Thursday, 3 July 2014

Why Cineworld's Introduction Of Allocated Seating Is A Spectacular Own Goal | Feature



A few weeks ago IKEA's lawyers sent the popular furniture mod site Ikea Hackers a Cease and Desist letter. A few weeks before that, Michael Gove announced plans to narrow the range of texts studied for English GCSEs. And now Cineworld has announced plans to introduce allocated seating at all its cinemas. It's clear to see what these three things have in common: management having no idea how things are down on the ground. IKEA's C&D letter citing trademark violation has already been denounced, in slightly more colourful terms, as non-applicable, and Gove's plans have provoked an equally furious reaction.

Cineworld's decision to introduce allocated seating has apparently been made "following extensive consultation with customers and cinema users", although a look through the comments that follow the entry on their own blog outlining the new changes paints a very different picture, with one Unlimited Card holder or frequent visitor after another claiming they have never heard of any such feedback request. A quick look at the social medias make it very difficult to believe that, as Cineworld say, "the overall and majority of feedback from customers visiting our cinemas has been positive".

What's particularly galling is the ill-thought-out, back-of-a-napkin attempt at trying to reason the change. Cineworld list four reasons why allocated seating has been introduced:


1) Sit with your friends
If you have booked as a group, you can be sure that you will be able to sit together.
2) Enjoy a more relaxed journey to your seat
With allocated seating you no longer need to compete with other customers for available seats in the auditorium. Plus, if you arrive late you won’t have to search in the dark looking for available seats.
3) Less queues, less congestion
More customers booking online in advance, means less people queuing in the cinema. Simply turn up with your reserved seats already booked, and print out your tickets from our ATM’s or go straight through to the cinema screen with a smartphone to display your ticket.
4) More choice
With allocated seating, you can choose where to sit; you can also choose the screening time with the best available seats.

So let's look at these shall we?

1) Sit with your friends
If you have booked as a group, you can be sure that you will be able to sit together.
Under the old system, this still works. You can all pre-book, meet up in the foyer, and head on in. Just make sure you're a bit early - especially if you know it might be a bit busy like an Orange Wednesday or Friday or Saturday night. You can be certain you can all sit together if you do a bit of forward planning, you know, of the kind that gets you to work in the mornings on time, or ensures you don't run out of toilet paper. If one of your group doesn't finish work until five minutes before the film begins, well sorry that's just tough. Cineworld don't explicitly say it, but allocated seating rewards laziness and encourages a laissez-faire attitude to entry. Just because the actors can't see or hear us doesn't mean a film screening isn't a performance.
2) Enjoy a more relaxed journey to your seat
Oh. It looks like they do explicitly say it:
With allocated seating you no longer need to compete with other customers for available seats in the auditorium.
And then:
Plus, if you arrive late you won’t have to search in the dark looking for available seats.
So just to be clear, arriving late and sitting in the nearest available seats so as not to disturb anyone takes LONGER and is MORE DISRUPTIVE than searching in the dark for your pre-booked row and making the customers already seated stand up as you stumble your way to your pre-booked seats.
3) Less queues, less congestion
More customers booking online in advance, means less people queuing in the cinema. Simply turn up with your reserved seats already booked, and print out your tickets from our ATM’s or go straight through to the cinema screen with a smartphone to display your ticket.
THIS ALREADY HAPPENS UNDER THE OLD SYSTEM. You book online in advance, your QR code is sent to your phone, you turn up and go straight in AND IF YOU'RE EARLY ENOUGH, YOU GET TO HAVE YOUR PICK OF THE SEATS. No one is disputing the value of purchasing your TICKET online.
4) More choice
With allocated seating, you can choose where to sit; you can also choose the screening time with the best available seats.
Just... what? Again, with UNallocated seating you can already choose where to sit. You just have to be on time. And you can already choose the screening time with the best available seats. You just have to be on time. 

In addition to all of this, can I just also add that while I'm certainly geeky enough to visit my local Cineworld and compile a spreadsheet that documents each screen size, auditorium layout, and optimum seating position, I suspect the majority of cinemagoers are not. Cineworld's auditorium layout map on their booking page gives NO usable scale to work from. This may seem like tiresome pedantry, but people have glasses. They get migraines. They get hot. They like their personal space. They have weak bladders and like to sit on an aisle. Entering a cinema auditorium and assessing its proportions before selecting your seat is integral to the whole experience.

And what happens when the people behind you start having a conversation in their normal speaking voices? What happens when the person next to you is eating his hot-dog, nacho, and popcorn dinner? What happens when the people in front of you start checking whether anyone's liked their Facebook status on their phones in the middle of the film because the massive 20' screen with flashing colours and sounds isn't enough to hold their attention for 90 minutes? I've been in a screening in which half an hour into the film, one half of a couple has attempted to discretely and sensitively exit the auditorium, only to have her other half shout - SHOUT - down the length of the stairway, "CAN YOU GET ME A LARGE POPCORN WHILE YOU'RE THERE?" What do you do during these situations? Well you could call an usher. If there were any. During a screening of "Man of Steel" last Summer, the auditorium's air-con was off and the packed auditorium was slowly expiring due to lack of air and abysmal storytelling. I ventured out to the foyer to inform a member of staff, and it was like stumbling into a scene from "28 Days Later". Fresh Pick 'N' Mix boxes lay half opened across the floor, jumbo frankfurters slowly rotated and the LCDs above the counters blinked and refreshed. There was no one about. In a 12-Screen multiplex cinema. Or you could just move seats. But no. Cineworld want you to lie in the bed it forced you to make. Recently, 20 minutes into the film, Cineworld Ilford actually STOPPED a screening to check everyone was seated where they were supposed to.

The thing is, I actually think Cineworld is pretty good for a multiplex. The Unlimited Card scheme seems good value, and even non-members get 10% off when booking online. Compared to Vues and Odeons, I've found them to be cleaner, cooler, staffed by knowledgeable individuals. Their smartphone QR-scanning makes entry a breeze, and their recent acquisition of the beloved Picturehouse chain has largely resulted in leaving the arthouses to get on with their own thing - and even funding the construction of a few more.
The problem is, like IKEA and Gove before them, Cineworld don't stand to gain anything from this decision. It's change for change's sake. Ikea Hackers is comprised of a dedicated and passionate community of people who love IKEA furniture. It's good business all round. Suing them is just going piss them off and make IKEA look like dicks. This country already has a vibrant and eclectic English curriculum. Screwing with it is just going to piss teachers off and disadvantage the students. Multiplexes have long been prophesied to end up as soulless and spirit crushing outlets that reduce the awe and wonder of film to a simple commercial transaction akin to buying a Mars bar. Screening Arts events has gone a long way to give punters an exciting alternative to iTunes and Netflix - exhibiting shows by the RSC, Met Opera, National Theatre, Glyndebourne, and the Globe has been an unadulterated success and an innovative scheme wonderfully and wholly embraced by the Cineworld chain. If corporations insist on making changes, I wish they would respect their customers' intelligence. Formulate your argument. Show us the working. We're grown-ups, we can accept the evidence. Just don't bullshit us.