French exhibition giant Pathe today launched a loyalty card scheme at its multiplex in Nantes. The scheme, which appears to be a response to the launch of a controversial card scheme by rival exhibitor UGC, is expected to be rolled out nationally.

The new card, called Cine A Volonte, will cost the same as UGC's Carte Illimite at FF98 per month and allow unlimited access to Pathe Atlantis.

"We reserve the right to extend the scheme to other cities and to the whole of the country," said Pathe marketing director Xavier Oursel. "We are responding to the wishes of our clients in a city where the competition is fierce. There are three multiplexes in Nantes and the Pathe screens are less than 500m away from those of UGC."

UGC launched its card in March to fierce protests from independent exhibitors which claimed it was engaging in unfair competition. In May the independents secured a probe by the competition council which prompted UGC to suspend sales of new card subscriptions. But last week UGC restarted the scheme when the competition council decided that the card is not anti-competitive.

Last month arthouse exhibitor Action launched the "Action Gitanes" discount card. The card - costing $36 (FFr250) for entrance to 10 films and valid for a year - was the first independent answer to UGC Illimite.

Catherine Tasca, the communications minister, however has decided not to let the matter rest. She said last week that she would start a sanctions procedure against UGC for non-respect of the cinema industry code on transparency and distribution of receipts.

Terms of trade also appear to be at the heart of the dispute that was sparked in the UK as UGC introduced the Unlimited Pass scheme to Britain. Distributor UIP last week pulled the release of its the Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas from all of UGC's UK and Irish cinemas.

"We have not been able to reach an agreement on terms for The Flintstones. The issue revolves around UGC's unwillingness to pay a fair rate for the film in relation to its passes," said UIP (UK) managing director Chris Hedges.

The Unlimited Pass replaced the Megapass, which had been running for more than 12 months. It caused a stir with exhibitors and distributors when it was launched because of concerns over ticket price wars and reduced distributor rental returns. UGC claims however that it has considerably boosted admissions.