It was designed to give Gallic exhibitors a boost, but the one-week cheap ticket prices in the French capital soon could figure highly in distributors’ calendar calculations.
From Feb. 6 to 12, some 250,000 Parisians changed their cinemagoing habits to take advantage of the 18 franc ($3.60) ticket for the 6 p.m. show. A seat at one of the capital’s swankiest screens can cost up to $9. The mayor’s office pays the difference between the regular ticket price and the discounted one. This year, the city anted up about $720,000.
Antoine Mesnier of the National Federation of Exhibitors estimated that the special offer helped boost overall ticket sales by about 100,000 compared with a normal week, providing a welcome relief for exhibitors who have seen audiences drop some 15% since the start of the Persian Gulf conflict.
“The idea of the cheap rate is to slip it in before the two-week February school holidays,” said Mesnier. “Then it can generate a springboard for films and gets word-of-mouth going.”
Along with an effective marketing campaign, the cheap tickets helped send Russell Mulcahy’s “Highlander II” through the roof. Despite poor reviews, the $30 million pic opened in the Paris region on 47 screens Feb. 6 and moved an impressive 207,000 tickets in the first week.
Distributor Jean-Luc Defait played down the effect of the 6 p.m. screenings, describing them as a “happy coincidence.” Nevertheless, “Highlander II” opened on a Wednesday with 36,000 admissions. The following Wednesday, with the $3.60 offer over, the film drew just 8,611 viewers. Defait said the main object behind the release date was to coincide with the start of the holidays, “as the film is aimed at the younger audience.”
Richard Dassonville, head of Columbia/Tri-Star’s French operations, confirmed that the reduced price had been a factor when programming Woody Allen’s “Alice,” which opened strongly in Paris. Dassonville hoped that a strong start for the film would pave the way for the holidays. Early indications suggest that the gamble is paying off. At the start of its second week, “Alice” was out-performing “Kindergarten Cop,” which bowed Feb. 13.
For the exhibitors, the question remains whether any of the people who “discovered” the 6 p.m. show decide to remain loyal. In a normal weekday, the early evening slot accounts for about 10% of business, compared with 40% at 8 p.m.