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More competition, so what?

Consumers were on the losing end of a gamble by the former Conservative government when it sought to create more competition in the wireless market by interfering in it, says a new report released Thursday.

And researchers at the Montreal Economic Institute say the country's telecom regulator can learn from that failed policy by backing away from calls to interfere in the broadband Internet marketplace.

The report, titled The State of Competition in Canada's Telecommunications Industry, says the sell-off of broadband spectrum last year that resulted in the takeover of Wind Mobile by Shaw Communications created "phoney" competition and will likely result in higher — not lower — wireless prices.

The Tories under former prime minister Stephen Harper touted the wireless spectrum sale as a way to create a viable fourth national wireless carrier.

That, they said, would create more competition and cut consumers a break on their cellphone bills.

It was a populist move that fed off a perceived sentiment of consumer outrage over some of the highest cell phone rates in the industrialized world.

But the study authors say the creation of that fourth player through Shaw's $1.6 billion takeover of Wind last December means the company will have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment upgrades, with an expected increase in Wind mobile rates to pay for it.

"By insisting on the benefits of a fourth wireless player, the previous federal government went against a worldwide trend of consolidation in the wireless sector and embraced a static view of competition," said the report.

"Can we have a sensible policy of not encouraging phoney competition but encouraging real competition?" asked study co-author Martin Masse, who sees the sale this week of Manitoba's MTS to BCE as a prime example of how true market-driven competition should work.

Despite that province's loss of a major wireless service provider — and analysts who predict higher smart phone rates as a result — Masse said Manitobans may actually benefit from better service and stable, if not lower, pricing.

Masse notes that Bell and Telus are still small players in the province, which has been dominated by MTS and Rogers and already enjoys the lowest prices for wireless plans that include one gigabyte of data. BCE's takeover of MTS will result in three major service providers instead of two large and two small players.

"I think that will increase competition there," Masse said.

The report notes that Canadians are among the highest users of tablets and smartphones in the industrialized world and enjoy some of the most advanced wireless networks.

It adds the prices they pay for wireless services remain higher than in most European countries but lower than in the United States or Japan. But the report emphasizes that European countries have not kept up with investments needed to improve wireless services.

So far, the federal Liberal government has been hesitant to say anything regarding its broadband policy, other than to pledge investments to get telecom infrastructure built in places that currently don't have access to high-speed Internet.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said this week he'll soon roll out a plan as part of the government's innovation agenda.

"We committed up to $500 million for broadband connectivity to rural and remote regions," Bains told The Canadian Press.

"This is direct fibre connectivity when it comes to broadband with particular institutions like hospitals and schools."

During public hearings last month on the future of broadband, the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission expressed disappointment that Internet access and affordability received little attention in last fall's federal election campaign.

Jean-Pierre Blais also noted that broadband funding announced in the March budget didn't "appear to be tied to a clear policy on broadband and its deployment in Canada."

In a speech, Blais called on the government and the telecom industry to develop a "national broadband strategy."

But the MEI researchers note that 96 per cent of Canadian households already have access to download speeds of 5 Mbps in 2014 and over three quarters subscribe to providers offering even faster service.

"In this context, it is superfluous for the CRTC to try to duplicate what market players are already doing by imposing new regulations and taxing telecom company revenues to fund more broadband infrastructure rollout," said Masse.

"Soon, all Canadians will be able to connect to the Internet at very high speeds," said co-author Paul Beaudry. "And this is not because of any comprehensive national strategy devised by civil servants in Ottawa; it is because of competitive pressure on companies that need to adapt to consumer demand and attract more customers by offering faster broadband services at affordable prices."





Missed the tax deadline?

The deadline to file your income tax return for most Canadians has come and gone.

So, if you haven't already filed your tax return, tax experts say, you'd best get working and file as soon as possible.

EY tax partner Ryan Ball said he's heard all manner of excuses from late filers.

"We get various different reasons from 'I forgot' to 'I didn't feel like it,' to 'I couldn't get the information,' to 'I didn't think I was going to owe,'" he said.

The deadline to file your tax return for most Canadians was Monday. However, those that were self-employed last year or who have a spouse who was self-employed have until June 15 to file their return.

But even if you fall into that category, Monday was the deadline to pay any money you may owe on your taxes. If you or your spouse were self-employed last year, but you haven't fully paid your taxes, you won't have to pay the late-filing penalty, but you will be charged interest on the amount you owe.

Senior tax analyst Caroline Battista of H&R Block says it's important to file, even if you don't think you owe any money, because you may be due more than just your tax return.

GST/HST credits are based on your income as well as your RRSP contribution room and Ottawa's new child benefit which will replace the universal child care benefit and the Canada child tax benefit later this year.

Battista also says filing your tax return isn't just about your taxes.

"If you're hoping to buy a home this year and looking to get a mortgage, that's what the bank or financial institution is going to be looking for to show your income," she said.

"In some provinces, what you pay for your provincial medical is also linked to your tax return. There are so many reasons to stay up to date and to keep filing on time."

And if you owe money on your tax return, the urgency to file your return is even greater because the amount you owe is only going to grow the longer you delay.

The Canada Revenue Agency charges a penalty of five per cent of the balance owing plus one per cent for each full month you're late in filing your return.

And if being late is something that you've done before, it could be even more. If CRA charged you the late-filing penalty on your return for 2012, 2013, or 2014, the amount doubles.

The penalty on for the amount owed on your 2015 tax return may be 10 per cent, plus two per cent for each full month you are late.

Ball noted that CRA does have some leeway and may waive some or part of the interest and penalties for those who file late due to certain extraordinary circumstances such as medical emergencies or because of something CRA has done.

But, he said, those types of exemptions are limited.

"Those types of applications do take time and expense to do, so they'd have to be in a fairly significant penalty to warrant the effort," he said.



Aeropostale to exit Canada

Clothing retailer Aeropostale is shuttering all its stores in Canada, as it files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

The New York-based company said Wednesday that it is closing all 41 locations across Canada and 113 locations in the U.S. The closures represent 20 per cent of the retailer's presence in North America. It will continue to operate 626 stores in the U.S.

Going-out-of-business sales will begin on May 9 at the Canadian locations, while sales at the U.S. stores will kick off this weekend. The company did not provide any details on how deep the discounts will be, or when the Canadian stores will ultimately close. It would not say how many jobs will be affected by its exit.

Retail consultant Maureen Atkinson said Aeropostale had faced stiff competition in Canada, vying for the same customers as other apparel retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and Old Navy.

"They've always been at the low end of the price segment," said Atkinson, who is with J.C. Williams Group.

"They really weren't great stores and they weren't really compelling. They didn't have a personality."

Aeropostale, which targeted the teen fashionista, has suffered along with their competitors, under a vastly altered consumer landscape that took root during the recession.

"Fast fashion" outfits, with more inexpensive clothes, have emerged in recent years to take a growing market share from Aeropostale, Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters, stores that not so long ago dominated the retail sector.

Several long standing retailers have announced they're closing down or reducing their footprint in Canada in the past few years, including Le Chateau, Danier Leather, Mexx, Smart Set and Jacob.

Aeropostale expects to emerge from bankruptcy protection within six months as a smaller company after renegotiating contracts and resolving an ongoing dispute with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, a major shareholder that pushed through changes in company leadership.

In the filing, CEO Julian Geiger lashed out at Sycamore, which he accused of hampering the company's turnaround plans.

"The ripple effects of an ongoing dispute with our second-largest supplier put substantial strain on our liquidity while also preventing us from realizing the full benefits of our turnaround plans," he said in a company release. "As a result, we have chosen to take more decisive and aggressive action to create a leaner, more efficient business that is well-positioned to compete and succeed in today's retail environment."

Once worth almost $2.6 billion, Aeropostale's market capitalization has fallen to about $2 million.

The company's shares traded for more than $30 six years ago, when annual sales exceeded $2 billion. Two weeks ago, it was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange with shares having failed to break the $1 barrier since last year. Shares on Wednesday were trading over the counter for less than 3 cents.

The company early this year said that it would cut expenses by $35 million to $40 million annually and trimmed its corporate staff by 13 per cent, about 100 jobs.

Aeropostale has secured a commitment for $160 million in debtor-in-possession financing from Crystal Financial LLC, which will allow it to continue operations. It also filed a series of motions that would allow it to pay employees, as well as honour customer gift cards and pay suppliers, if approved by the court.



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Digital spring cleaning

Spring cleaning isn't just about tossing old furniture and torn clothing: It's a great time to clear out your digital clutter and make sure you're protected against hackers.

That means evaluating all your passwords — and changing them if you haven't in a while. You'll also want to update your software and take stock of your personal information on devices and online.

A little "cyber hygiene" can go a long way in guarding yourself from identity theft or other Internet attacks. Earlier, we shared some tips on securing your smartphone and protecting yourself against phishing attacks . Now, you can keep the rest of your digital life clean.
 

CHECK (AND CHANGE) YOUR PASSWORDS

The more complicated and lengthy a password is, the harder it will be for hackers to guess. Long and random combinations of letters, numbers and other characters work best. Don't include your kids' names, birthdays or references to any other personal details that people might find on social media. Hackers routinely troll Facebook and Twitter looking for clues to passwords like these.

Obvious and default passwords such as "Password123" are also bad, though experts say it's surprising how often they get used.

Regardless of how tough your password is to crack, it's important to change it at least every few months. And don't be tempted to recycle an old one. The longer a password sits around, the more likely it is to fall into the wrong hands. You should also avoid using the same password for multiple sites, so that a break of your school's PTA site wouldn't lead hackers to your online banking account.

Multi-factor identification — which asks users to enter a second form of identification, such as a code texted to their phone — will provide additional protections at services that offer it.

Think that's too hard? Many experts recommend password-manager services such as LastPass or DashLane. They remember complex passwords for you — but you have to trust them. Last June, LastPass disclosed "suspicious activity" and told users to change their master passwords.


BACK IT UP

There's a growing threat of ransomware, where a hacker locks down a computer and threatens to wipe the data if the owner doesn't pay up. The attacks often stem from malicious software, which can result from clicking on a link in a phishing email or fake online ads.

Because you have little recourse when this happen, it's more important than ever to back up your data.

You can automate this. Services such as Carbonite let you continuously back up your files to the Internet for a monthly fee. Mac and Windows PCs come with tools for backing up to external drives. It's called Time Machine on Macs. On Windows 10, look under "Update & security" in the settings. On Windows 7, try "System and Security" or "System and Maintenance." Make sure you unplug the drive after each backup, so that malware doesn't creep into those copies as well.


KEEP YOUR SOFTWARE UP TO DATE

Whether it's a new iPhone or an ancient PC, software updates are critical, as they fix flaws that could otherwise give hackers a way into your device. This applies not just to operating systems but to common apps like browsers and media players. Better yet, turn on the auto-updating feature that most software now comes with. Dump software that you no longer use or that's no longer updated. That includes Apple's QuickTime player for Windows, as Apple no longer supports it.

Don't forget about your wireless router and your assorted "Internet of things" devices such as smart TVs and thermostats. While some devices may automatically do this or let you do so through a phone app, consult your manufacturer's website for older devices.


THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, LIKE IT OR NOT

Lock down your social media accounts by restricting your posts to just your actual friends. You can adjust that in the settings. Nonetheless, assume that everyone everywhere can see what you're posting — even if you restrict your audience.

As mentioned before, personal tidbits can help hackers crack easy passwords. They also can be used to answer supposedly personal questions to reset passwords for many services.

Beyond security, Facebook and Twitter are among the first places employers look when researching a job candidate. You don't want anything embarrassing to pop up.

Woe to those who attended college after the advent of social media. Bet you're regretting all those keg-stand selfies now.



Crude operations dealt blow

The wildfire raging through the heart of Canada's oilsands capital dealt a blow Wednesday to crude operations, with companies curtailing production or stopping it altogether.

Shell Canada shut down output at its Albian Sands oilsands mining operations, which have the capacity to produce 255,000 barrels of oil per day. The site is located about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

The company said it made the decision to focus on getting employees and their families out of the region while also freeing up room at its 2,000-person work camp for some of the 80,000 people who were ordered evacuated Tuesday from Fort McMurray.

"Right now, our priority is providing support for our people, their loved ones and others in the area," Shell spokesman Cameron Yost said in an email.

Shell also employed its landing strip to fly employees and their families to Calgary or Edmonton and has provided two teams to support firefighting efforts in the area.

Operations were also scaled back at the two largest and oldest oilsands mining operations in the Fort McMurray area.

Suncor Energy said the Millennium and North Steepbank mines, its main oilsands project just north of the city, were not in danger from the fire but it is operating with fewer staff and producing less. About 2,000 evacuees have been accepted at its three work camps, the company said.

"We have evacuated all non-essential employees," said spokesman Paul Newmarch.

Syncrude Canada also reduced the number of people and machines working at its Mildred Lake oilsands mine 35 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The company was also sheltering 2,000 employees and family members at its work camp.

Husky Energy said it was cutting production at its recently commissioned Sunrise thermal oilsands project from 30,000 barrels per day to 10,000 bpd because the fire had forced the closure of a diluent supply pipeline. Sunrise, situated about 60 kilometres northeast of Fort McMurray, uses steam injected into a well to produce bitumen and the diluent, a light oil product, is used to thin it enough to allow it to flow in a pipeline to market.

Inter Pipeline, whose systems move about 30 per cent of northern Alberta's bitumen to market, said it shut off its Corridor pipeline system and partially closed its Polaris diluent pipeline system in the Fort McMurray area as a precaution. No assets have been damaged by the fire, the company said.

Michael Dunn, an oilsands analyst for Calgary investment firm FirstEnergy Capital, said the fire could lead to gasoline price hikes throughout the country, depending on how much damage has been done and how long it takes the industry to recover.

"If this fire does cause an extended period of misplacement of the workforce or movement of them, this may impact the output of a lot of these oilsands mines and upgraders," he said.

"This could trickle down to crude price differentials, making light sweet crude more expensive, and might trickle down to gasoline prices if refiners need to recoup some of those margins at the pump."

Canada's oilsands are considered the third-largest reserves of crude oil in the world, with 166 billion barrels of recoverable oil covering 142,000 square kilometres.

About 80 per cent of Canada's oilsands are buried too deep for mining and must be recovered through wells. Bitumen ore mined at the surface is considered to be much less flammable than other types of petroleum because it is full of impurities such as sand.

All large oilsands sites have emergency crews and plans for fires, including procedures to shut in facilities to minimize damage.

Most flights in and out of the Fort McMurray International Airport southeast of the city centre were cancelled just before noon.



Earls back to Cdn beef

The Earls restaurant chain says it will start serving Canadian beef again following a recent uproar over its decision to switch to hormone-free meat from the United States.

The Vancouver-based company — which has 26 of its 66 locations in Alberta — said last week that it would serve beef with the U.S.-based Certified Humane designation, raised without the use of antibiotics, steroids or added hormones.

Earls president Mo Jessa now says the company "made a mistake" when it decided to move away from Canadian beef.

The decision quickly prompted a backlash from cattle farmers and incited anger on social media, with high-profile politicians even jumping into the fray on Twitter.

Scores of social media users viewed the decision as unpatriotic and threatened to boycott the chain.

The chain says it will now try to source as much of its beef in Canada as possible, and work to help farmers build the supply that it needs.

"We want to make this right," Jessa said in a statement. "We want Canadian beef back on our menus so we are going to work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria."

He said the company has "deep roots" in Alberta, after starting in Edmonton, and needs "to support Alberta, especially in tough times."

The company had always used Canadian beef in its hamburgers and steaks — two of its biggest selling items — but wanted to make the switch to meat that was Certified Humane, which is run by the U.S. organization Humane Farm Animal Care.

After three years, Earls said it couldn't find a Canadian farm that could fill its needs so it decided to go with a Kansas supplier instead.

Earls said animals on Certified Humane ranches are "treated with care, respect and dignity from birth to pasture."

There is no equivalent certification in Canada, but the Canadian Cattlemen's Association had argued that there are many humane beef producers in Alberta.



Loblaw profit jumps

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is reporting double-digit increases to its profit and adjusted earnings for the first quarter.

The operator of Canada's largest grocery and pharmacy business had $193 million of net income for the quarter, up $47 million or 32.2 per cent from a year earlier.

Its adjusted net earnings were $338 million, up $37 million or 12 per cent — helped by increased cost savings.

Revenue was $10.4 billion, up $333 million or 3.3 per cent from the first quarter, with the bulk of it coming from the Loblaw grocery business and Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy business.

Loblaw's profit amounted to 47 cents per share of net income and 82 cents of adjusted net earnings per common share, up from 35 cents of net income and 72 cents of adjusted earnings per common share.

Its common share dividend will rise to 26 cents per quarter, payable July 1, up four per cent from 25 cents per share.

The results were in line with analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters.



Oil camps fill with evacuees

Oilsands work camps were being pressed into service Tuesday to house evacuees as a raging wildfire emptied the city of Fort McMurray.

"We've made our work camp available to staff and their families who have been evacuated and need a place to stay," said Cameron Yost of Shell Canada.

"We are looking at getting non-essential people out by aircraft," said Yost, who added Shell's camp could accommodate hundreds of evacuees.

Most oilsands projects are well north of the community, while the worst of the flames were on the city's south side.

Shell's camp is about 95 kilometres away and remained operating late Tuesday. Still, precautions were being taken.

Officials were also evacuating non-essential staff at Suncor's base plant, at 30 kilometres away one of the closest facilities to the city, said spokesman Paul Newmarch. Evacuees were moving in to the plant's work camps.

"We're providing transportation and accommodation to the region to support the evacuation," he said. "We're making whatever we have available to support the evacuation."

Newmarch said essential workers remained at the plant and production, as of late Tuesday afternoon, was continuing.

Will Gibson, a spokesman for Syncrude, which has a plant about 35 kilometres north of town, was himself one of the evacuees heading north away from the flames.

"People are actually being evacuated toward the plants," he said. "We're being instructed to go to work camps in the region and report in there. We're assuming it will be more than a night."

Gibson said he had to flee his neighbourhood via a grass embankment because the fire had already cut off the road at both ends.

"I left my neighbourhood and there was houses on fire," he said. "I don't know if and when I'll be going back."

Large work camps associated with oilsands projects can accommodate thousands to house workers who come from as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador.

A 2015 municipal census counted 43,000 people in its "shadow" population, a term used for temporary residents who often live in such camps.



Dealers win right to sue GM

A group of Canadian new-vehicle dealers won permission Tuesday to sue General Motors United States in a case that goes to the heart of the relationship between the automaker and its franchised sales outlets.

In giving the green light to the lawsuit, Ontario's top court overruled an earlier decision that the suit had no reasonable prospect of success.

The longtime Toronto-area dealers allege in their unproven claim that GM in the U.S. breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing.

In a nutshell, they argue the manufacturer is in a conflict of interest by focusing on maximizing its own profit on the sale of new vehicles at their expense. They say the company's vehicle offerings are uncompetitive, and the corporation has refused price cuts and other incentives to increase market share.

According to the claim, dealers earn only a small profit from new vehicle sales. Instead, they rely on trade-in resales, servicing and parts sales to make their money.

As a result, they say, they want to maximize the market share of GM vehicles on the road, while the company has acted with self-interested disregard for the "disastrous financial consequences" on them.

"The (dealers) allege that there has been a devastating impact on their business as GM has suffered a decrease in market share since 2008," according to the Appeal Court decision. "This, they say, is inconsistent with GM U.S.'s duties of good faith and fair dealing."

The dealers also claim GM U.S. used bailout money from the governments of Canada and Ontario that flowed in the aftermath of the 2009 recession to the advantage of big-city dealers in the United States over those in the Toronto area.

They also argue GM U.S. makes the real decisions related to their franchises and the bulk of their Canadian sales are from imports from the company's American operations.

Faced with the claim, GM U.S. successfully argued it owed no duty of good faith to the dealers. Essentially, the company argued it was not a direct party to the franchise agreement the Canadian dealers have.

The dealers appealed and the higher court sided with them, despite finding a lack of a direct contractual relationship between GM U.S. and the Canadian outlets.

"I do not agree that the appellants' claims have no reasonable prospect of success," Justice Mary Lou Benotto wrote for the Appeal Court.

"It is not plain and obvious that a parent company in the position of GM U.S. could never owe a duty of good faith or fair dealing to the appellants."

The dealers' claim against General Motors Canada — with some of the allegations dismissed — was allowed to proceed and was not the subject of the appeal.



Auto sales stay hot in April

America's love of trucks and SUVs helped push most automakers to healthy sales gains last month as Honda and Nissan reported best-ever April sales. Ford posted record SUV sales, while Toyota broke a record for SUV and truck sales.

Honda led major automakers with a 14.4 per cent sales increase as both its cars and SUVs sold well, while Nissan's sales rose 12.8 per cent. Fiat Chrysler was up 6 per cent on record Jeep sales, and Ford rode an April record for SUV sales to a 4 per cent increase. Toyota sales rose 3.8 per cent largely because of the RAV4 small SUV, which broke a monthly record with sales up nearly 32 per cent .

General Motors, Volkswagen and Hyundai were the only major automakers to report sales declines. GM blamed its 3.5 per cent drop on a strategy of cutting low-profit sales to rental car companies. VW sales fell almost 10 per cent as its emissions-cheating scandal continued. Hyundai sales were off 8.5 per cent from a record April last year.

Ford Motor Co. said it sold more than 65,000 SUVs, the best April in company history, led by the Explorer with a 22 per cent increase. At Nissan Motor Co., cars and SUVs pushed sales up, while Fiat Chrysler was led by a 17 per cent increase in sales of Jeep SUVs. It was FCA US LLC's best April since 2005.

Analysts expect U.S. sales of new cars and trucks to be up 4 per cent over last April when companies are done reporting figures on Tuesday. Car-buying site Edmunds.com predicts April sales of more than 1.51 million, beating the previous record for the month set in 2005.

"I think it's full-steam ahead," said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book who doesn't see any economic forces that would cause car sales to slow. Lindland says consumers are pulling sales up, and automakers aren't creating demand with wild incentives or crazy lease deals like they have in the past.

KBB is forecasting sales to be flat from last year's record 17.5 million, but Lindland says they could even fall off a bit as GM and other automakers reduce sales to rental car companies. Still, she says retail sales to individual buyers would be up, and that is healthy for the auto industry.

Regardless of whether sales keep growing, the overall pace of growth is slowing. Two years ago, for example, April sales jumped 8 per cent, or double last month's expected pace. J.D. Power and Associates predicted that April sales this year would run at an annual rate of 17.6 million.

For now, the sales outlook is still sunny. Consumers are on track to spend more than $36.9 billion on new vehicles in April, surpassing the previous record for the month set last year, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

But there are some worrying trends for the industry.

Buyers are flocking to SUVs and trucks, which might force manufacturers to discount cars to move them off lots. That's good for buyers in the short term, but incentives can flood the market with cars and hurt resale values.

At Fiat Chrysler, car sales fell 8 per cent for the month. Sales of the Chrysler 200 midsize car tumbled 60 per cent to around 7,600. Ford's car sales fell 12 per cent. Hyundai's two top-selling cars, the compact Elantra and midsize Sonata, each saw big sales declines. Elantra sales were down 44 per cent while the Sonata was off 15 per cent.

Although car sales are dropping overall, Lindland doesn't see big price wars developing because many auto factories can now switch easily from cars to SUVs. Many SUVs are built on the same underpinnings as cars.

Some cars bucked the downward sales trend. Sales of GM's all-new Chevrolet Malibu and Honda's new Civic each rose nearly 25 per cent.

Sales to individual consumers also appear to be slowing, so automakers are relying more on less profitable sales to rental-car companies and other fleets. J.D. Power expected April sales to individual buyers to rise 4 per cent, while sales to fleets were expected to jump 8.7 per cent.

John Humphrey, senior vice-president of J.D. Power, said consumers will spend more on new cars and trucks than any other April on record. But he said slowing growth, the shift away from cars and rising fleet sales "pose significant challenges to manufacturers as they compete in the marketplace."



The future of movie theatres

Going to the movies isn't as simple as it used to be, and don't expect that to change in the future.

Between 3D, the VIP screens and DBox motion seats, the list of options at the box office can be overwhelming.

In an era of binge-worthy TV shows and popular streaming video services, Canada's largest theatre chain Cineplex is pushing ahead with plans for more super-sized experiences in its auditoriums across the country, which also come with steeper ticket prices.

Cineplex, which owns 79 per cent of the national movie theatre market, reported Tuesday that premium-priced tickets, and a slate of impressive Hollywood films, helped drive record attendance numbers at its theatres during the first quarter.

Chief executive Ellis Jacob talked to The Canadian Press about the evolution of cinema and what it means for moviegoers.

CP: Cineplex recently announced plans for Canada's first 4DX auditorium — a higher-priced theatre where action movies become a sensory experience with artificial rain, wind and lightning that reflect what's on screen. Who do you expect this will appeal to?

Jacob: It's going to be kids and millennials who would probably be the target market. Me, as a 60-plus (viewer), is probably not the biggest demographic. And it's very big for tourist areas. Yonge and Dundas in downtown Toronto is kind of, to me, the Times Square of Canada, so we thought it was a good place to put it (first) and see how it performs.

CP: Cineplex has focused on offering price tiers on movie tickets — premium experiences like UltraAVX and 3D are more expensive — but where do you stand on raising the general ticket price for a movie?

Jacob: We have been very conservative when it comes to ticket prices. There come points where you have to look at the overall situation — when minimum wage keeps increasing and cost of procuring concession items come up — then we have to re-look at things, but we don't want to use (general ticket price increases) front and centre.

CP: You told analysts on Tuesday's financial results conference call that you've considered something you called "dynamic ticket pricing." What is that?

Jacob: Dynamic pricing is basically when you increase your price based on demand. Say you're busy on a Friday or Saturday night (so) you charge more, and when you're not busy on Monday nights you charge less. It's kind of what the airlines do, in a way. We look at all different models.

CP: In the United States, one of the popular alternatives to single movie tickets is a subscription service called MoviePass, where patrons pay a flat fee to see unlimited movies. Have you considered a similar service in Canada?

Jacob: We look at all those opportunities, but we also have our studio partners we've got to work with and make sure that overall it's a benefit for everybody.

CP: Movie exhibitors and studio executives have been sparring over Screening Room, a new company that wants to let viewers watch newly-released blockbusters in their home for a higher price. Where do you stand on this potential service?

Jacob: When I think about it there's a lot of things that get talked about, and a lot of disruptions people are trying to put into place. One thing we can't forget is this is ... close to a $1-billion business in Canada, so I don't think studios are looking to trade their dimes for nickels and take a risk.



14M bottles of bourbon

Jim Beam has filled and sealed its 14 millionth barrel of bourbon since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, achieving a first in the bourbon industry.

Seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin sealed the barrel Monday at the company's flagship distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, about 20 miles south of Louisville.

The milestone comes two years after the distillery filled its 13 millionth barrel.

Noe said in a news release that the achievement speaks to the success of the company's whiskey and the increasing worldwide enthusiasm for bourbon.

Bevin said Kentucky bourbon is now an international symbol of the state's heritage and craftsmanship.



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