Cineplex Inc. says a case launched by the Competition Bureau against the theatre chain over movie ticket fees should be dismissed because it’s based on a “mischaracterization.”
The case launched by the competition watchdog in May is based on the premise that fees applied to some Cineplex movie tickets bought online constitute price dripping, a deceptive practice where customers are drawn into a purchase without full disclosure of the final cost.
The bureau has alleged that consumers can’t buy tickets online at advertised prices because there is a mandatory $1.50 fee for booking online.
However, in a response filed with the Competition Tribunal on June 30, Toronto-based Cineplex said the bureau’s claims are “without merit” and should be thrown out with costs awarded to Cineplex.
“Cineplex denies each and every allegation in the application,” the company said.
“Cineplex denies any wrongdoing at all.”
Cineplex’s defence centres on its view that there is no price dripping in its purchase process because moviegoers are promptly told about fees they may face.
“There are no hidden fees or feeds that are added in the process from the very moment the customer clicks in the box indicating the show and type of ticket that the customer wishes to purchase,” Cineplex said in the filing.
Cineplex began charging the fees in question on June 15, 2022, as an online booking fee for certain advance ticket purchases. This meant anyone making their purchase at a theatre was not charged the fee.
Those who stuck to online purchases found the fees amounted to up to $1.50, but members of Cineplex’s CineClub subscription program saw the charges waived and anyone using a Scene+ card during the purchase process saw the fee dropped to $1.
Customers taking advantage of promotions such as buy one, get one free deals were also not charged the online booking fee.
“Importantly, regardless of the purchase method, the prices are all attainable and the online booking fee is clearly not obligatory for the purchase of a ticket to see a movie,” Cineplex said in its filing.
The Competition Bureau declined to comment on Cineplex’s response, saying in an email that “as this matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”
The case comes as Cineplex has been working to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw its theatres forced to close in most provinces, putting pressure on revenues.
It was also facing a court battle from once-suitor Cineworld Group PLC, which backed out of a $2.18-billion deal to buy Cineplex in 2020, sparking a case predicated on whether Cineworld had the right to walk away.
An Ontario court ruled in Cineplex’s favour in December 2021, awarding the company $1.24 billion in damages, but Cineworld said it would appeal the judgment and Cineplex wanted to push for an even higher payout.
U.K.-based Cineworld has since entered into a restructuring agreement with some of its lenders and filed a proposed Chapter 11 plan of reorganization. Cineplex has said it does not expect to recover any material amount.