Fylde coast cinema bosses open up about the future of film-going

Richard Taylor, owner of The Regent Cinema in Church Street, Blackpool
Richard Taylor, owner of The Regent Cinema in Church Street, Blackpool
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Picture the scene: You’ve taken the wife and kids to the cinema to watch the latest flick all the critics are raving about. You ask for four tickets, two popcorn combos, some nachos, a hotdog, and a couple of coffees to boot.

And then you realise the number on the till isn’t the weight of your impromptu pick ‘n’ mix – but the price.

Suddenly, you wish you’d left the family at home to pick a film on Netflix and driven to the supermarket for some budget treats instead.

Sound familiar? According to several stories in the press in recent months, it may well do.

The digital era means you can now watch a lifetime’s worth of films from the comfort of your sofa – or even your bathtub or bus seat – for a monthly price that often costs less than a meal deal at the local multiplex.

Those with a right skills can get them online for free – though illegally – for the cost of an internet connection or cracked set-top box.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking cinemas are dead and buried – or at the very least dying, especially when furious parents paying £70 for a family trip out vent on social media posts that go on to be shared thousands of times.

But are they? And whose fault is it that a hotdog and Coke can cost a small fortune?

Will the convenience of instant gratification leave cinemas stranded like Tom Hanks in Castaway, or hopeless like Matt Damon in The Martian?

Who better to ask whether picture-houses have a future than Richard Taylor, who – in a move that’d surely leave bank managers a quivering wreck – reopened the Regent Cinema in Church Street last year?

Unsurprisingly, he considers a screening at his cinema, which originally opened in 1921, a greater experience than at a modern multiplex.

But he does see a future for them too – and doesn’t necessarily consider them rivals. He shows classics, while they primarily show the latest releases.

“They are fantastic in terms of performance and what they can offer,” he said. “But I have the feel good atmosphere.

“People look around and it’s a lovely old building, and I can offer a good night out that won’t break the bank.

“Sitting at home with your mates or on your own is a different experience, and just going out to see a cracking film can make you feel better.”

IS CINEMA TOO EXPENSIVE?

The problem with modern cinema-going, Richard added, is the cost. But that isn’t the fault of cinema chain bosses – it’s down to the film companies that charge a huge percentage of ticket sales, he argued, leaving cinemas reliant on food and drink sales to stay profitable.

“The future will depend on how greedy the studios get and whether they still ask for 75 or 80 per cent of ticket sales,” he said.

“The studios taking too much is the primary concern. But if a new release comes out, people do want to see it on the big screen,” he added.

In 2014, Odeon began charging a ‘blockbuster’ fee for big releases, such as the latest Bond film Spectre and Star Wars: The Force Awakens in a move that saw some cinema fans pledge to boycott the firm.

But last year, it also rolled out its Limitless scheme, which allows fans to see as many films as they like for £17.99 a month.

Vue, which has yet to offer such a scheme, recently announced £3.99 tickets every Monday. That’s on top of cheap weekend and daytime seats, and deals from sites such as Compare The Market, which offers customers buying insurance two-for-one tickets every Tuesday and Wednesday for a year.

What’s more, despite the fact we’ve all felt like Ethan Hunt after snuggling a carrier bag full of goodies past ushers, both Vue and Odeon have previously said it’s fine to take your own snacks into screenings.

So with some careful planning and a little knowledge, a trip to the cinema needn’t cost as much as one would think.

Graham Royston, manager of Vue’s Cleveleys branch, said: “Offers are in place that allow you to come for much cheaper.

“If people randomly buy stuff with out asking questions it can be more than they expect.”

Weekend morning screenings can cost as little as £2.49, he said, while kids’ combos, including popcorn, drink, and snack, start at £2.79.

‘Dynamic pricing’ also means tickets cost less at off-peak times and when films have been out for a while.

Addressing the issue of popcorn pricing head-on, Graham said: “Some people know and some don’t, but a lot of film revenue goes to producers, so cinemas rely on revenue from retail items.”

IS CINEMA THREATENED BY STREAMING SERVICES?

As for competing with the likes of Netflix, and Amazon, which offers its own streaming service to Prime subscribers, it’s ‘always the experience’ that matters, Graham said yesterday.

Watching football on the TV may be good enough for some people, but for others, there’s nothing quite like sitting with fellow fans and being enveloped by the sights, sounds, and atmosphere.

And with the lights going down, stadium seating, 4k projectors and state-of-the-art surround sound, it’s the same at the cinema, Graham said.

He added: “At home, people knock on your door, or the phone rings. In a cinema that doesn’t happen. You just focus on the experience.

“You can spend all the money in the world on home equipment, but it’s never the same.

“Quite honestly, I have thought about whether cinema has a future. I firmly believe that, as long as you remember the experience, cinema will be fine.”

Cinemas remain profitable too. Odeon, which has a branch off Rigby Road in central Blackpool, reported a 19.7 per cent rise in revenue in 2015 – with snack sales rising by a similar figure.

Vue, based on the Promenade in Cleveleys, has rapidly expanded since it came into existence in 2003. It has taken over the Ster Century chain, Apollo, Polish operator Multikino, and JT Bioscopen, the second largest cinema chain in Netherlands.

And while big studios may take the lion’s share of ticket sales, it’s the big films that continue to lure customers in.

Titles such as X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgency, Finding Dory, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were all cited by Odeon boss Paul Donovan as flicks expected to help the chain ‘outperform the market’ in 2016.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Even without the ability to offer the same subversive experience as the cinema, Netflix will continue to be popular.

Its own flicks aside, it has produced some of the biggest TV shows in recent history, including Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, House of Cards, and Stranger Things.

But with Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6 smashing records on the platform despite being widely panned by critics – it got zero per cent on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes – it may appeal more to the casual viewer and to those who refuse to pay blockbuster prices for ‘guilty pleasure’ movies.

Put simply, it appears to be successfully targeting a different market.

It may be harming DVD and Blu-ray sales but, while it can’t offer films at the same time they’re showing on the big screen, and until we’ve all got home cinemas in our front room, it just can’t match a cinema’s offering.

Amazon has displayed a different philosophy, and one that even appears to support cinema.

Last week, it made history when its tragi-drama Manchester By The Sea became the first film distributed by a streaming service to be Oscar nominated.

By deciding to give the Casey Affleck vehicle a theatrical run first, the firm landed a healthy box office taking before the film is made available for subscribers to watch at a later date.

Ultimately, similar to the recent resurgence in vinyl sales, and the second-hand hipster buys of typewriters and non-smart phones, cinema will continue to remain an unrivalled experience for those who truly love film and want to experience it rather than just see it.

It will continue to attract those who prefer to switch their phones off for two hours rather than watch a programme on their phone for two hours, and who want to see the biggest films on the biggest screens with the loudest sound systems.