Backers line up behind plan at ShoWest

LAS VEGAS — If some Netcos’ enthusiasm can translate into viable businesses, Web-based ticket sales could prove a valuable catalyst to future box office growth.

At a panel discussion on the topic Thursday, reps from a handful of Internet ticketing services pitched their sites to ShoWest 2001 attendees. And exhibs and distribs alike interviewed during the tradeshow here this week predict that the public increasingly will make use of such services.

Century Theatres chief Raymond Syufy said some theaters showing the blockbuster “Hannibal” recently sold up to 20% of their tickets online.

Phone complement

Internet ticketing is seen as a complement to telephone ordering, which already has taken hold among moviegoers.

Art Levitt, CEO of ticketer Fandango.com, noted the 1-year-old site is being augmented by a fledgling phone service, and wireless ticket-ordering will be offered eventually.

“The Internet is one of the three legs of the stool,” Levitt said.

Rival AOL Moviefone also plans to combine telephone and Internet ticketing services. Its fledgling Web-based service has struck an early relationship with United Artists Theatre Circuit.

So far, there has been a steady pattern of U.S. exhibs pledging exclusive allegiance to one or another of the various ticketing sites.

Fandango has exclusive Internet ticketing pacts with seven exhibs — Century, Edwards, General Cinema, Regal, Loews Cineplex, Carmike and Cinemark. A third Internet ticketer, MovieTickets.com, has exclusive agreements with the AMC Entertainment and National Amusement circuits, as well as National’s Famous Players chain in Canada.

Splintering auds?

Though less than ideal, Universal Pictures distrib prexy Nikki Rocco said exhibs’ scattered loyalties aren’t a major impediment to the concept’s success.

“I don’t think it’s a problem, because people tend to go to their local theaters, and they will find out what its Web site information is,” Rocco said.

But exhibs attending the Web-ticketing panel broke into applause when AOL Moviefone general manager Tommy McGloin suggested a single nationwide service is needed.

“It’s dumb, and consumers are ill-served not to be able to buy tickets in one place,” McGloin said.

It’s likely consolidation eventually will pare the current crop of ticketing sites, even as newcomer Hollywood MovieMagic announced a new Web site that aims to strike pacts with any interested exhibs. Robert Shearer, exec veep of MovieTickets, confirmed preliminary talks with AOL Moviefone about a strategic alliance between their ticketing sites.

Some believe Internet ticketing could effectively replace so-called co-op advertising as a means of driving local marketing of movies. Exhibs have been making noises lately about dumping the long-standing arrangements with distribs through which they’ve helped pay for movie advertising in local newspapers.

Meanwhile, the various ticketing Netcos say they will continue to improve their offerings.

Print-at-home tickets

There’s a current push at the various services to offer print-at-home tickets through their sites, supplementing current arrangements that allow patrons to pick up tickets purchased online at theater will-call windows. Tickets printed at home would bear special bar codes to be scanned by theater personnel when patrons arrive at their local multiplex.

But though exhibs seem interested in the advent of Internet ticketing, some say the innovation shouldn’t be seen as transforming the industry dramatically. An audience member at Thursday’s panel session expressed irritation at video presentations that showed Internet ticket-buying as an alternative to patrons’ standing in long lines at theaters.

“There will always be lines, whether it’s lines for will-call tickets or lines to have their tickets scanned,” the ShoWester observed.

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