Monday 27 February 2017

Smart Consumer: And cut! How you can reel in your cinema costs

Bill Tyson

'Slump gives bump to Hollywood" says a headline in Variety, the movie industry's bible. The story reveals that when times are hard, people go to the movies more often.

This holds true even in Ireland as cinema audiences, already the highest per capita in Europe, are slightly up in the face of the worst economic downturn yet.

Apparently, it takes mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters to offer the kind of epic escapism that can take our minds off our financial woes.

However, if you're not careful, a trip to the flicks, especially with a gang of kids in tow, could make your financial woes worse.

A new survey in Consumer Choice magazine shows you could easily spend one and a half times the admission price on a drink, popcorn and a bag of sweets.

In fact, a large tub of popcorn alone (up to €6.10) can cost more than the off-peak admission price (from €4.50). Bags of sweets cost up to €5 -- and why do they always have to be large?

At those prices, a bunch of hungry kids could munch through €50 faster than Lightning McQueen burnt up the racetrack in the hit animation flick Cars.

The cheapest available snacks among Dublin cinemas listed in the Consumer Choice survey were in the Savoy and Screen cinemas.

Cinema "cheap" means €2.60-€3.70 for drinks and €4-€5 for popcorn.

You can add on another euro for prices at Vue in Liffey Valley, while Movies@Dundrum and Cineworld weren't far behind.

So why are simple snacks dearer at the cinema than they are at the shops? "Items sold in shops are not consumed on the premises. We have costs associated with cleaning up after every show," says Mark Anderson of Ward Anderson, which owns the Screen and Savoy in Dublin among other cinemas.

Another reason is that "up to 90pc of the ticket price (on a sliding scale) can go back to the distributor".

(The distributors in turn could tell us that they have to pay €27m per picture for each Hollywood star -- so take your complaints about pricey popcorn up with Brad and Matt.)

With cinemas pocketing as little as 10pc of the admission price, income is skewed towards snacks.

And despite the recession, customers are still willing to fork out high prices to munch and slurp their way through as much popcorn, Minstrels and Diet Coke as ever.

But is there anything to stop cinema-goers from bringing shop-bought snacks in with them?

Vue says customers can bring their own foods in, with the exception of alcohol, hot items or food purchased from other restaurants.

However, Ward Anderson says it would be "frowned upon". "Would you bring in your own alcohol to the pub?" Mark Anderson asks.

Yet unless customers are frisked at the door, it's hard to see how to stop them smuggling in the odd packet of crisps or Maltesers.

As well as snacks, Consumer Choice also assessed ticket prices in its survey of 13 different cinemas around the country.

They found the cheapest standard peak-time admission price was IMC in Athlone at €8.50 and the Eye Cinema in Galway at €7.50-€9.50.

The dearest standard prices in the survey were, not surprisingly, in Dublin.

It costs €10.50 to go see a movie in Cineworld and between €9.55-€10.60 for the experience in Vue.

Running costs are higher in Dublin but so too are audiences. Vue has been cited as the busiest cinema in Ireland or the UK.

And the cost of a ticket in Vue's Birmingham cinema, for example, is £6.90 (€7.42) -- 25pc cheaper than its Dublin counterpart.

However, Vue and Cineworld do offer a range of discounts for children, seniors and students.

And Vue even has one for teens, plus four-ticket deals for families that cuts the price of admission down to €7.40 per head.

Prices may not have risen in recent years for standard tickets but it's an extra couple of euro at least to see 3D specials of films such as Avatar (€12.40 at Vue)

That's all very well for a movie specially filmed in 3D that took four years to make and won three Oscars.

But not if the 3D element is tacked on afterwards, apparently to bump up the ticket price -- as allegedly occurred with Clash of the Titans.

The demise of cinema has been predicted for more than half a century with the onset of radio, television, the internet -- and now the worst Irish recession in history.

Yet the movies retain their magic and still attract people in droves.

And while there, they continue to munch through mountains of popcorn even at over €6 "a pop".

They do so because eating popcorn "has always been part of the cinema experience" and overall it is still a cheap night out, Mark Anderson argues.

"You get a full evening's entertainment for the price of two pints in a pub, which, depending on how fast you drink, may not last that long," he says.

Irish Independent

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