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'Potter' Fans Laying It Online

Cinema: Filmgoers are already wild about 'Harry' and are using Internet ticketing in record numbers.

November 15, 2001|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Parents who don't want their children to miss "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" have bought more than $3 million of tickets online to the likely blockbuster, quadrupling records for advance movie sales on the Internet.

A trio of fledgling online ticket firms had sold more than 500,000 "Potter" tickets by Wednesday, and they are expected to sell nearly 1 million tickets nationwide by Friday when the Warner Bros. film opens. The online ticket firms add a service fee of 50 cents to $1.50 per ticket, and in some areas consumers can even print tickets at home.

"We've never seen anything like this," said Mitch Rubenstein, co-chief executive of Movietickets.com, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based partnership of AMC Theaters, Hollywood Media Corp. and National Amusements, the theater chain owned by the family of Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone. (Tribune Co., publisher of The Times, has a 9% stake in Hollywood Media.)

So far only a handful of films, including "Pearl Harbor," "Monsters, Inc." and "Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace" have generated significant advance online movie sales. But the firms hope "Potter" will make online sales more commonplace.

"It's not going to be like this for every single movie," said Art Levitt, chief executive of Fandango, a ticket firm in Santa Monica owned by seven theater chains, including Edwards Theatres, Loews Cineplex Entertainment, General Cinema and Regal Cinemas. "But this movie is helping raise awareness of online movie ticketing, and a lot of the traffic ... will stick."

Movietickets and Fandango opened last year; another rival, Moviefone, began offering tickets online in 1995 and is now owned by AOL Time Warner Inc.

Online ticket sales for "Potter" began two weeks ago and are fueling much of the Internet hype surrounding the movie, said Stacey Herron, an analyst with Jupiter Media Metrix.

After monitoring Internet sales through last weekend, Loews added six additional show times a day in a Manhattan theater, said Tommy McGloin, senior vice president and general manager of Moviefone.

But some Warner Bros. studio executives worry that moviegoers will be discouraged and stay home this weekend after hearing that some performances already have sold out.

"Online ticket sales represents a very small portion of our overall ticket sales. More than 99[%] of our ticket sales will be sold at the box office," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

About 2% of moviegoers nationwide will buy tickets online this year, compared with 10% for sporting events and 20% for concerts, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. "Internet ticket sales for movies have been increasing slowly, with the emphasis on 'slowly,"' Herron said.

For consumers, the online ticket services are not without glitches.

One problem is that no one service covers all theater chains.

Movietickets sells for AMC Entertainment, National Amusements and several smaller chains in the Midwest. Moviefone sells for United Artists, Pacific, Mann and Loews, and Fandango has Edwards Theatres, General Cinema, Regal Cinema, Century and Loews.

But Movietickets and Moviefone will switch users to their rivals' sites if consumers are trying to buy tickets for a theater that they do not cover.

Fandango is having its own set of problems. Its system cannot access any of Edwards' theaters because the movie chain is upgrading its ticketing system. Fandango expects to sell tickets online for Edwards' theaters by the end of the weekend.

Still, the firms report that online users are buying more tickets for "Potter" than other films. Previously, an average online sale was 2.5 tickets, but users are buying more than six tickets for "Potter," said Movietickets' Rubenstein.

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