Cineplex calls Competition Bureau’s ticket fee lawsuit a ‘mischaracterization’

The Competition Bureau argues that the $1.50 online booking fee introduced quietly by Cineplex last year is "misleading"

Cineplex is seeking a dismissal of a Competition Bureau lawsuit over its online ticket sale practices.

In a June 30th court filing, the theatre chain says the lawsuit, which alleges that the $1.50 online ticket booking fees it introduced last year are “misleading,” is based on “a mischaracterization of the purchase process” on both mobile and web.

The independent law enforcement agency argues that Cineplex’s online ticket sales constitute price dripping, wherein customers are steered towards making a purchase without having clear disclosure of the full cost.

Cineplex, for its part, asserts that customers are promptly informed of the booking fee once they being the checkout process. “The ticket prices on the Website and App are clearly attainable by the customer,” writes Cineplex in its filing. “All information is clearly shown on the very first page of the Website and App when a customer first sees prices, including ticket prices and movie availability.”

While it’s true that this information is on the first page, customers do have to scroll down to see it after selecting the desired number of tickets. In other words, it’s disclosed in a separate section on the page from the actual subtotal. It should also be noted that Cineplex doesn’t have a dedicated page on its site on which ticket prices are clearly listed.

To this point, Cineplex says there “are many options that impact the overall cost of attending the theatre to see a movie,” therefore requiring an “‘interactive’ approach to the selections by the customer.” Of course, one could argue that having to sign in and navigate through multiple pages just to figure out a ticket price is perhaps not as intuitive or clear as simply having a dedicated page on the site to break down prices for standard admission, IMAX, AVX, and other showings.

Meanwhile, the company adds that it offers alternatives to the fee, including heading into a theatre to purchase in-person or signing up for its $9.99/month CineClub membership to waive the fee entirely. Members of the free Scene loyalty program, meanwhile, get the fee reduced to $1.

However, it should be noted that the way Cineplex rolled out the booking fee was rather sneaky. Last summer, the company quietly introduced it without any official statement or direct communication to customers. Further, because you can only see ticket prices once you log in, some users who already had CineClub automatically had the fee waived anyway, so they weren’t aware of it and, more importantly, were unable to warn anyone else.

When people eventually discovered the fee, Cineplex told The Globe and Mail that it was introduced to “further invest and evolve our digital infrastructure.” It also argued that online booking fees “have been in place for many years with our exhibition counterparts globally” and are also common among concerts, sports games, and other ticketed events.

On a broader level, many have had issues over Cineplex’s monopoly on the theatre business in Canada, owning around 75 percent of the country’s total number of theatres. According to the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE), this is well above the sub-30 percent market share held by leading cinema chains in the U.S., Australia and U.K.

NICE alleges that with its dominance, Cineplex pushes distributors to only let films play at many of its theatres, making it difficult for the already smaller independent chains to conduct business. The group adds that “consumers are subject to [online booking] fees as they do not have an active choice in where to see a film.”

For now, it remains to be seen how the courts will respond to the Competition Bureau’s lawsuit.

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