Indie theaters fare better in Which? study

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LONDON -- The latest report on movie-theater operators from a leading U.K. consumer publication may make for uncomfortable reading for multiplex operators.

Scheduled for release Thursday, the report titled Test Screenings indicates that cinemagoers here prefer smaller independent theaters to big chains.

The report in Which? -- an advertising-free consumer-protection magazine -- comes a day after Vue Entertainment announced plans for a new all-digital 10-screen complex in Hull, England.

The research, drawn from more than 850 individual surveys of Which? readership, also indicates that, while the bigger chains have "high picture quality and comfortable seating," they lack in "the range of films and the personal touch that independent cinemas have."

Of those surveyed, 30% of art house audiences were satisfied with the overall experience -- compared with 21% of those attending the big chains.

The research also found that ticket prices across the U.K. vary wildly, with some paying just £3.50 ($7) for a ticket and others shelling out £12 ($24) for a seat.

Perhaps surprisingly, the variation in price doesn't just come down to the difference between buying a ticket in London and outside the capital.

The survey indicates that price differences are present within regions. The city of Manchester, for example, carries differences of up to £2 ($4) to get into a flick.

London remains one of the most expensive cinema outings, with movie fans paying up to £12.50 ($25) to visit the Odeon chain's flagship Leicester Square theater in the heart of the capital's West End.

But one of the biggest sources of complaints among those surveyed was not the ticket cost, expensive concessions or lack of choice. It was cinemagoers themselves.

The majority surveyed said that the lack of supervision by staff on disruptive fellow visitors had a bad affect on the cinemagoing experience.

The report authors said they asked the big three chains -- Odeon, Cineworld and Vue -- their policy on auditorium menaces, and were told it was a case of "three strikes and you're out."
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