PARIS — Controversy is raging in France over the launch by UGC Cine Cite, the country’s biggest exhibitor, of a cheap-rate pass giving customers unlimited entry to its cinemas.
For roughly $14 a month, film fans can watch as many pictures as they want in any one of UGC’s 42 cinemas around France. The catch is that they have to sign up for one year, locking them into the deal — and ensuring UGC a wad of guaranteed revenue.
While Gaumont and Pathe, UGC’s principal rivals, have remained silent about the initiative, smaller independent exhibs and others in the French film industry are complaining noisily and calling on the government to do something.
Helmers seek halt
Directors association the Societe des Realisateurs de Films on Tuesday added its voice to a chorus of opposition, slamming the plan as “a danger to independent exhibition, accentuating the imbalance between the different forms of exhibition.”
In a bid to settle the dispute, the Centre National de Cinematographie, France’s “ministry of film,” has asked its cinema mediator to intervene.
At UGC on Tuesday, managing director Jean-Marie Dura insisted that the pass was not meant to be a “war machine” against other exhibs.
“We don’t need to steal entries from anyone else. All we are doing is rewarding people who are already our customers for their fidelity,” he said.
UGC, he said, was aiming the pass at clients who are takers on another promotional tool, a book of cheaper-priced tickets for regular cinemagoers.
The pass was inspired by a similar scheme put into practice at Virgin Cinemas, the U.K. chain that UGC bought last year. But while the Virgin monthly pass was not a huge success, UGC is convinced that France’s rather more cinephile public will go for it.
Too good a deal?
It must not be too successful though or UGC will find itself out of pocket.
Under the system, each cinema entry is counted as a 33FF ($5) ticket, lower than the peak rate but higher than a cheap-rate ticket, with the usual cuts going to distributors and the French tax man. On that basis, UGC will start losing money once the pass is used more than three times a month.
A French distributor said he and others were still perplexed over UGC’s initiative, presented to them as a fait accompli just days before it was launched. “It is hard to see how it can work. Our concern is that it doesn’t force down the average price of a seat.”