My polite letter to the Odeon’s marketing director

Just sent this to the marketing director of the Odeon Cinema group, following up yesterday’s post on the matter, and trying to pursue the ‘the network is doing your innovation for you, for free, so why not use it’ approach:

Dear Mr Tevere,

I read with some disappointment your correspondence with Matthew Somerville, the web developer who had undertaken in his spare time to make a version of the Odeon website that was easier to use, less confusing and – most importantly – corresponded to best practices in terms of making information accessible to all, including those with disabilities.

While I understand your view that the information on your website has been used without permission, and that you have had feedback from customers feeling misled by Mr Somerville’s web service, I would urge you to re-examine your position.

Mr Somerville had effectively provided your company with a prototype for a much more successful, inclusive, and legally compliant* web service. The consultancy fees that you might expect to pay for such a thing would reach six figures. He had done this out of frustration with your existing web service, a frustration echoed by many other potential Odeon customers, and one which garnered a certain amount of negative publicity for your brand at the same time as Mr Somerville originally created his site.

At this time, I was interviewed for MacUser magazine and drew attention to the deficiencies in your web service and the solution offered by Mr Somerville as worst and best practices on the web in terms of e-commerce and design.

At that point in time, your company’s corporate communication around the issue could have been characterised as ‘cautious but enlightened’; this time you seem to be erring on the side of appeasing your corporate lawyers, to the detriment of your customers.

You are now at another point of opportunity: To harness the work that Mr Somerville has done and come to an amicable agreement with him around your respective intellectual property (your data and brand, and his excellent prototype); or, to take the cautious route of ‘business as usual’ and deal with the negative publicity that will bring.

If you choose the former, then the benefits I think will shortly become obvious to you, the rest of your company and your customers. Design for accessibility is just good business sense, as market leaders in e-commerce like Tesco Online** have found, and getting something for nothing is surely even better business sense.

Whether you call it ‘market’, ‘open-source’ or ‘networked innovation’, embracing new ideas from enthusiasts outside the threshold of one’s own company is seen as the way forward for product and service development by the Financial Times, The Economist and the Harvard Business Review, among others; and certainly finding a compromise in this spirit would maintain Odeon’s image in the business press as a pioneer in using new channels for marketing.

I look forward to hearing Odeon and Mr Somerville announce a win-win way forward, and reading the column inches of praise that decision will inevitably lead to.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Jones

* “Web Accessibility and the DDA” : http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/01-2/sloan.html
** The Guardian, 10th July 2004: “Access points for shopping on the web : Tesco gets a four-star rating in the supermarket league”
‘It’s not just those with these special needs that are using the site, as the simple design is attracting a much wider audience, to the extent that online shoppers are spending £13m a year on it.’
http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian_jobs_and_money/story/0,3605,1257758,00.html

cc’d to:

Jack Schofield, Guardian Online
Ian Betteridge, technology journalist and contributor to MacUser magazine
Bill Thompson, technology journalist and contributor to BBC World, OpenDemocracy.net

Also posted to my weblog, http://www.blackbeltjones.com where I also intend to publish any replies I receive.

Let’s see what happens.

0 comments
  1. It’s war!

    The Bloggerati legions declare war on Odeon!

    I’m just hating the 70k jpeg image and text splash promo with NO ALT TEXT. . .

    Then I’m hating the experience on Safari.

    Then I’m thinking, bollocks to the Odeon anyway. . . support independent cinemas!
    http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/booking/booking_v2/cinema.asp
    so it seems the little guys can get it right.

  2. I’ve had to resort to using the Scoot.co.uk website for cinema listings as the official Odeon site baulks under Safari/FireFox.

    I’ve also sent a polite email to Mr Odeon Marketing, in which I also raise the issue of their telephone booking service not being able to recognise my scouse accent.:/

  3. "For the love of Matthew" campaign said:

    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.

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