Online Ticketing: Making the Jump to Light Speed

Nowadays, the force is strong to jump online or use highly accessible mobile apps to book tickets to the latest trending film. However, while many cinemas in the Republic of Highly-Technological Chains are well served by strong network connections and infrastructure, other cinema circuits in Outer Rim areas with no online sales facilities still look for a solution to enable moviegoers to purchase tickets online.

Nobody can deny that today’s society is one of convenience. With the technology sector continually looking to humor our desire to save time and increase efficiency we’ve become used to having access to the world through our fingertips.

We’ve all heard about the highly disgruntled moviegoers who were unable to secure their presale tickets to the debut screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  With a squadron of fans taking to online platforms to secure their seats, some online ticketing solutions were unable to keep up with the demand. Yoda offered sound advice — “Patience you must have” — but that didn’t keep a multitude of fans from taking to social media to voice their frustrations as their online purchase failed.

Online ticketing trends across the galaxy

China’s box office boom has seen an increase in the use of online and mobile ticketing systems, with around 35% of tickets purchased online through third-party ticketing giants (such as Baidu, Alibaba, WeChat, Tencent) that sell tickets at greatly reduced prices. Moviegoers like the low cost and ability to select seats when buying online, with nearly two-thirds of online ticket sales made on smartphones. Third party sellers pre-purchase cinema tickets in bulk, providing cinemas with the security of a guaranteed number of sold seats. The benefit these companies get from this business is that they gather behavioral data on customers that they can use for cross-industry marketing.

In comparison, it is estimated that only around 20% of the 1.3 billion movie tickets sold annually in the USA are purchased online, largely through online-ticketing platforms such as Fandango and (well-known fixtures in the moviegoing landscape). USA moviegoers tend to only use online ticketing platforms when there is a fear of missing out on seats to highly-anticipated film releases. Online ticket purchases rise to as much as 55 - 60% of sales on an opening night for tent pole movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games.  It is worth noting that roughly 5,000 USA cinema sites still aren’t currently wired for online sales.

Fifty Shades of Grey is like a fantasy come true for online movie ticket sellers. An adaptation of a best-selling novel with a rabid fan base has translated into huge advance sales from people who want to make sure they have a seat for the movie’s debut…

Ben Fritz and Erich Schwartzel, Online Tickets Seek Bigger Role at the Movies, The Wall Street Journal, February 12 2015

When FOMO plays mind tricks

Turning moviegoing into an online business will require a shift in patron thinking and behavior. The industry is recognizing the importance of the overall cinema experience: boutique theatres, luxury seating, and high-end food and beverage facilities. With such a large number of multiplexes and screens, there is a need to shift the motivation for online ticket sales from ‘fear of not getting a seat’ to ‘getting the best seat’.

But if you listen to moviegoers’ online conversations, online ticket sales are a point of controversy. In Australia, most major cinema chains charge $1 - $1.20 per ticket for an online booking. For luxury and gold class tickets, the charge can increase dramatically, adding almost 10% to the ticket cost.

While advanced bookings through online ticket sales generate additional revenue through surcharges, chains argue that online bookings are a priority service that help people get their preferred seats while  reducing wait times and lines at the cinema. They also help studios capture the data they need to better manage their session planning and better understand moviegoer preferences and behavior.

Regardless, online discussion from loyal cinema fans suggests that there would be an increase in online sales if surcharges were removed. Consumers feel online bookings should save cinemas time and money through the reduction in staff overheads. The UK chain Cineworld was the first cinema chain to remove all booking fees and offer pre-booked seats at a lower price than seats purchased at the cinema. Cineworld found that the resulting increase in bookings more than compensated for the loss of the booking fee.

A Jedi-like solution for markets without online sales facilities

Cinema chains work hard to ensure they’re offering their moviegoers the latest innovations. With clean, intuitive website interfaces and savvy, full-featured mobile apps, moviegoers are offered convenient and time-saving options for online ticketing sales. But while most of us take these services for granted, there is a significant portion of the global population who can’t take advantage of this functionality. These people are ‘unbanked’ and live without a bank account, missing the conveniences that you and I (the ‘banked’) take for granted. In the USA, it’s estimated that about 8% of households are unbanked. In South Asia, 78% of working adults are unbanked, and in sub-Saharan Africa the number grows to 88%!

There are also a number of reasons why in some countries it’s difficult for people to make purchases online. These reasons include limited consumer access to credit cards, limited or no banks providing online purchase facilities, high transactions costs, lack of trust in passing on credit card details, and local legislation regarding credit card purchases. Regardless, these countries still have a desire to enable moviegoers to purchase their cinema tickets online. 

Vista’s Vouchers and Gift Cards (VGC) can provide a solution for cinema chains that want to offer the freedom of online ticketing to moviegoers with no or limited access to online sales facilities. VGC enables the sale and redemption of different types of voucher and gift cards though multiple sales channels (such as POS and Vista Kiosk). By making gift cards available for purchase at the cinema, moviegoers can use their gift card as a payment option when purchasing tickets online through the cinema’s website. As extra security for moviegoers, VGC enables PIN numbers to be assigned to gift cards. VGC is flexible and powerful, providing cinema operators with tools to promote their brand, introduce new customers, and drive repeat business while helping to manage and account for vouchers and gift cards from production to distribution and redemption.

If your cinema runs a loyalty program, another option is to use Vista’s Loyalty to enable loyalty members to purchase tickets with their accumulated loyalty points. An alternative for loyalty members is to enable moviegoers to purchase loyalty points with cash at the cinema, and then use these points to redeem rewards via your cinema’s website. 

Other possibilities include allowing unpaid bookings through POS or Call Centre, though these options come with disadvantages such as potential malicious overbooking of sessions and increased Call Centre staffing costs.

In a galaxy of possibilities, technology continues to offers us ticketing solutions that benefit the empires of large markets and the more remote reaches of underserved populations. For now, different sales channels that rely on payment options and platforms beyond the standard browser-based website continue to support consumer choice. As online infrastructure improves rapidly, the jump into the online ticketing hyperspace will become even easier for cinemas and moviegoers alike, wherever they may be.

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