EasyCinema fails to woo U.S. majors

Stelios threatens anti-trust enquiry

LONDON — EasyCinema, the no-frills exhib that is seeking to revolutionize the British cinema biz with rock bottom ticket pricing, is threatening to call for an anti-trust enquiry into the U.K. distribution arms of the Hollywood studios.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the budget airline mogul behind the launch of easyCinema, claims the “top six U.K. distributors” are refusing to supply him films, and wants an investigation into possible collusion.

“I have instructed my lawyers to discuss this issue with the Office of Fair Trading,” he said.

So far, easyCinema has managed to strike a programming deal with just one distrib -– Pathe –- for its first multiplex, which is due to open May 23 in Milton Keynes.

Pathe has agreed to supply four recent films -– “Bulletproof Monk,” “Evelyn,” “L’Homme du Train” and “The Heart of Me.” For the first week, all tickets to see these films will be sold for just 20 pence (32 cents).

EasyCinema is seeking to apply the no-frills principles that have made EasyJet such a success -– tickets sold dirt cheap if booked far enough in advance over the Internet, and no popcorn.

Instead of paying distribs a conventional percentage of the box office, the company is offering a lump sum. It will then use aggressive pricing to try and fill its theater at times when cinemas are usually empty, such as Tuesday morning.

But one major distrib denies that there has been any discussion between the leading companies about whether they should do business with easyCinema.

“Stelios says that all six of the major companies are saying the same thing to him, so he thinks it looks like collusion,” says the exec. “But we have very conscientiously not talked to anyone else, deliberately to avoid that accusation.”

The exec said the reason his company is nowhere near to doing a deal is that easyCinema has not provided sufficient information about how it plans to make its radical business plan work.

Distribs say that easyCinema is not offering enough money to make the experiment worthwhile from their point of view. They are also concerned about the damage that the exhib’s pricing strategy could have, not just to theatrical grosses but also to ancillary values.

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