Business

Your Money: Apps in pockets, bums on cinema seats

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Media captionWATCH: Dave Lee finds out about how new apps can help get more people into cinemas.

It's an essential skill of any teenager going out to the cinema.

The ability, in the tightest of skinny jeans, to find available space for the essentials: a bottle of drink, a bag of popcorn, a full box of chocolates.

All sneaked into the screening.

Why? Because prices for those things at the cinema can be every bit as terrifying as the most gruesome of horror films.

No sci-fi epic has yet dared depict the alternate universe where £8 for some popcorn and a drink is genuinely considered to be a meal "deal".

To make things worse, this week saw the end of Orange Wednesdays, an offer for Orange customers - now part of EE - to get two for one tickets every Wednesday at most of the UK's cinemas.

Now, after more than 10 years, it is no more.

Slow nights

But help is at hand, literally.

UsherU, which launches next month, is an app that gives cinemas the ability to send out alerts when a screening has a lot of empty seats.

Nearby UsherU users will be invited to pop in for a movie with some kind of bargain acting as bait - a cheaper ticket, some free food, or any other number of enticing offers.

Image caption At quieter times of day, cinema screens are way under capacity

UsherU users can also tell the app to look out for good deals around specific films, so if a decent deal comes up, it will let the person know, even if it means traipsing across town to get a seat.

"It allows cinemas to react to a slow night," explains Catherine Downes, one of UsherU's co-founders.

"It's a way to get direct access to cinema-goers around the locality."

The app is currently in beta mode while the start-up - which has relocated from Dublin to London for launch - gets more cinemas under its belt.

For now, London is, for a short while at least, the only city it operates in. But the company has big ambitions.

"Eventually we'd like UsherU to be used across the UK and Ireland… and beyond."

Expanding

The business of matching up people with experiences can be a lucrative one.

YPlan is an app that offers a wide range of events by arranging them in a simple today-or-tomorrow fashion - the ideal companion for someone who wakes up on a weekend morning and finds themselves looking for something to do.

Image caption On weekdays, this is a common sight - but new tech could help fill seats

The company's offices, in Farringdon in London, are expanding. With an influx of new staff, the company has moved into a second floor to give everyone ample room to work.

Much of this growth is thanks to big-time investments - the most recent, in November, was for $24m (£15m).

Rytis Vitkauskas is founder and chief executive of YPlan. It's been offering cinema deals for a little while now - but soon it'll offer more than just tickets.

"Internally we call it the YPlan Film Club," explains Mr Vitkauskas.

"Alongside access to more mainstream movie experiences, we'll also be providing access to pre-screenings and previews."

Community

Even without apps, there are plenty of ways to make the system work for you to make cinema more affordable.

Image caption The Curzon Cinemas chain focuses on smaller, more intimate theatres - and membership discounts

Memberships, in particular, can bring the prices down greatly, and get you a few pounds off the added extras, and make you feel like you're part of a club, rather than just a customer.

One chain reaping the rewards of offering a community experience is Curzon Cinemas, a chain which has adapted to focus more on small, intimate screens catering to more diverse films - rather than just chasing the enormous blockbusters.

"I think the cinema business has always been very good at adapting," says Curzon's Kate Gerova, acknowledging that cinema is now competing with the likes of Netflix for attention.

"You always have to move with the times. In our new-build cinemas, our screens tend to be smaller, a little bit more intimate."

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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