Online pix tixers mix availability

AOL Moviefone reportedly invests $8.5 mil in Movietickets.com

HOLLYWOOD — A pair of online movie ticketers have agreed to combined their Web offerings, and the move — along with a push to achieve print-at-home theater ticketing — could greatly broaden consumer embrace of the services.

In addition to coordinating services offered by their respective Web sites, it’s believed AOL Moviefone will make an $8.5 million investment Movietickets.com.

Their strategic pact, announced March 20, follows recent calls for more cooperation among a handful of Web-based ticketing services so that moviegoers won’t have to go to a number of separate sites to buy tickets. “Through the alliance, we are creating the ultimate convenience for our moviegoers by providing them with one-stop shopping for tickets for the vast majority of movie screens that offer advance ticket sales,” AOL Moviefone general manager Tommy McGloin says.

MovieTickets.com co-CEO Mitchell Rubenstein predicts that 10%-15% of all domestic movie tickets will be purchased online within “three to four years.” He estimates that Movietickets.com has sold about 1 million tickets since launching its site in February 2000.

Exhib bigfoot

Execs say their strategic alliance will provide a first-time national footprint for movie ticketing, combining the companies’ separate 4,000-screen services to allow for consumer purchasing of tickets for some 8,000 movie screens in theaters in the U.S. and Canada. The total represents about 85% of all screens currently served by Internet ticketing and almost one-fourth of all domestic screens.

Still, at least one other Web ticketer has struck a number of exclusive exhibitor pacts. Fandango.com has struck exclusive agreements to conduct cyber-ticketing with seven circuits — Century, Edwards, General Cinema, Regal, Loews Cineplex, Carmike and Cinemark.

Fandango’s General Cinemas and Loews relationships are set to commence next year following the expiration of those exhibs’ current pacts with AOL MovieFone. That would eat away a good portion of the broad footprint touted by AOL Moviefone and Movietickets.com in announcing their strategic alliance.

But AOL Moviefone’s McGloin says consumers want the ability to use any such site to buy tickets for any movie chain, and he predicts the many changes in ownership currently rippling through the exhib industry will loosen Fandango’s grip on some or all of its exclusive pacts.

All three sites are working on print-at-home ticketing. To date, online purchasers have had to cue up at will-call windows to pick up their tickets, but at-home tickets would be bar-coded to allow electronic scanning at the theater door.

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