The Odeon Web Site

I was just over visiting Andy Budd’s blog when I saw a post concerning the Odeon cinema chain and Matthew Sommerville’s accessible version of their web site. The Odeon web site has been piss poor, for want of a better phrase, for years.

Basically, unless you’re looking at in Internet Explorer, standing on your head, with the wind blowing in the right direction and geese flying overhead, you can’t use it. You can see the home page (well, splash screen), but nothing past it. We’ve complained for years, and their excuse has always been that a new version “was coming.”

Two years this has gone on, so Matthew, being an enterprising young thing, built them an accessble version (not the only site he’s done either), pulling data straight from the Odeon web site. Unfortunately, it was too successful and now Odeon, who are concerned so many of their customers are confusing Matthew’s site for something they own, have demanded he take it down or he faces legal action.

This, as you may have guessed, irked me somewhat.

So, I, like Andy, have emailed Odeon and am asking all those who want an accessible version (and possibly an apology to Matthew), to email them and get everyone you know to email and post about it online. The address is info@odeon.co.uk.

I have written a sample email (amended from Andy’s orginal) you may wish to copy and paste for brevity, see below.

Dear Sir/Madam

I was deeply saddened by the Odeon’s decision to force Matthew Somerville to remove his accessible version of your site with the threat of legal action.

I am a movie-goer but I’m unable to use your web site due to my choice of computer platform and browser/browser*. This means that I am unable to book tickets online, or even view large parts of the site, leading to a reduction in the number of times I visit your cinema. It is my understanding that this accessibility problem has been ongoing for nearly two years.

I understand that it’s not always easy to fix such problems, however, you do have a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act and an obligation to your customers to make your online services accessible. Matthew has done an extremely good job of creating an accessible version of your site. Rather than threaten him with legal action, wouldn’t it be better to work with him in order to comply with your own legal requirements and create a more user friendly customer experience?

Regards

Your Name

* – Delete as applicable – I would add disability here, but as many disabled surfer would be using a different browser anyhow, I think it’s covered.

Update: There seems to be some confusion as to what I’m trying to achieve. I understand Odeon’s perspective, and their actions, and I don’t think they’ll agree to allowing Matthew’s site back, for good reasons. That’s not what I’m after, what I think we should be aiming towards is convincing Odeon to make their site accessible to all, whether that be by working with Matthew or independently. If we can do this, everyone benefits and I think it would be a fitting tribute to Matthew’s hard work. So fire up your favoured email application, tell all your friends, and lets get to it. They can ignore one of us, but can they ignore all of us?

Update: One of the places I sent an email to yesterday evening was the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). Obviously they have something of a vested interest in the DDA, this is the response:

Hi Lee

As you’ll see I’ve copied you into an email to Tom Allison, Head Of Operations at Odeon, for him to respond directly to you, copying me in as well. I sit, with Tom, on the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association’s Disability Working Group, so if you don’t hear anything from him, please let me know and I’ll chase.

Thanks for your feedback; it’s extremely valuable.

With kind regards,

Jill Whitehead

Jill was also kind enough to copy me in on the email she sent to the Head of Operations at Odeon, we shall see what it brings.

Update: Y’know, I was getting a little downhearted about the apparent lack of support by some of the web community towards getting Odeon to make their site accessible. Then I followed a link from Photo Matt to the new Feedster site. While I was there I thought I’d try it and typed in ‘Odeon’ to find myself lifted by what it returned. So, if you’ve got a blog or a web site, get posting.

If anyone is doubting how long Odeon’s site has been this bad, I just found someone has posted an email they received from Odeon’s web team in October 2003 and the Way Back Machine has ‘the new’ Odeon site when it launched in July 2001.

Update: Still no news from Odeon, but Paul Scrivens of Whitespace fame has written a piece on inaccessible web sites, mentioning Odeon.

Update (19/07/2004): The BBC’s Bill Thompson mentions the Odeon site and his disappointment at the way they dealt with Matthew Somerville, he also talks about accessibility law, in his latest column.

Update (21/07/2004): A week has passed since the RNIB forwarded my email to Odeon’s Head of Operations. I’ve just emailed Jill to let her know and ask if she’d be kind enough to chase up a response.

Update (22/07/2004): I got a reply from the RNIB, not exactly what I was hoping for (see below). As I was copied in on the email to Odeon’s Head of Operations I’ve asked if they mind if I contact him directly and put my case. I was going to offer to give them a presentation on the benefits of accessibility, where their site’s falling down and what can be done to improve it, doubtful they’ll take it up, but worth a go.

Hi Lee

I’m sorry, I have had a response from Tom actually and haven’t got round to forwarding it to you (partly because my computer has recently been dismantled!), but it doesn’t say anything new, just that the alternative site is illegal because it was collecting peoples’ personal details. To be honest this is all a bit beyond me; it’s been picked up by the British Computer Association as well and I suspect there’ll be all sorts of legal wrangling, which, as I say, is far beyond my scope of experience. I’ve attached Tom’s response, but as I say, it’s more of a response to me personally than an official Odeon response. However concern about this is obviously growing, so something will be done I’m sure.

Yesterday I forwarded details of both RNIB’s web auditing service and that offered by Headstar, the service used by E-Access Bulletin (if you’d like me to forward a copy to you, please let me know; it’s an email newsletter about IT issues for blind and partially sighted people.

With best wishes,

Jill.

Incidently, Jill very kindly attached the response from Odeon:

Hello Jill,

I have passes[sic] on your feedback to our web teams.

The substitute website was illegal and we were getting a number of complaints from customers who thought it was the official website. Personal details were being collected under the “Odeon” banner, a clear breach of the data protection act and very worrying.

In addition, Mr Somerville is clearly “whipping up ” support so I am sure this will not be the end of it.

Our web team is addressing the problem but in the meantime can I suggest that customers can ring our contact centre on 0871 22 44 007.

Many Thanks,
Tom

One thing, it’s not Mr Somerville, Tom, it’s me (and the rest of the web community) whipping up support, Matthew just left a nice polite notice on his site for those people who have now been deprived of using it.

What I’d like to know is who are the Odeon’s ‘web team’ and what have they been doing for the last three years? They must be about in the wider web community – I appeal to you, to your sense of professionalism, FIX THE DAMN SITE.

Update (03/08/2004): Having cleared it with Jill, I decided to email Odeon’s Head of Operations myself and see if I could get some answers as to the state of play. The email I sent:

Dear Mr Allison

I received your response regarding my email to the RNIB from Jill Whitehead. I, like many others, have been trying to raise awareness of Matthew Somerville’s accessible Odeon site closure and (more importantly) the outstanding lack of accessibility provided by the official Odeon site. (Incidently, I would like to point out that Matthew has done nothing but display the reason for the site closure, it’s been people like myself who have made some noise about it – or ‘”whipping up” support’ as you state it).

I’m well aware and undestand Odeon’s reasons for asking the site be removed. What none of us can fathom is why it was done after a year of letting it pass, and why you didn’t allow Matthew to keep the remaining part of the site and just disable this functionaility.

Another thing that nobody seems capable of answering, including Odeon, is why this design has remained, largely unchanged and despite numerous customer complaints, in its current state since July 2001. Instead I note that, in your response to Jill, you state that your ‘web team is addressing the problem.’ This is remarkably similar to a response one of my readers had in October 2003, and a number of others have tales of similar excuses dating way back.

I have heard rumour that Odeon have indeed hired an accessibility consultancy, can you confirm this? Bearing in mind that I estimate a single designer of sufficient knowledge (the industry average) should be able to convert your exisiting site to an accessible, standards compliant form in a month or less, is there a timeline for when the new site will be launched? Perhaps you (or your design team) would care to consider working with Matthew Somerville as he has accomplished a significant part of this work already.

Incidently, there are a number of excellent benefits to making your site more accessible, not least making it easier for people who use alternative browsers or suffer from any one of a number of disabilities to use the site. It could help to cut costs in running and maintaining your site, allow for easier updating, make it compatible with future browsers, open it up to different browsing platforms (such as web TV, PDAs and mobile phones). Obviously the negatives are kind of the inverse, plus the rather large issue of an inaccessible website being illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act. I would be happy to give a presentation detailing the pros and cons, areas where the current site falls down and suggestions for how to improve it to you and/or your web team if you feel this would help.

I look forward to your response

Regards

Lee Penney

PS – Please pass this to the appropriate person if you feel unable to respond accurately.

Update (11/08/04): Still no word from Odeon. He could be on holiday…

Update (21/09/04): Still no word from Odeon, despite a few more emails. However, I did send the Today show an email in response to a spot they did on website accessibility (see comments for more info). If you have the time and inclination, why not head over and drop them a line to try and encourage them to dedicate some more airtime to website accessibility?

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15 thoughts on “The Odeon Web Site

  1. “If anyone is doubting how long Odeon’s site has been this bad, I just found someone has posted an email they received from Odeon’s web team in October 2003 and the Way Back Machine has ‘the new’ Odeon site when it launched in July 2001.”

    The Mozilla bug report has comments going back to 2001, including citations of emails from the Odeon claiming that it’s all going to be fixed very soon. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

    :D

  2. Cinema Self-immolation
    …. What that tells me is that they have a problem – and it’s not Matthew. They have lost our family’s business – none of us can check their schedule any more.

  3. Personal details were being collected under the “Odeon” banner, a clear breach of the data protection act and very worrying.

    So… Data Protection Act brach = we need to act.

    Disability Discrimination Act breach = we don’t need to act.

    I wish I had friends/colleagues who were sight impaired, who’d be able to complain to the Disability Rights Commssion…

  4. The substitute website was illegal and we were getting a number of complaints from customers who thought it was the official website. Personal details were being collected under the “Odeon” banner, a clear breach of the data protection act and very worrying.

    a number being how many? Two? Are they perhaps worried that Matthew’s site was performing well in the search engines (currently 4th in Google for ‘odeon’, and I’d guess possibly higher ranking than odeon.co.uk on certain queries).

  5. To much play is being made of the fact that Matthew Sommerville is disabled, as if this means copyright/trademark law shouldn’t apply to him. Perhaps he’d have a different stance if someone was ripping off *his* site!

  6. Alex Fowler wrote: “To much play is being made of the fact that Matthew Sommerville is disabled, as if this means copyright/trademark law shouldn’t apply to him. Perhaps he’d have a different stance if someone was ripping off *his* site!”

    Get your facts straight. Matthew Somerville isn’t disabled, nor was he ripping off another site’s content. His website clearly indicated that the material was from the Odeon website, and he has made it accessible.

  7. Item about this on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning – you can listen to a Real Audio stream, but only until tomorrow’s programme airs, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/; it’s part of the 8.44am “business update “.

    I only caught the end, and cant get Real Audio on this PC, but apparently Odeon claim that their website is “not inaccessible”!

  8. I shot over and listened to the programme Andy suggested (I’m not usually a Radio 4 listener, but with the Hitchhiker’s Guide airing soon I could be shortly). Fascinating. Odeon flatly deny their site is inaccessible (though no one from the company appears on the show) and state their usual reasons for asking Matthew to take his site down — personal data concerns and people thinking it was affiliated with Odeon.

    So, the stuff about them working on improving it has been bullshit all this time then.

    I feel some emails coming on!

  9. I write here to inform you of the really quite shocking actions being
    perpetuated by the UK cinema chain Odeon against a disabled Scottish
    boy Matthew Somerville.

    9 year old Matthew suffers from the rare, medically unknown condition
    of “Shatner�s Palsy” which attacks unoxygenated body tissue. Doctors are
    working hard on a cure, but admit the possibility of a fatal remission
    within 70 years. Despite this, Matthew continues to brighten the lives
    of everyone he meets.

    Incredibly, despite having weak arms, he is still able to operate a
    computer using a specially constructed input device, consisting of a
    covered spherical ball and a pair of single-pole-single-throw latches.
    Resting his disabled hand on the tool, any small movements are converted
    to gigabyte digital input signals.

    The disabled boy constructed a special film portal for the disabled.
    It was very popular, receiving over 100 “hits” a month. Webmaster
    experts based at Durham University examined his JavaScript code and
    proclaimed it “fully polymorphic and 100% XML ready”

    Despite this, Odeon cinemas have ordered him to “cease and desist”
    using the recently enacted European Millennium Copyright Act (EMCA) to
    copyright the notion of “film discussion” by a person and/or persons
    “without full limb mobility”. They have demanded his website is put in
    the Windows XP recycle bin, and insisted “It shall then be emptied”.
    Unsurprisingly, the move has been supported by the Internet Knowledge
    Enforcement Agency (IKEA).

    This cannot be allowed to happen. The disabled should have almost as
    many rights as normal people, at least with regard to discussing films.
    Luckily for us, people power works, and that�s where you come in.

    How can you help disabled boy Matthew Somerville?
    a) Email Odeon customer support (info@odeonuk.com) and tell them you are
    boycotting their chain (Rocky 6 excepted) while they continue
    their legal actions against disabled boys.
    b) Email Odeon UK chairman Luke Vetere (lvetere@odeonuk.com) and insist
    that the website be retrieved from the recycle bin, cleaned, and
    uploaded back onto the UK internet web system using FTP packet protocols.
    c) Email and post this message to everybody you know (several times), and
    on every “blog” site you can find.
    d) You can help Matthew in his separate quest to enter the “Guinness Book
    of Records” with the record of “largest collection of cinema ticket
    stubs”. Matthew is aiming for over a thousand. Send them, perhaps with
    a letter of encouragement to

    Matthew Somerville
    Guinness Record Attempt
    109 Eastern Drive
    Edinburgh
    EH7 1DA

    Remember, only by working together can we can beat an evil law, and
    brighten the failing heart of a young disabled angel.

    I’m going to leave this comment because it’s pretty funny, but please remember this is a joke, not real information. ~ Lee

  10. hello my name is jason and i am doing a coursework assignment on customer servise for leisure and tourism and i was woundering if i could use this info on
    the happenings and emails for my coursework on odeon can u please replyon my email
    fiorechopper@hotmail.com
    thanks alot
    cheers

  11. I am not disabled but I can’t stand using Internet Exploiter. I just went to the Odeon site and it still does not work with Firefox. How many people are the Odeon trying to upset here for what must be a few hundred quid’s worth of website designer time. Even when you do use the evil IE, this website is piss poor using totally unintuitive “mouse hovering” and very slow scrolling boxes. That Mathew joke above was very believable because a 9 year old could write a better website.

  12. I have tried using Odeons site for a long time & got so sick and tired of it not working – like today for example . . .
    I know lots of people who now don’t have the choice of a different cinema chain.
    I know various friends/work colleagues now buy illegal DVDS – which I don’t do.
    Odeon don’t want our custom.
    They also rip us off at every stage. Coke, popcorn, and then still you for £7 or more to get in. . .
    I have emailed Odeon to say how piss poor they are – yet again and don’t expect a reply.

    Their website is down today. Maybe its being fixed? Somehow I doubt it . . .

  13. I have also emailed Odeon about poor service after they bullied a friend of mine into buying an adult ticket for a 13 year old girl because she wasn’t carrying I.D. and couldn’t prove she was under 15 (how many 13 year olds carry I.D?)
    No answer apart from an automated reply from Odeon so I have in my annoyance put a page on my own website to shout it out to anyone who passes by!

    http://www.andyfoot.com/odeoncinemabournemouth.htm

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