City Screen is the creation of Lyn Goleby and Tony Jones, two film-lovers who opened their first Picture House cinema in Oxford in 1989. Having since launched another 17 Picture Houses in city centres around the UK, they bill their cinemas as individual alternatives to the anonymous multiplexes in out-of-town shopping centres. The business has a turnover of pounds 11 million and is an independent company, with both founders enjoying a hands-on role.
Alastair Oatey joined the company at its inception and is now head of operations. He launched the first web site in 1998. 'It was fairly rudimentary, but it was an obvious way to get listings information out cheaply and efficiently,' he says. The site was re- designed in 2001, with better navigation, a customer-feedback facility and a basic booking service that attracted about 35 bookings a week for each cinema. 'It proved that people wanted to make bookings even with such a poor system,' he adds.
The owners invested in a full online booking facility, but its installation met with complications. 'It's essential for members to get their discount online and no off-the-shelf package could do that,' explains Oatey. 'We had to redesign our box-office system.'
It brought unexpected benefits - City Screen is now able to gather data on customer preferences, so marketing is more targeted and programmes are better matched to customers' tastes. The web sites attract about 35,000 unique users a month, accounting for 3% of total booking sales. It's clearly a box-office hit.