Haji-Ioannou drops attempt to transform movie biz

Greek entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou has abandoned his mission to revolutionize the movie biz.

The founder of EasyJet, which shook up the airline industry by offering flexible pricing on tickets, tried to apply the same model to the movie game and failed.

Cloning the airline’s bright orange branding and “no frills” concept, Haji-Ioannou set up exhibition company EasyCinema, leased a theater in Milton Keynes, north of London, and sold tickets for as little as 20 pence (37¢).

But the distribs wouldn’t play ball, refusing to give EasyCinema firstrun titles, and now, just three years later, Haji-Ioannou has quietly relinquished the lease on his theater, blaming the failure of the outlet on high rents.

The site’s owner, exhib UCI, was recently acquired by venture capitalist Terra Firma, which also owns the U.K.’s leading theater chain, Odeon, and Haji-Ioannou said charges have been pushed up.

“Now that Odeon, which has become both our landlord as well as our competitor, is demanding a totally unrealistic rent, we have decided to let them operate the cinema themselves,” said Haji-Ioannou in a statement.

He had dreamed of setting up a chain of theaters and last year was in the running to buy the Empire, a landmark multiplex in London’s Leicester Square often used for premieres.

EasyCinema now will focus on operating a Web site that allows customers to view listings and book movie tickets. It also offers a DVD rental service.

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