Dr Kerry Gough, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Theory at Birmingham City University

As the ubiquitous Orange Wednesdays offer rolls its end credits, the end of an era in cinema exhibition concession practice is marked. Orange Wednesdays represented one of the major UK cinema-going incentives of the last 10 years. However, the end of the offer which comes five years after the merging of T-Mobile and Orange, has been met with some frustration from the cinema-going audience, who are mourning the loss as EE close their 2 for 1 Wednesday operation. Speculative claims surrounding the end of the deal include, a decreasing cinema audience, the rise of home network service uptake and the changing audience viewing preferences that have been ushered in. The challenge presented by new home technologies development and the flexible viewing opportunities that tablet devices and smart phone technologies have allowed continue to represent an on-going challenge to the film industry.

While EE mobile and broadband customers will no longer be able to take advantage of the deal, the impact does not stop there, as Birmingham City University radio graduate, Sammie Kerr states, “I’m sure we can all agree that we may have bent the system a little, I’ve been using Orange Wednesdays for years but have I actually ever been on Orange? Um, no.” For many this is an understandable move, and media graduate Rachel Chew similarly highlights how “I’m not even on Orange or EE but the promotion has become a social event that I don’t miss out on!”, she does recognise, “It’s a shame, but I think we can all understand that it must be costing EE a lot.”

For the majority of our Media students at Birmingham City University, both the cost of a visit to the cinema and the loss of the Wednesday cinema social are an issue of concern. Television graduate, Molly Cope, reinforces how:

“I rarely go to the cinema on any other day than Wednesdays and sometimes it’s not just to see a certain film but also the social aspect… I don’t think the ending of Orange Wednesdays will put cinemas in too much of a bad financial state, but I think it will lead to an increase in illegal downloading instead. Many people who regularly went in groups on a Wednesday will probably find another way to socially interact in that sort of environment to watch the latest film.”

This is a sentiment which is reinforced by Johnny Seifert, broadcaster presenter and BCU graduate, who recognising how Orange Wednesdays had become a regular cinema social event, comments that, “I was never on Orange and those that were, were always begged for a code. But… there is a social side to Orange Wednesday, with that becoming the optimum day to go to the cinema.”

“Can you send me your Orange Wednesday code?” had, up until recently, been a request regularly shared amongst our student community. However, while the pernicious impact that such cinema ticket hacks and cheats may have had upon the demise of the iconic offer, this is more likely to be the result of shifting audience viewing habits in response to already high cinema ticket costs. As Alice Hackett, Broad Course Media student at Birmingham City University points out:

“I don’t go to the cinema that often because I prefer to stream films online at home. The cinema is getting really expensive… Orange Wednesdays was really useful when my friends and I did decide to go to the cinema to see blockbusters. I have never been on the Orange network but have grabbed the codes from friends in the past a lot.”

The loss of Orange Wednesdays, whatever the impetus behind EE’s decision, has the potential to have a huge impact upon cinema going habits, with many left disappointed. Another Birmingham School of Media student, Nikkita Beghi, commented how, “Orange Wednesdays actually made going to the cinema affordable. I thinks it’s outrageous that a ticket can cost me up to £15 and for popcorn and a drink it’s £10. I’m a student and that £25 could easily be my weekly shop of food.” These are complaints that the cinema exhibition providers are going to have to respond to directly from now on.

While the end of Orange Wednesdays represents the end of an era, existing T-Mobile customers were never offered the same deal. Instead EE has a new customer loyalty programme under wraps, to go with its recently launched EETV package which includes a Freeview HD Tuner, internet access and an enormous 1TB of storage. As a response to the youth audience movement towards streaming and, dare I say it, illegal downloading, the technology generation are growing up and as they move to new platforms for their media consumption, the industry is having to change its approach in order to keep up. EE already have a major share of UK network coverage, and now they, along with other providers, are moving their operation to our front rooms. In this respect, however it’s not all bad news, as we face a brave new competitive marketplace. Not only are we seeing a current move towards increasingly competitive home entertainment packages through quadruple or quad play provision, which offers combined television, telephone, broadband and wireless home entertainment, but we are also seeing increasing competition in the film exhibition market.

While concern has been expressed over the affordability of a cinema trip for families, and their key youth audience, exhibition chains and independent outlets have recognised the need to court the family and youth audience, and in response to declining box office and concessions sales, already have measures in place to counter this. Vue Cinemas, offer a number of discounts and savings including, Super Tuesdays (third off), Kids weekend matinees at a heavily discounted rate (£1.75 per child or accompanying adult ticket), as well as their Teen 13-18 (20 per cent discount) and Family Tickets (for two adults, two children, where all pay the child rate/ ticket). Cineworld offer Bargain Tuesdays, while Odeon Cinemas’ operate a loyalty card system in addition to Film Fan Monday. This is a competitive environment and is set to increase across the coming months.

For many, the Orange Wednesday 2 for 1 discount made the luxury of a trip to the cinema a reasonable expense, and while it is anticipated that the loss in revenue to the cinema exhibition outlets will be significant, this ultimately opens up the competition, as cinema venues compete for audience loyalty. It is hoped that the loss of the Orange Wednesday offer will create a more competitive marketplace for the cinema-goer and will act as a stimulus for the exhibition chains and independent cinema owners to put in place competitively attractive discounts and incentives as they compete for audiences on an individual basis. Cinema exhibition venues face the need to up their game if they are to remain competitive and in this respect, the audience wins.

When these feelings are shared by those working within the film industry, it’s time that exhibition outlets stepped up, and the end of Orange Wednesdays might just be the grenade that the existing exhibition practices needed. As new cinematic technologies have meant real developments in film production, the viewing experience itself has remained largely static, and is far from a ‘luxury’ experience for the expense involved. For many, this is a source of frustration, including Christian Lett, VFX Supervisor at Bait Studio, “They’re blaming it on the fact that less people are going to the cinema. Maybe that’s because the experience sucks and it’s too damn expensive.” As a result, the declining cinematic experience has seen audiences move away to home entertainment where they have control over their viewing experience and the environments in which they consume film. It’s not just the high ticket price that puts people off, but also the state of the venues themselves. BCU graduate, Magda Petford, expressed that she’d be more likely to pay for a quality independent cinema experience than the usual mainstream “sticky-floored” offering.

Gone are the tungsten twinkling façades of the Picture Palace, but perhaps the quality of the cinema experience, in addition to competitive pricing, is just one way that local cinema exhibitors can become a more attractive option for our entertainment activity. Stefan Doyle, Freelance Breakfast Producer at Global Radio, is hopeful that “Orange Wednesdays coming to an end, will force cinemas to change their strategy on how to get people in to watch films”, in his view, “cinemas need to either introduce more offers or lower the prices to ensure the consumer will keep coming back, particularly with how easy it is for someone with the right know how to stream a film currently in the cinema illegally online!”

For the cinema exhibition industry, then, with the demise of Orange Wednesdays, the challenge to capture lost audiences has been set. With the increasing competition for our disposable income, for cinema goers, and media consumers more generally, the future looks decidedly bright, but just not quite as orange as it once was.

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Kerry Gough

Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Theory at Birmingham City University