French moviegoing pass taking effect

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PARIS -- Approved by state film body the CNC in July, the new UGC-MK2 unlimited moviegoing pass "UGC Illimite" will officially become available Wednesday for an observation period of 20 months, French theater chains UGC and MK2 confirmed Tuesday.

In June, MK2's president Martin Karmitz pulled out of its Le Pass offer with Gaumont and Pathe, arguing that the passes were no longer profitable, then agreed to a new unlimited moviegoing card in collaboration with UGC in the summer. As of Wednesday, holders of the "UGC Illimite" pass also will have access to MK2's cinemas all over the country, giving the lucky cardholders the chance to catch their latest movie selections in 236 theaters in Paris, 528 in France and more than 740 in Europe.

The new pass will cost €19.80 ($27.36) per month. Holders of MK2's current Le Pass can cancel their subscription and join the new program free of charge through the end of October. Film lovers can opt for a new "UGC Illimite 2" card allowing the subscriber to be accompanied by the person of his or her choice, a non-nominative perk whereby the cardholder's "date" can change from one film to the next.

Small theater owners in Gaul have been up in arms over the alleged monopolization of the industry, pointing out that together, MK2 and UGC own 44% of movie screens in Paris. The groups also argue that UGC has raised the price of the pass 30% since 2000 but hasn't raised the fee it pays to the producers or distributors of the particular films and expressed concern this year that an offer allowing the cardholder to bring a friend to a film free of charge will cause a drop in ticket sales.

Yet, UGC continues to defend its position. "The success of UGC Illimite among film amateurs has not been affected, and its impact upon ticket sales, ticket prices and the diversity of films is positive," the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Since the card's launch in 2006, ticket sales have risen 23.1%, according to FNCF figures. French films also have seen a 67.3% jump in ticket sales over the period. French Cultural Minister Christine Albanel will observe the effects of the new card's fusion with MK2 over the first 20 months of its launch and make a decision in March 2009, when the CNC and both theater chains will reassess the profitability of the new system.
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