"Movie tickets have become a loss-leader" - How are Ireland's cinemas keeping the lights on?


In a world where entertainment is available at customers' fingertips for most of their waking hours - cinemas need to work harder than ever to make ends meet.

Graham Spurling, director of Movies At Cinemas, Mark Doherty owner of Century Cinemas in Letterkenny, and Helen Hutton the general manager of Light House Cinema joined Bobby Kerr on Down to Business to discuss the challenging industry.

Mr Spurling, whose main business interests are Movies @ Dundrum and Movies @ Swords, says that "the landscape we face right now is completely different to the 2008-ish era."

He also notes that while the Irish remain the most regular movie-goers per-capita in Europe, numbers have dropped right across the continent with the average amount of trips made to the cinema almost halving during the past ten years.

Given the highly collaborative nature of filmmaking and the time-gap between projects being completed and making it to multiplexes, leaks are almost inevitable and can spread around the world in an instant.

The panelists agree that the best way to fight piracy and entertainment alternatives such as Netflix and other streaming services is to focus on providing customers with the best possible experience when they visit their theaters.

Mark Doherty says that his focus is making his Donegal theater the place you want to go for a "first date on a Friday night."

He adds that people fail to think of the knock-on effects on businesses when they illegally access content online.

In its four years in operation, The Light House has carved a niche with film lovers in the capital, bringing a mix of 'art house' and international cinema to Smithfield in north-Dublin.

However, Helen Hutton adds that the cinema is not just for buffs and purists. She highlights Light House's current 'De Niro vs Pacino' season as an example of an offering that is a little different while also appealing to a broad range of movie-goers.

She adds that its programme also features Hollywood offerings, "We spend at lot of time talking about what we feel in the mainstream market has value for our audience," Ms Hutton told Newstalk.

Back in Donegal, Mark Doherty is open about the business model in most Irish cinemas, "the cinema ticket has become a loss-leader for us, we just don't make any money on that," he concedes, adding that popcorn, fizzy drinks, and confectionery are what keeps the business "ticking over."

When pressed on the margins that businesses can make on these goods he says that he won't offer any apologies for rates that are charged for food and drink, saying, "We need some sort of revenue stream."

Business in regional cinemas is "slowly coming back" after tough post-crash years according to Graham Spurling. Both Mr Doherty and Spurling agree that future growth in the industry is likely to happen outside of the well-covered Dublin market.

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