Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Manchester City Centre Cinema Cituation [sic] (updated 2017-09-06)

Update 6th September 2017: It finally happened, The lone outpost of AMC Cinemas in Manchester is no more. It is now known as Odeon Great Northern, which means full limitless compatibility and, presumably (not checked yet) the full range of Odeon food and drink, rather than AMC's questionable selection. Not managed to visit yet, but since the Chinese films I like to go see have started being shown in the Trafford Centre, I may still be unlikely to visit the city centre location anyway.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of uncertainty, confused customer service representatives, and amusing attempts at alliteration. This has been my most viewed blog post ever, so I'm hoping people have found it useful. Cheers! - Peter

Update 19th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed via email and online that the AMC cinema in Deansgate is now (as of 19th May 2017) accepting Odeon Limitless cards manually in-person, and the functionality will soon be available online to book as well. Whether the types of films shown will change is yet to be seen, and whether there's any further rebranding to take place. At the very least, this restores Limitless use to Manchester City Centre.

Update 13th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed to Manchester Evening News that they are already in talks to rebrand the AMC cinema in Deansgate. Whether this will be a temporary measure or not, it's not clear. If I know companies, the fact that Odeon were forced out of the Printworks into a smaller venue with no IMAX screen, will no doubt prompt them to do some sort of restructuring within Manchester. With the additional cost of IMAX screens as an upgrade, this could potentially be a venue for competition between Vue and Odeon in Manchester. We shall see...

There are changes afoot to the selection of cinemas (cinemae?) available in Manchester city centre, which is gonna cause me some headaches and potentially some financial decisions. But first, some background info:

Right now (at the time of writing) there are three main cinemas in Manchester city centre:

1) Odeon Manchester Printworks
2) AMC Great Northern (the only AMC cinema in the UK)
3) HOME (indie)

A bit further afield, there's also:
4) Vue Manchester Lowry
5) Cineworld Ashton-under-Lyne
6) Showcase Belle Vue (near Gorton)

Now, AMC Theatres is a fairly big deal in the USA and a few other countries. However, the Manchester cinema is their only one in the whole of the UK. That being said, last year, AMC Theatres bought Odeon Cinemas. That's where things start to get problematic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recognised that Odeon and the sole AMC being owned by the same company was a monopoly on cinemas in Manchester city centre. The result being that one of these cinemas had to go to someone else. Yesterday (9th May 2017) an email went out to all Odeon Limitless members who used their card in Manchester Printworks that the Printworks cinema would no longer be an Odeon after the 14th May 2017. They didn't mention it in the email, but it was confirmed that Vue would be the new tenant in the Printworks cinema after a short rebranding period.

If you don't already know, I joined Odeon's "Limitless" membership over a year ago and have used my nearly-unlimited cinema access to go see lots of films I wouldn't otherwise see, including mystery films shown before their release date. The Printworks cinema, as one of the biggest in the area, shows quite a few films that others don't. Particularly when it comes to Chinese, Korean and Japanese films (yes, that includes anime). One of my favourite films of all time is a Chinese film I saw on a whim ("I Belonged To You"), yet had me in tears and I'm desperately trying to find it on DVD or blu-ray. With the Printworks no longer an Odeon, I'm in theory not gonna be able to see these films with my pass on a whim and, as much as I'm into a few things in mainstream cinema, I don't think I'll be able to justify the cost of the pass for much longer.

Here's where it starts getting muddy.

First off, Odeon have three options here.
1) Make their Trafford Centre cinema their flagship. This cinema already shows Indian (Bollywood) cinema, and is where the upcoming live broadcast of the Destiny 2 video game preview will be in-place of the Printworks. This cinema also has the same number of screens as the Printworks, though no premium "Gallery" areas.
2) Allow limitless at the smaller AMC Cinema and/or rebrand it into an Odeon and/or build more screens into it. At only 16 screens, with no IMAX screen, it's much smaller than the Vue. Also, building an IMAX at a second cinema in the city centre (the nearest other cinemas with IMAX screens are Odeon Trafford Centre or Cineworld Ashton) would boost competition for sure. At the very least, this would let Limitless members use their cards and offers there, but perhaps the lack of screens would lead to few (if any) world cinema films.
3) Just build another cinema and close/sell off the AMC as well. A brand new, state-of-the-art etc cinema might well be within the price range of Odeon, particularly with the money they now have from selling the Printworks. Build a big cinema complex somewhere in the city centre. Might struggle to find the space though...

So I do what any cinema obsessed fan does when they have ideas for the future of the company they pay every month: they phone them.

I phoned Odeon up and was halfway through mentioning the transfer of the Printworks to Vue, when I was told that Vue was also owned by AMC, same as Odeon, so I'll be able to use my Limitless card...

hang on...

I'm pretty sure that's not true. Let me check:

Yeah, that doesn't tally. Perhaps this person got some dodge info. Let's call the dedicated Limitless helpline instead.

Different person, same response.


Either AMC have blatantly created a monopoly in secret after the competitions authority told them to sell the Printworks, or the customer services teams at Odeon were told duff info. I suspect they're saying that the AMC cinema will accept Limitless after the Printworks closes, and there's already talk of it being rebranded into an Odeon anyway. Let's do one final check before calling it a day. I'm gonna call Vue.

Vue's response: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They have no idea, and probably won't until the keys get handed over this coming weekend. There was no comment about the company that owns them though, but I can't find any reference to AMC buying Vue.

In conclusion, I'm keeping a close eye on this situation as I don't want to lose access to my world cinema with my Limitless card. If that does happen, I'm already out of my minimum contract term, so I can just cancel my card if I don't think it'll be worth it, despite living right next to the (admittedly awful) Crewe Odeon.