Exhibitors look to Choovie to fill empty seats

Choovie’s Sonya Stephen and Shane Thatcher.

Choovie’s Sonya Stephen and Shane Thatcher.

Could an invention by a Melbourne couple prove to be the key to persuading lapsed or infrequent cinemagoers to start buying tickets?

The early signs are encouraging for Choovie, a dynamic pricing platform which has been adopted by about 25 cinemas, mostly single screens, in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The model created by Shane Thatcher and Sonya Stephen will be further tested when it rolls out in the next month or so on Kieren Dell’s Majestic Cinemas in NSW and Queensland, and if a deal in negotiation with Dendy Cinemas is concluded.

Using the Choovie app or website, patrons are asked to nominate a movie and list their location, the desired day and session and the maximum price they are willing to pay. They are then shown the prices for sessions at participating cinemas.

The platform uses pricing bots to adjust prices in real time based on demand, similar to Uber. Exhibitors set the minimum price, which varies from $6-$12, and the maximum.  Choovie collects a fee of $1.25 per ticket, which is included in the price.

The service launched on March 27 after a trial program at the Lido in Hawthorn last December. Among the participating cinemas are the Trak, Capri, Regal, Mercury and Odeon Semaphore in Adelaide; the Victa in Victor Harbour and Gawler Cinemas in rural SA; the Regent in Ballarat, Victoria; the Lilac City in Goulburn and Huskisson Pictures in NSW; and Cinema Roma in Queensland.

Today, for example the Trak is offering tickets for $9, the Croydon in Melbourne quoted $7.25 and the Dumaresq Street cinema in Campbelltown, NSW, $8.75.

Typically tickets are cheaper for daytime sessions and close to, or at, the regular price for evening sessions.

Among the most popular titles are Dunkirk and Despicable Me 3 while the Turkish documentary Kedi has also sold well.

Thatcher has had discussions with the major chains and says he hopes they will sign up once he proves Choovie can boost their box office revenues without cannibalising the existing market.

He and Stephen got the idea after visiting Village Cinemas’ Jam Factory at 5.30 pm one Wednesday two and a half years ago, when they counted a total of 33 people at the 14-screen multiplex.

A trained economist, Thatcher told IF, “The industry has a high fixed cost but cinemas are under-utilised. The pricing is inflexible, which does not take into account changes in demand.”

Keenly aware that some exhibitors and distributors have decried the current wave of discounting as a “race to the bottom,’’ Thatcher says, “Choovie is an alternative to discounting.  It is the most economically efficient way to achieve higher revenues. The way we work, exhibitors have basic control: they can offer as many or as few (demand-based tickets) as they want.

Dendy CEO Greg Hughes sees the Choovie concept as an efficient way of “putting more bums on seats,” particularly outside peak viewing times. He believes the initiative will appeal to lapsed or latent cinemagoers who view ticket prices as too expensive. If discussions pan out, Dendy will trial Choovie later this year.

Some exhibitors are unwilling to do business with the platform because they do not want to forego the revenues from online booking fees. Dendy abolished booking fees at the end of June after complaints from patrons.

Once Choovie has proved itself in Australia, Thatcher and Stephen aim to export the concept to international markets.