Thursday 18 November 2010

Anyone else noticed the rate of increase in movie pricing in Australia?

I like going to the movies. Generally comfy seats, nice dark air conditioned room and decent sound systems with a huge screen. That aside, I remember when "Tightass Tuesdays" had $7 tickets. $10 for most days. Then they smashed through the $10 pricepoint well and truly with only brief stops around $12 and $16.

Price creep

How do we go from $10 to $19
+$1 for 3D (probably a RealD licensing fee)
+$1 for glasses (if you forgot to bring them from last time)
You booked online? +$2
Want a drink and a popcorn? You're looking at around $12 for a "value" combo :D
Total cost? $35 per adult... I'm just waiting for them to have a "credit card fee" (like the airlines do - when it's obvious you really can't use much else besides a credit card).

That "internet booking" fee?

Ever wondered why the major cinemas in Australia seem to have the same movie search/display system on their websites (the 3 column cinema/title/time search)?
Ever wondered why it costs you more for them to do less work?
Ever wondered why their internet booking fees are all the same?

The $2 "internet booking fee" on normal movies (it's higher on "Gold Class" and its equivalents) is due to the system licensing terms imposed by Vista (the company that makes the cinema management systems) on the cinema chains that use it. Once half owned by Village Roadshow, it's now privately owned by its "management group" (Oh yeah, they're vague about it).

Once upon a time, you'd have multiple projectionists running a cinemaplex, now it's all automated with mimimal supervision, from ticket booking all the way through to lighting control, advertising display and movie playback (ever wondered why it takes them so long to fix things if the movie gets out of focus or misaligned - there's only one person, if any, on duty). This is all driven in the larger chain cinemas by products from Vista. Being the dominant player in this market (and no doubt with a few patents) means they have a lot of inertia on their side with respect to pricing control and hence taking a cut of every internet booking.

What about those 'loyalty' schemes?

See X movies, get 1 free... except for "No Free Tickets" movies (the ones you'd want to see), oh and 'Gold Class', oh and 'Super duper big screen' sessions. Paying in person? No probs, just show your cards to the ticket counter agent. Booking online? So sorry, only one of you can enter your loyalty card details! I contacted Village about this:

I frequently go to the movies with a friend. The friend often books the tickets. Is there a way that the friend can say that I'm going (and hence lodge my VMC number) at the same time as he books? It seems silly for me to have to coordinate with him to book seats together. Perhaps there's room for you to make VMC more social here.. perhaps a facebook tie-in?
Their response was less than inspiring:
Dear Anthony,
Thank you for your email.
... [talked about if I used a phone booking - who uses phone these days?] ...
Alternatively, if they make bookings generally through our website, they can log into your VMC account before purchasing the tickets to ensure that your card is recorded.
... [talked about if I booked over counter - yeah, if you want to get to the cinema at least an hour in advance during peak times] ...
So, for a service I'm paying $2 extra per ticket for, it's not advanced enough to let me quote my friend(s) VMC (Village Movie Club) card numbers. I have to tell them to log in themselves and then hope no one takes seats next to me ... or log in as me and book for me (sharing credentials?).

Speaking to people in the know, loyalty schemes are about getting your customers' personal details and a massive tax break. Think about it - the cost of setting up all these systems which you use to collect people's details, it's a business expense :) ... you just have to promise the chance of something for free (hell, I signed up heh).

Wait, I thought that the cinemas were worried about losing people to home cinema and DVD/Blu-ray?

You'd think so, wouldn't you? It seems they've given up on trying to lure people who wait for things on disc/streaming etc. and instead have turned to nickel and diming people who still like the cinema experience. Usual technique - make sure the main cost is below closest "next level" psychologically significant price point, then bump up the real cost with the add ons. With the cost of Blu-rays and DVDs in at about the $30-40 mark, it's certainly explaining the rush to go "3D" on everything - heavens knows what the cinemas will pull out when home TVs go 3D :). Smellovision? heh.. We only have five senses, so it's gotta be one of 'em I'm sure.

Your thoughts?

Was I harsh here you think? What's your take on cinema pricing in Australia?

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