Less popcorn, time for fizz and meals

The cinema experience is about to change as first-release screenings will soon be accompanied by luxurious meals, champagne, leather armchairs and a jazzy decor. Having taken improvements in sound and picture quality to the limits, theaters in Athens and Thessaloniki have explored, and found, novel ways to attract the public by offering a series of new services. In less than a year, the popcorn and hot-dog experience will be under threat from new cinemas combining the perks of a good restaurant with the luxury of a private club. The new so-called VIP theaters will operate in huge cinema complexes currently being constructed in Athens and Thessaloniki by Village Cinemas and Ster Cinemas, the two companies that brought multiplex cinemas to Greece in the first place. These super-luxurious theaters will allow for a limited number of people only, with 40 to a maximum of 130 reclining leather armchairs per cinema, of the type seen in first-class air travel. Movie-goers will be able to enjoy delicious meals or cocktails either during the screening of the film or at the intermission, during which a buffet will be arranged in a special hall outside the theater. The price of a ticket for a VIP screening is expected to be double that of a conventional ticket, while the screening rooms will also be made available – at no negligible cost – for private parties and functions. «Visitors can combine various forms of entertainment. They can watch a film, eat as well as they would in any of the city’s best restaurants and enjoy a drink the way they would in a luxury nightclub,» says Haris Antonopoulos, managing director of the Village Entertainment group. «This is a tempting entertainment proposal for someone wanting to take a date to a place which is more than just a movie theater. We are aiming more at couples than single people,» adds Andreas Marabos, director of Ster Cinemas. The recipe for VIP cinemas has already been tried and tested in many countries, such as Australia, South Africa, England and Ireland, and the results have been encouraging, to say the least. In Australia, for example, there is up to a 10-day waiting list for new releases enjoyed from the comfort of a leather recliner. Furthermore, recent studies in Europe and South Africa have indicated that over 5 percent of the people asked avoid going to the cinema because they prefer to watch a film at home on DVD where they can kick back and relax. The VIP theaters are the perfect answer for these film lovers. For Greek standards, this innovation is only the tip of the iceberg, since they herald a string of changes that are to take place in multiplex cinemas over the next few years that target local residents’ preferences more exactly. «The multiplex model is exhausted. Multiplex movie theaters have to change and offer a more holistic entertainment proposal. They need to be transformed into modern commercial centers,» says Antonopoulos. Indeed, rising living costs, shrinking spare time and increasing difficulties in transportation and parking are making malls the ideal solution for Greece. At the same time, the success of home entertainment systems has made entrepreneurs consider how they can marry their entertainment businesses with the comforts enjoyed at home. The huge VIP cinema complexes being built in the Nerantziotissa district of Athens and in Western Thessaloniki will contain 200 retail stores, at least, several thousand parking spaces, restaurants, bars, cafes and even bowling alleys. The films themselves will be there merely to attract the public. «A trend has been recorded showing society organizing itself in small groups, the members of which have different ways of spending their free time. This is why entrepreneurs are creating these complexes, whose aim is to satisfy many particular preferences at once,» explains Nikitas Patiniotis, director of the Patras University Sociology and Training Workshop. This opinion is also shared by those specializing in urban public architecture, such as architect Dimitris Philippidis, who says: «The model of art complexes combining cafes and restaurants with exhibition areas is proving to be very successful indeed. Nevertheless, during the Olympic Games we saw a renewed interest by the public in taking walks outdoors, strolling down the city’s streets in a non-organized fashion.» Film critic Babis Aktzoglou sees a different reason why multiplex cinemas have to change if they are to survive: «Multiplexes have reached their limits since their audience is becoming very limited. As the number of venues increases, average ticket sales are on the slide. In the past, cinemas would be full to capacity whatever the film being screened. The same cannot be said today because it appears that the public is beginning to return to traditional movie theaters, a movie theater with character. Multiplexes are responding to this by making their complexes theme attractions, just like the VIP cinemas.»