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Numbers add up for Internet pix tix

Pact follows call for more cooperation among services

In a move targeted to promote consumers’ embrace of Internet movie ticketing, operators of two of the biggest such Web sites have agreed to combine their offerings.

Deal, which strikes an alliance between AOL Moviefone and Movietickets.com, includes an $8.5 million investment by AOL in its rival, according to a well-placed industry source.

The strategic pact, to be formally announced today, follows recent calls for more cooperation among a handful of Web-based ticketing services so moviegoers won’t have to go to a number of separate sites to buy tickets for theaters affiliated with one or another of the services (Daily Variety, March 9).

“Our goal is to connect people to the movies by providing them with the most expansive and convenient movie information and ticketing services possible,” AOL Moviefone general manager Tommy McGloin said. “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.”

Movietickets.com co-CEO Mitchell Rubenstein added that the alliance will “simplify access to movie theater ticketing for millions of customers across North America.”

Rubenstein predicted that in three to four years, domestic moviegoers will purchase 10%-15% of their tickets online. He estimated that Movietickets.com has sold about 1 million tickets since launching its site in February 2000, with roughly twice that number of online movie tickets sold in total over the same period.

On the double

Execs said their strategic alliance would 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 8,000-screen footprint touted by AOL Moviefone and Movietickets.com in announcing their strategic alliance.

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

AOL Moviefone, which introduced online movie ticketing in 1994, has Web-based ticketing agreements with United Artists Theaters, Clearview City Cinemas, Loews and General Cinema.

Movietickets.com has pacts with AMC Entertainment, National Amusements, Famous Players, Marcus and Muvico.

National Amusements and Famous Players are in the same corporate family as media conglom Viacom. The media giant holds a one-third stake in Movietickets parent Hollywood Media, which is publicly traded.

Other investors in Movietickets and Fandango also have been given equity stakes. By contrast, AOL Moviefone has resisted awarding equity positions to its exhib partners.

Another fledgling site, Hollywoodmoviemagic.com, has yet to announce any specific ticketing relationships, but is seeking to strike such agreements through the exhib community, perhaps on a nonexclusive basis.

Meanwhile, all of the various sites are working to improve offerings, and one big push involves the anticipated introduction of print-at-home ticketing. To date, online purchasers have had to cue up at will-call windows to pick up their tickets. At-home tickets would be bar-coded to allow electronic scanning at the theater door.

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