French industry up in arms

PARIS — A new unlimited access pass for movie theaters is stirring up passions in the French film biz, whose revenues — as elsewhere — are directly linked to box office takings.

In cinephile France, there are already an estimated 280,000 see-all-you-want cards in circulation, accounting for at least 13 million admissions last year — about 7% of total ticket sales.

Now UGC, France’s second biggest chain, plans to launch a two-person card. It will cost Euros 35 ($47), only one Euro less than the price of two one-person cards.

But because only one person’s name will be on the card, industry groups fear it will lead to an illegal traffic in movie theater tickets, as card holders cut deals with people standing in line for full-price tickets.

“The two-person card is an incredibly bad idea,” complained Pascal Rogard, director of the SACD, France’s biggest royalties org for authors and music composers.

However, UGC staunchly defended its initiative, which is awaiting approval from the Centre National de la Cinematographie, France’s film industry regulator.

Exhibition topper Jean-Marie Dura said Thursday: “We are refining a product that is very popular in France, the way any company would. People tend to go to the cinema in pairs and we want to reach that public.”

He added: “The vast majority of people who are prepared to pay Euros 35 a month for a cinema pass will respect the rules and won’t become ticket touts. People who don’t want to pay have always found a way to get into movie theaters. “

Unlimited admission cards have been a source of conflict since they were first introduced in 2000 — mainly because for producers and distribbers they represent a lower return per admission than the standard box office ticket, of which they receive about 41% of the cover price.

Although the price of the cards has gone up around 18% since their launch in 2000, France’s powerful exhibitors have managed to ensure that the amount per admission paid to producers and distributors hasn’t budged from levels fixed back then.

The CNC was due Thursday to extend its approval for several more years for passes issued by UGC, market leader Europalaces, and MK2, among others.

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