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Box Office Going Mobile

Once wary, theaters now embrace selling tickets via smartphones

March 11, 2012|Richard Verrier
  • UCLA students Allison Fassett, left, and Ryan Hatcher use Fandangos mobile ticket scanner at the Regency Bruin in Westwood. Regency hopes the scanners will help breathe new life into the 75-year-old theater.
UCLA students Allison Fassett, left, and Ryan Hatcher use Fandangos mobile… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Looking to buck the line at the Regency Bruin in Westwood? It's fine if you bring your smartphone.

Within a few weeks, you'll be able to skip the box-office line and head straight to your seat by swiping your mobile device over a scanner. It can read the bar code of an electronic ticket purchased with an app that also gives show times, movie reviews and seating information.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, March 14, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Smartphones at theaters: An article in the March 11 Business section about smartphones changing the movie theater business said that the Regency Bruin in Westwood was owned by Regency Theatres. Although Regency operates the Bruin and owns its furnishings and equipment, the theater is owned by the Margaret Skouras Martyn family.

Phones in the theater were once regarded as a nuisance, or worse -- the embodiment of a mobile revolution that was dragging consumers away from the multiplex.

These days, theaters welcome them. Along with better seats, 3-D projectors and upscale snacks, smartphones, iPads and other tablets are changing the century-old exhibition business, presenting opportunity for growth in an industry trying to stay relevant in the digital age.

"With box office having been down last year, it's important to use technology in every possible way to drive the industry forward, and we think mobile is the core of that," said Nicholas Lehman, an NBCUniversal executive who oversees several digital properties, including the online ticket service Fandango.

"It puts more people into seats, sells more tickets and creates a better experience for users."

Already there are dozens of phone apps that help consumers get to the movie theater, share their movie plans with friends and family on Facebook and receive special offers on concessions. A new app called MoviePal enables users to store trailers on their cellphones while sitting in the auditorium, and then sends them a reminder when the movie from the tagged trailer is being released.

Movie Night Out suggests things to do before and after the film and recommends restaurants and clubs. RunPee tells you the best time during a movie to take a bathroom break -- to "help you enjoy your moviegoing experience and relieve your bladder at the same time," according to the company's website.

For theater chains, which have been spending millions upgrading theaters to install digital and 3-D projectors, mobile devices represent another way to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences that have not been going to the theater as much as their parents did. Although ticket sales have rebounded so far this year, domestic box-office revenue fell 3.4% to $10.2 billion in 2011, while theater admissions dropped 4.2% to 1.28 billion -- the lowest level since 1995, according to Hollywood.com.

Whether all of the apps are driving more people to the multiplex is unclear, but they are making the process more efficient.

Ben Cook, a 29-year-old film production executive, frequently uses ArcLight's app to make last-minute ticket purchases on his iPhone and reserve seats at the Hollywood and Sherman Oaks theaters so that he and his wife can sit with friends. He also uses the Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes app to get cinema scores and watch trailers.

"I don't plan too far ahead, so being able to make decisions on the fly about what movies we're going to see and where we will be sitting in the theater is a great experience," Cook said. "It makes planning to go to the movies a lot easier."

Cook said that he and his wife took in a double feature at the ArcLight in Hollywood, deciding at the last minute to watch "Chronicle" after viewing "Safe House." Because the movies were only a few minutes apart, to save time they reserved their seats for "Chronicle" while the end credits rolled for "Safe House."

In Westwood on a recent Saturday night, Bruin owner Regency Theatres was testing one of the mobile ticket scanners being installed at most of the chain's 29 theaters in Southern California as part of a new deal with Fandango.

Regency is hoping that the mobile scanners will help target students from near- by UCLA and breathe new life into the 75-year-old theater.

"These students are on the Internet and they're on their phones," said Lyndon Golin, chief executive of Calabasas-based Regency. "If they want to see 'Dark Shadows,' they can call it up on their phones, check the showtimes, purchase a ticket and guarantee that they will have a seat without having to wait in line at the box office. It's about offering more access and making the moviegoing experience more convenient."

Mobile access is paying off for some movies in particular, such as "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1" and "The Vow," the romantic drama starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. On Valentine's Day, 50% of Fandango's ticket sales for "The Vow" came from mobile devices.

Mobile ticket sales also contributed to record first-day box-office revenue for the upcoming movie "The Hunger Games," which already has sold out hundreds of showtimes in advance of the film's March 23 release.

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