To the majority of people in the UK if you go to the cinema you will be giving your hard earned cash to one of two franchises, Odeon or Cineworld. These two giants are arguably the big boys on the block. Odeon being one of the oldest chains in the country dating back to the 1920’s and Cineworld still relatively young in movie terms coming into play around 1996.
Both offer very similar experiences, you queue, get your popcorn and watch a movie. Depending on where you go in the country the quality obviously differs, Cineworld for example have dispensed with alot of their front of house booths and tickets are purchased at the same time as your hotdog. Odeon tends to keep to the more traditional way of doing things but clearly alot of decisions around how their businesses are run comes down to cost. An example of this is Cineworlds Unlimited membership which offers great value and provides a constant flow of people through the concession stands (nobody sneaks their M&M’s in anymore do they?)
However for all the history and deals you get, do you still get the quality you expect considering the price of admission? This is where local standalone businesses can really make a mark.
We went to see Stephen Kings IT last weekend. It’s not often we get the chance to go out so we’re quite picky with the films we see and where we go so it’s with this in mind that we decided to go to The Sussex Exchange, an independent cinema, restaurant and conference facility all under one roof.
Now I’m not looking to bash the franchises however it needs to be noted that there are clear differences between Odeon, Cineworld and Sussex Exchange which are worth exploring. Therefore here’s a rundown of what we find are the differences between franchises and independents of the cinema world. To ensure accuracy we’ll use Odeon, Cineworld and the Sussex Exchange for the comparison.
The cost of the cinema and what people are willing to pay is always going to be different depending on your own circumstances. The franchises are looking to get numbers through the doors, it’s hard to keep a business running in today’s climate and part of that is keeping costs to a minimum. By keeping costs down and utilising staff in multiple roles the franchise can pass that saving onto the consumer. The independent has far more control with normally just the one establishment to consider they can price themselves how they see fit depending on the experience.
The key point here though is what you are getting for your money, so although you will most likely get savings with a franchise you have to consider what it is your paying for. Are you seeing a movie or are you getting an experience?
An independent might only have a single screen and be able to show one film a month but by combining other elements such as restaurants and bars they can happily charge more and people will pay as they are providing an experience that’s unique to them. The same goes for things like VIP seating, people will pay a premium to not have to sit next to other people.
Result: if your main concern is pennies in the pocket you’ll be a franchise movie goer, if you don’t go out every weekend to see the latest release and you like to make an afternoon of it, you’re a independent support.
This is not said as an insult but as a fact, I don’t like sticky floors. I hate to say it but there are very few franchise cinemas that don’t have sticky floors. Not in the lobby, its normally ok there but in the actual screen room. It can feel like the room had just been used for a Wrigley and Gumball convention the night before. Unfortunately many the time after seeing a movie has time been spent dragging a shoe along the floor to rid it of chewing gum, popcorn or some other unidentifiable residue from the floor.
The comparison is easy here, independents literally only stay in business if they can out do the competition. They have to fight to get people through the door as they have a far less established brand. To that end people are unlikely to come back if the lobby smells of yesterdays nacho cheese and the walls cry tears of Pepsi and Sprite.
In the example of the Sussex Exchange it feels like you are taken back 30 years to an era where everyone dresses smartly, you don’t see the same person on the front desk serving the slushy and you are shown to your seat. There are numerous other little touches and these sort of places do to set themselves apart, like coming and introducing the person running things if you need anything before the film starts, reminding people to switch their phones off and best of all to (genuinely or not) tell people to enjoy the film. It’s a nice thing to see when you are used to getting the same messages appear on the screen (Orange mobile anyone?) which nobody paid attention to as they were too busy on their phones to read the message to turn your phone off.
Result: it comes down to cost again but if you can afford a bit extra the experience is so much more than just seeing a movie if you can find the right place. The types of people willing to pay a bit more are those who are there to watch a movie not tweet about it half way through. In my experience the independents attract a better crowd and have better overall product, but you do pay for it.
The People Factor
An ever increasing number of people are looking to give their money over to businesses that make them feel special. That is to say, people want that extra level of service and there is a gap in the market for businesses to fill that need.
The likes of Odeon and Cineworld aren’t looking to suddenly look go upmarket and put restaurants with pianos and cocktails in all of their buildings but they understand that they need to operate at a level that suits their client base. The great thing about franchise cinemas is that they cater to the masses so as far as they are concerned less is more, they don’t need to find a niche so don’t need to narrow their strengths.
Independents tend to thrive on niche markets. You have the adults only, the child friendly, the bar, restaurant and screen trilogy and even outdoor screenings which seem to be making a come back.
There are numerous places from The Ashdown Forest Llama Park to Pier’s up and down the coast all showing screenings of classics outside. People crave new trends constantly and when you find the next one early you can make some serious money.
Ultimately its the foot count that matters, if people don’t turn up you go out of business and this is where the franchise has the independents at a disadvantage. If you have only one screen you need to make sure you hit your target audience square in the face with the movie you play, the deals you offer and the service you provide. The franchise can have a movie that doesn’t hit the mark now and again because its got 3 or 4 others that will fill the gap.
Result: The franchise always has the upper hand (ordinarily) with funding, options and a known brand. The independents have to constantly be looking to do more with less knowing one wrong step can put them out of the game, so a solid strategy is king. Although the experience of an independent can be far superior and provide the frills you won’t find elsewhere, if the trends change or the economy dips the franchises have the resources to keep pulling people back in.
For us its a no brainer, we don’t go out enough to the cinema to feel like we need to find the cheapest option because its a treat. We might not see all the best movies that come out but when we do go its a whole afternoon, its an experience. It’s not the same for everyone, budgets, family commitments and choice all come into it but isn’t that what makes life interesting? Choice is a good thing and the more businesses can co exist the better for the public and the better for having a good day out.