B.O. gets e-ticket ride

Tally to show ducat trade over the net increased 58% in '02

This article was corrected on March 10, 2003.

The Internet business niches that have continued to generate revenue despite the dot-com meltdown can be counted on one hand: porn, online auctions, personal ads, and movie ticket sales, to name most of them.

Thanks to a number of factors, last year marked the tipping point for online ticket sales entry into the mainstream. In 2001, they accounted for $172 million in revenue, a number that’s expected to jump about 58% to $257 million when all the numbers are crunched for 2002.

According to a study done by technology analysis firm Jupiter Media Metrix, online sales will account for 7% of all box office returns by 2006.

Already, online sales for blockbuster movies — like “Daredevil” and “Spider-Man” — contribute between 5% and 8% of their total box office.

“It’s the Broadway effect,” says Robert Bucksbaum, CEO of industry tracker Reelsource. “When there is so much enthusiasm for the opening, and you think it’s going to be sold out, you want the tickets early.

“It does so much for the industry,” he adds. “They want to avoid lines and that’s the whole purpose.”

In addition, there are innovations being made to make online ticketing even more of a convenience choice for consumers. At-home ticketing is taking off in 40 major cities, where online retailers and their companion exhibs allow users to not only preorder their tickets on the Net, but print them on their home computer as well. The printout can be scanned at the door, nixing the need to wait in line to pick up tickets.

“I think we’re going to see online ticketing not only done in the home, but in restaurants,” says Raymond Syufy, CEO of Century Theaters. “We’re going to work with places and use their businesses and set up virtual box offices everywhere.”

“People have a finite amount of time to fit in all these different elements of their lives,” adds Nancy Klasky, spokeswoman for Century Theaters. “We’ve made the commitment to online ticketing because it’s such a great benefit to our patrons.”

The sudden growth of this business can be at- tributed to savvy marketing by Fandango, AOL Moviefone and www.MovieTickets.com, the three major online ticket retailers.

These Internet companies have attracted young auds — notoriously comfortable using their credit cards online and die-hard movie fans to boot — via a combination of goofy, memorable onscreen advertising before features and quirky, fun content on their Web sites.

They’ve also focused on promoting movies that generate plenty of prerelease buzz on the Internet. “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” were, respectively, the top sellers at MovieTickets and Fandango, for example.

While promotion and word of mouth have helped Net movie-ticket brokers grow, online partnerships have been an even bigger factor. MovieTickets, for instance, powers the Web ducat sales for Yahoo and Microsoft’s movie sites, while AOL Moviefone catches the eye of America Online’s 35 million members.

The growth can be attributed to the willingness of exhibitors to experiment with online ticketing at a time when most e-businesses were treated warily. Fandango, for instance, works with Carmike, Century, Cinemark, Edwards, Loews and Regal Cinemas. As of January, 8,000 screens were represented by the service.

MovieTickets, meanwhile, has teamed with AMC Entertainment, Famous Players, Hollywood Media Corp., Marcus, National Amusements and Viacom.

AOL Moviefone works with Loews, United Artists Theaters, AMC, Mann, City Cinemas, Pacific, Clearview, Harkins, Classic and Colorado.

If there’s a downside for the exhibition industry, it’s that not all exhibitors have arrangement with all major online brokers. With some exhibs listed on only one service, consumers need to check all three if they want a comprehensive listing of what’s playing where in their neighborhood.

“The one concern I have is that we don’t have them all on one site,” says John Fithian, topper of the National Assn. of Theater Owners. “For the sake of efficiency, I think it would sell more tickets.”

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