Cut the cost of your film fix
Traditionally, film fans had few choices when it came to keeping up with the latest releases – either make a trip to the cinema, wait for the film to arrive in the local video shop or wait even longer for it to be shown on terrestrial TV.
But today’s movie buffs have many options, such as downloading films from the internet, watching them on pay-per-view TV or ordering a DVD through the post. But which option is the most cost-effective?
A night at the flicks is still the most social way to see the latest releases, but the money involved can really add up. A weekend trip for two to a central London cinema can set you back £38. But there are ways of cutting costs:
If you have an Orange mobile phone or broadband, you can get two cinema tickets for the price of one every Wednesday with ‘Orange Wednesdays’. Mobile users need to call or text ‘film’ to 241 from their Orange phone to get their tickets, while broadband customers can sign up online.
If you’re a regular cinema-goer, why not consider an unlimited pass? Cineworld’s Unlimited Card costs £11.99 a month (£14.99 including West End cinemas) and you can see as many films as you like.
Many cinemas offer cheap films for different age groups at certain times during the week. For example, Vue’s Kids AM club costs £1.50 a child, and one adult goes free with each child. Odeon Kids works in the same way but costs £2.50 a child. For over-50s some cinemas offer ‘silver screen’ clubs during the day and combine cut-price admission with free refreshments.
Finally, sneak your own snacks into the cinema. The alternative is being charged astronomical prices for popcorn, sweets and drinks. For example, Cineworld in Stockport charges £2.40 for a tube of Pringles, £2.60 for a family pack of M&Ms and £2.40 for a small Coke. The local newsagent charges £1.49, 99p and 60p respectively for the same items.
DVD rental services
In the old days, film fans who wanted to watch the latest blockbusters in the comfort of their own homes had to first make a trip to the local video store to see what was in stock. Then, after viewing, they had to return the video or DVD on time to avoid a fine.
Postal DVD services have changed all that. Customers pay a monthly fee, by direct debit, which in turn offers you between one and five DVDs at any one time, depending on the service. You create a ‘wish list’ of films online and the company starts to post your chosen titles out to you. You watch them at your leisure and then send them back.
According to the comparison site UK-Rental-DVD-Guide.com, the top three online DVD suppliers are Blockbuster, Lovefilm and My Movie Stream. The latter also came out on top in a recent study by consumer group Which?.
Lovefilm is arguably the best known DVD rental service and has around 65,000 titles on offer. It also powers DVD rental services offered by Tesco, WHSmith and Amazon. You can get packages of one, two or three DVDs at a time for £9.99, £12.99 or £14.99 a month respectively, with an unlimited number of rentals. Less frequent users can opt for a two or four DVDs a month for £3.99 and £7.99 respectively, and new users can sign up for a two-week free trial.
"Many companies offer free trials," says a Which? spokesperson. "But you need to be sure to cancel, and return all DVDs, before the first payment’s due or you’ll be charged."
If you have digital TV or a Freeview box then you’ll already have free access to FilmFour, the film arm of Channel 4, although you don’t have any choice over which films are shown and when.
If you have Sky, Virgin Media, BT Vision or Tiscali TV, you will also have the option of subscribing to movie channels or paying for each film you watch.
Rob Barnes, head of broadband and mobiles at moneysupermarket.com, says: "For those with a cable or Sky package, you may already have Sky Movie channels included. If you don’t, you can get this added for £18 a month for 10 movie channels. You can also access films through on-demand TV, starting from £1.99 a film, with BT Vision or Tiscali Movies Now."
‘On-demand’ means you can watch a film whenever it suits you, and can also pause and rewind it. In most cases, you rent the film for 24 hours, meaning it can also be watched later in the day. Tiscali has by far the most films on offer for on-demand viewing – about 2,600, compared with BT Vision’s 550 and Virgin Media’s 500.
However, whether you can get Tiscali, BT Vision or Virgin Media will depend on where you live. Likewise, Sky is available in most parts of the country, but some properties may be unsuitable for a Sky dish.
If you’ve got broadband then downloading films is another option. Sites such as Lovefilm, 4 On Demand (4OD), Empire Movies, Wippit, Vizumi and Sky Anytime allow you to either rent films or buy them outright.
Lovefilm has more than 2,500 titles available for rental online with prices starting from 79p for a short film and from £1.99 to £2.99 for a full-length feature. Channel 4’s 4OD service offers 2,500 hours of programming, and charges up to £1.99 to rent a film.
All services require you to download and install dedicated software before you can start downloading a film. You’ll also need to meet certain system requirements on your PC such as having Windows XP or Windows 2000 and Windows Media Player 10 or higher.
However, you need a pretty fast broadband connection to make internet downloads a viable alternative because films are big files. If you are on a 2Mb connection, it could take between four and eight hours to download a film of 500Mb; for those with an 8Mb connection, it will take between 30 minutes and two hours. Experts say that anyone wanting to download films regularly should opt for a high-speed connection of 16Mb or faster.
Films fans also need to look out for usage caps on their broadband contracts, and bear in mind that most deals marketed as ‘unlimited’ are in fact subject to a ‘fair usage policy’, which could mean you are cut off or charged a fee if you use the service too much.