing has been puzzling me for the last few days. It started when I worked out that I had been to the cinema 22 times so far this year – and what troubled me is that I wish it could have been more. My main obstacle is price. I paid for all but two of those tickets, and even utilising loyalty cards, membership schemes, Orange Wednesdays, and even money off with my library card I have still spent a minimum of £100 going to the cinema so far this year.

Interestingly, I would have spent a few pounds more had I been using a Cineworld Unlimited Pass (7 months at £14.99 per month coming to a total of £104.93), but I would be a far happier customer and would almost certainly have seen at least another 10 films or so in that time.

But my nearest Cineworld is 20 miles away. In fact, there are four Cineworlds all within 30 miles from my house. I appear in some kind of Cineworld Bermuda Triangle. Where I live I am ‘reduced’ to having to choose between an Odeon, Showcase, Vue, and my local arts cinema – none of whom off an ‘unlimited’ option.

Why?

If one major cinema chain can offer this option – what is stopping the other chains? I’m no business man (although my success on Game Developer Story on my phone clearly belies my Sugar-esque business acumen) – but surely a guaranteed monthly income (you have to sign up to the Cineworld pass for a minimum of 12 months) is preferable to the occasional visits from customers who usually have another cinema to choose from as well. It would encourage brand loyalty (everyone I know with a Cineworld pass can’t sing their praises high enough) and the more times someone comes through your doors for ‘free’, the more times you are likely to persuade them to buy overpriced drinks and popcorn to inflate your profit margins.

The closest comparison I can make is not Netflix, but your local gym. I imagine that most Unlimited Pass holders go crazy at the start of their membership – doing punishing sessions of three consecutive films before boring their friends and family with the details. After a month or two though they get home from work and find excuses not to go – too tired, not feeling motivated, don’t want to leave the dog on his own because he looks a little depressed. They will then go a month without visiting before splurging on 8 films in a weekend and the cycle will continue. After six months they’ll be poring through the terms and conditions looking for loopholes to get out of this Faustian pact, before telling the cinema their mum died, they need to leave the country and cancelling their direct debit.

It could also do wonders for the independent films, and lower-profile films that often either get small audiences or are not even showing in multiplexes with 12 screens (yet are only showing 6 or 7 films in a week). With cinema ticket prices as they are, people are less likely to take a chance on an unknown film and will opt for the ‘safer’ options starring a big-name and a bigger marketing budget. The unlimited model encourages customers to try something different at little to no risk. The amount of new bands I’ve heard through Spotify, or brilliant unheard-of gems I’ve seen on Netflix are a testament to this. The unlimited model can deliver smaller films to a larger audience, and ultimately improve the health of the film and cinema industry.

It’s too soon to be making judgements on whether or not Spotify and Netflix are the miracle cure or the final nail in the coffin of their respective industries but you cannot argue that for customers they are a massively popular option – especially in the current economic climate.

As the gap between theatrical and digital/DVD releases gets shortened, technology for home-viewing improves, and the 3D bubble threatens to burst – cinemas will need to adapt or die. Most cinema chains and (even some film-makers) are pushing for new technology to enhance the cinema-goers experience – but as a regular cinema-goer I can wholeheartedly say that a well-projected film, in an orderly cinema that offers value-for-money is what I am looking for in my cinema experience. Have you seen the High Street recently? The only businesses thriving there at the moment are Greggs and Poundland. We are living in austere times, and people are starting to demand more for their money. As things stand, Cineworld is the only major player thinking differently.

*I have not been paid by Cineworld for this article. I am just really jealous that due to my location I can’t use what I think is an excellent scheme.

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