Graham Burke says going to the movies is still a cheap night out. Above: Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man. Photo: Niko Tavernise
A top executive of Village Roadshow has defended the price of movie tickets, with one of the country's largest cinema operators insisting cinema is still a cheap night out.
Village co-executive chairman Graham Burke said ticket prices relative to other countries reflected the high cost of Australian wages.
And Mr Burke lashed out at the virus-like spread of piracy, welcoming a government commitment to clamp down on illegal downloads.
The price of movie tickets in Australia has come under scrutiny with the top price of an ordinary ticket hitting $20 in some cinemas.
''It's more like $17 and $18 [a ticket] and there's loads of discount available,'' Mr Burke said.
''In Australia we pay approximately $23 an hour for our people; in America, where we operate cinemas, it's $8 an hour.
''And prices are simply a function of wages. And I actually think that's a good thing because it means that the wealth is being shared and Australian people are doing well.''
His comments follow Benjamin Zeccola, the chief executive of Palace Cinemas, saying cinemas were lifting prices to stay in business amid high wage costs and widespread downloading. ''It's upsetting that people use ticket prices as a justification for stealing a film,'' Mr Zeccola said.
Mr Burke said even higher-priced Gold Class and Vmax tickets compared well with going out for dinner.
''Gold Class is also a very cheap night out, because two movie tickets at $35 is $70, plus a bottle of wine, some sliders or sushi, you come out of it having had a great night and a terrific movie for probably $110, whereas you go to any restaurant, it's $240, and that's not being treated like royalty and not having seen a terrific movie.''
Box-office takings across the industry fell 2.3 per cent to $1.1 billion last year, according to figures from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia.
Even so, to offset flat revenue or declining audiences, players such as Village are rolling out Gold Class and supersized screens. Gold Class is the fastest-growing area of Village Roadshow's business.
Meanwhile, Mr Burke said piracy was ''spreading like a virus'' in Australia and if left unchecked would become a serious problem for his business. ''Australia is probably the worst country in the world for pirating movies,'' he said, labelling it ''plain and simple theft''.
''It's like going into a bookshop through the back door, and taking all the books out. It's something that needs to be addressed and is being addressed in democracies throughout the world.''