LONDON — EasyCinema is hoping to start a revolution in the U.K. exhibition business when it opens its first no-frills multiplex this May in Milton Keynes, a mid-size town 50 miles north of London.
The company, owned by budget airline mogul Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has bought a five-year lease on UCI’s The Point cinema, a 10-screener, which was the first multiplex ever-built in Britain nearly 20 years ago.
It plans to offer tickets for as little as 20 pence (32 cents) to customers who book weeks in advance, rising to a top price of £5 ($8) for last-minute purchase at peak times.
The cinema itself will have no staff selling tickets or popcorn. Bookings will largely take place over the Internet, with tickets being issued as an emailed barcode that customers will swipe over a scanner to be allowed through turnstiles into the auditorium.
The venture is aiming to make its money by changing cinema-going habits, using low-cost tickets to fill the theater on Tuesday mornings as well as on Friday nights. It has committed $480,000 to marketing the Milton Keynes site in the first three months.
Haji-Ioannou, generally known only by his first name Stelios, has already revolutionized the travel business with his pioneering airline easyJet, using similar methods of Internet booking, low-price tickets and stripped-down service.
But cracking the exhibition business is a bigger challenge, since he will have to persuade skeptical film distribs to let him heavily discount ticket prices. Now that the company has found its first theater, those negotiations will start in earnest.
EasyCinema originally intended to launch its first outlet in central London, but after failing to find a site it widened its search to the Greater London area. Even that proved impossible, hence the decision to go with Milton Keynes.
But the company now says this is a better testbed for its experiment, because the uniqueness and complexity of the London market means that success or failure there would not necessarily translate to other towns.
“Milton Keynes represents the ideal environment for a controlled experiment into how catchment areas and audience size can be increased,” said a spokesman.