The death of cost-effective entertainment

Tucked away on Oct. 20, hidden betwixt the great variety of reports on the brutal death of ex Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, I happened across a comparatively insignificant piece of news that first caught my eye for seemingly good reasons: Cineplex Entertainment will be pouring $6.5 million into Winnipeg, seriously upgrading our SilverCity Polo Park and St. Vital, with new seats in Polo Park, a new lobby/arcade set-up in St. Vital, and colourful new paintjobs for both.

What’s more, $4.5 million of that money will be put towards a complete overhaul of an older facility, in order to transform it into a shiny new first-class Cineplex Odeon & VIP Cinemas for summer 2012, the likes of which have not been seen in Canada outside of Ontario!

The new Cineplex VIP Cinemas allow only adult patrons, and feature leather seats, expanded legroom and a higher class of food/beverage, which can be delivered directly to your seat. While the new VIP seats will most likely go for $6 more than the usual ticket price, the Cineplex Odeon portion of the building will contain eight typical auditoriums. It’s new, it’s classy, and it all sounds like great news for Winnipeg — but at this point, like any adept and perceptive news-reader, you’re thinking that $6.5 million is a lot of money and are probably beginning to wonder what the catch is.

As it turns out, the full name of this new cinema will be “Cineplex Odeon McGillivray & VIP Cinemas.” The older facility set to undergo renovations is Cinema City McGillivray, not the only gaudiest building in town but also the best place in Winnipeg to catch a good second-run film. And at $3.50 for hours worth of film, it is one of the single most cost-effective options for entertainment available when you’ve got a couple hours to burn but no cash-wad to match it.

Throughout my extended stay at the University of Manitoba, that abominably ugly building has served a beloved dual-purpose amongst myself and my cohort of starving student companions; it appeased our desires for big screen movie-going whilst simultaneously taking it easy on the two resources we students are in desperately low supply of: time and money. Not only an excellent way to spend a couple hours without cutting into the groceries budget, McGillivray was also a second chance at catching the films you just didn’t have the time to see, be it for work, exams or paper-writing. Ten minutes from the U of M, the cinema on McGillivray is a student’s scheduling and budgetary gem, and is unfortunately to be a shining bastion of second chance film-going, cheap dates and spontaneous group outings no longer.

The trade-off here, in Cineplex’ eyes, is evident enough. McGillivray is consistently packed to the brim, so attendance isn’t the issue. If the income isn’t good enough on $3.50 per ticket, we might wonder why they don’t just raise the price. I, for one, would gladly pay $5 or $6 a pop to keep McGillivray as it is, and I would wager that most of the consistently present crowd there would too. But no, unfortunately for us, the problem that Cineplex likely sees here is the crowd itself; every head in the audience that pays for a second-run film is a head that very likely did not pay $10.25 (or more) to see the same film when it was first released. It’s a clever corporate stratagem that grabs the news with a positive headline, promising classy outings and an exclusive first for Western Canada right here in Winnipeg, while Cineplex thereafter enjoys a $6 premium on top of full-priced tickets at a particular location because they upgraded the paintjob, added leather seats and premium service, then called it “VIP.”

Personally, I can’t decide if Cineplex is going to pay for it in the long run. On one hand, I know I’ll probably go to the new building once, just to see what it’s all about, but then never again because it will be underwhelming and paying $16.25 to see a movie is absolutely ludicrous. On the other hand, a number of you newbie starving students reading this article are probably right now saying, “OMFG, we could have gone to see a movie for $3.50!?”

What’s more, as our society seems to further succumb to cultural pressure to pretend at riches and lifestyles we neither have nor deserve (note the fact that people actually pay to hear Ke$ha), I can’t help but wonder if labeling your product “VIP,” “Premium” or “Deluxe” really will justify multiplying the price in the future. Oh well. The only thing I know for sure at this point is that come summer 2012 I’ll be seeing a whole lot fewer movies in the cinema.

Gerald R. Jacobs already misses the cheap seats.