In an unprecedented move, the UK office of United International Pictures (UIP) has pulled its new release of The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas from all UGC's UK and Irish cinemas. The last minute decision was taken because both companies are still arguing over rental terms in regard to tickets sold through UGC's controversial Unlimited Pass.
"We have not been able to reach an agreement on terms. I am unable to go into details but the issue revolves around UGC's unwillingness to pay a fair rate for the film in relationship to its passes," said UIP (UK) managing director Chris Hedges.
UGC, which had already advertised this weekend's opening of the Flintstones sequel, were equally tight-lipped over what is obviously a sensitive issue. However, a spokesperson at the cinema's headquarters said, "We are still in dispute with UIP so we're not able to say much at the moment. But we weren't able to agree on terms - we would have been quite happy to play the picture but UIP decided not to supply us with prints."
The Unlimited Pass, which replaces the Megapass introduced by UGC's previous owner Virgin Cinemas, allows cinema-goers free entry to any film at a UGC cinema for a monthly fee of £9.99 (or £19.99 at UGC's four central London sites). Although cheaper, the new card is subscription based for a minimum period of 12 months which may deter all but the most dedicated film fans.
But it is the cut that distributors receive from exhibitors for each Unlimited Pass entry that is believed to have ignited the current controversy. Rival exhibitors are also unhappy about the pricing policy which has inflated UGC's market share of admissions. UGC's French version of the loyalty card has caused similar disagreements. France's competition council has allowed UGC to continue selling the card in France, but it is currently the subject of an in-depth investigation.
However since the Megapass' unpopular introduction into the UK 12 months ago, most distributors are satisfied with the terms they are now able to negotiate with UGC.
Mike Boyce, the sales director at Warner Bros said he was happy with the deal that the distributor struck with UGC for this weekend's mega-release The Perfect Storm.
All the other cinema chains will open the Flintstones sequel as usual this Friday (July 28).