Phones fuel and frustrate film auds

Biz ponders merits, perils of mobile devices and social media at Marketing Summit

Cell phones can both be a nuisance and a helpful way to get more moviegoers into theaters, ticket sellers and exhibitors said at Variety and Stradella’s Film Marketing Summit on Tuesday.

For Fandango, ticket sales on mobile devices have grown from 1% to 20% of the online ticket seller’s business in a couple of years, according to Ted Hong, the company’s chief marketing officer.

Fandango is now testing barcodes that can be scanned in theaters when tix are purchased on cell phones. Two exhibitors are currently testing the service, with a third coming on board soon.

But as consumers rely more on their cell phones to text and tweet, their increased usage in theaters is turning off moviegoers to the point where exhibs need to remove them during screenings.

“When someone’s not happy (about the no cell phone policy), I say tell your friends,” said Landmark Theaters CEO Ted Mundorff, adding that “the worst offenders are the acquisition people at film festivals. It’s already against all odds that these films get picked up.”

Panelists also stressed the merits of social media as a tool to boost ticket sales, whether sites like Twitter, Facebook or Eventful are being used on a mobile device or not.

“Letting people be part of the process pays off in spades,” said Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful. “That’s what social media is for,” adding that an online campaign that interacts with potential moviegoers creates “a sense of affiliation, belonging and kinship” which “translates to theatergoing.”

Fandango’s Hong agreed, saying, “The power of online is it’s much more of a dialogue. TV is still one way.”

All agreed that the growth of online advertising means studios need to figure out how to speak with audiences in a new way.

“We want to protect the theatrical window,” Hong said, “but we want studios to stop marketing and start connecting with audiences to the point where it doesn’t feel like marketing.”

And Landmark’s Mundorff requested that studios spend more to support a film after it opens in theaters.

“A lot of the time they’re not supported,” he said.

Mundorff isn’t a fan of discounting ticket prices to fill seats. He didn’t approve of Lionsgate’s pair-up with Groupon and Fandango to discount tickets for “The Lincoln Lawyer” earlier this year.

“When the consumer is buying a $6 ticket you are devaluing movies,” he said.

But the ploy worked for Fandango and Lionsgate, which said 89% of the people who took advantage of the discount said “they would not have seen the movie had it not been for Groupon,” Hong said.

Mundorff doesn’t foresee a time when film ads no longer appear in newspapers.

“People read reviews and reviews drive our business,” Mundorff said. “If the industry abandons newspapers, newspapers will abandon reviews.”

The Alamo Drafhouse chain of theaters is relying on positive word of mouth and serving alcohol in a more laidback setting to attract auds.

“Our theaters are churches, and my goal is to preach to cinema fans of different denominations,” said Henri Mazza, chief creative officer of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

The Texas-based chain has 10 locations, mostly around the state, and one in Winchester, Virginia, but is looking to expand into Los Angeles and New York soon.

“The first couple of years was about perfecting the experience,” Mazza said.