Thursday, October 05, 2006

Movie Tickets For The 21st Century "Mobility" World

MBO is proud to be launching at Emagine Theaters as they always seek to provide you the best experience in theater entertainment. That is why they are the first in offering you the convenience of MBO (trademark). The future is in your hands... Stay Tuned! Image Credit: Mobile Box Office

Movie Tickets For The 21st Century "Mobility" World

There was a time one had to go to the theater and stand in line to buy a ticket to see a movie.

Then along came the era where virtually every home had a computer where one would log-on, buy a ticket, go to theater and find the kiosk that one could retrieve the ticket with the insertion of a credit card. There are some of us who are still just getting the hang of this process.

Well, let's get used to the future. Today, we all would feel lost without a cellphone. We feel naked if we left home and forgot to bring along our phone. What if the cellphone we carried could buy tickets via a phonecall to the theater, and then we never had to stand in any line anywhere to get a ticket? How about if one would just have to show up with the phone they purchased the ticket with ... and have the screen scanned by the usher and you're in!?

Excerpts from the Film Journal International -

By Doris Toumarkine - FJI-VNU - Sep. 21, 2006

Made in Europe and Asia, but made for America?

In yet another example of innovative entertainment products, services, amenities and ideas incubating and flourishing overseas before finding their way stateside, mobile movie ticketing (m-ticketing) that turns cell-phones into bar-coded movie tickets has just arrived. Just maybe, such ticketing - different from printing tickets on home computers or retrieving them at theatres or their kiosks - will become as American as adopted leisure imports like rock videos, neon, anime, discotheques, reality shows, wine bars and even great coffee at every corner.

At least Michigan-based Emagine Entertainment, an exhibitor that operates 46 screens in three locations, thinks so. Last January, Emagine announced an agreement for the first of their three theatres with Michigan-based MobilRelay's
Mobile Box Office (MBO), the only service that allows U.S. moviegoers to use mobile phones as tickets.

The barcode-based MBO service, initially begun for all shows at the 18-screen Emagine Canton, is now available at the 18-screen Emagine Novi Theatre. Chris Brandt, VP of operations for Emagine, expects an imminent rollout to a third venue, the ten-screen Hollywood Cinema in mid-Michigan.

MBO initiated their barcode-based software in the two theatres and, after glitches were fixed following the first rollout, the service is running smoothly. It goes something like this: All that cell-phone users need on their devices are color screens (for the color branding that MBO provides for its business customers) and web access. To order tickets to any Emagine show, filmgoers use their cells to go to MBO's website, where they order tickets and, as in ordering tickets online or over the phone, supply credit card information. Once all is approved and confirmed, customers receive a confirmation barcode on their cell display that is later read by a scanner operated by theatre personnel at the theatre's entry point. The whole point of m-ticketing is to allow filmgoers to bypass the box-office lines or the wait at kiosks. Filmgoers love the convenience; exhibitors love the extra time filmgoers have to buy concessions.

Says Emagine's Brandt, "It all works smoothly, provided the filmgoer has pulled up the appropriate screen [with the barcode]. Otherwise, it can take time for whoever's manning the scanner to find the barcode, as [cell-phone] devices or services can vary." He adds that it's important that theatre personnel be properly trained on the scanner - although the procedure is not difficult - and that these personnel are used efficiently. For instance, getting managers during off-peak to deal with the scanners can take extra time.

For maximum efficiency, Brandt says the solution is to get ushers on the scanners. And those ushers must also be savvy enough to help customers find their ticket barcodes on their phones. The variety of carriers and devices doesn't make this easier.

Brandt explains that Emagine has about 20 ushers at each theatre and, thanks to ease of use, they can all master the scanners. "The trick is to be able to get the tickets up on the cell-phone screens. Sometimes our customers need a little training in retrieving the barcodes from the website, but once it's up on their screens, it's easy. For customers to arrive at entry points with that done is so helpful. And once they've gone through the e-ticketing process smoothly, they love it. It's about convenience, the fact that they can bypass a line of people at the box office."

Color LCD screen with barcode that can be read by ushers. Image Credit: Mobile Box Office

Variety aside, even the march of technology itself can present a problem: "Because some of the newer [device] screens are so small, MBO had to switch from 12-number barcodes to ten so that they would fit," says Brandt.
Emagine works with MBO in their aggressive marketing campaign to promote the m-ticketing service. The tagline - "What can your phone do?" - is at the heart of the campaign, which involves both in-theatre advertising and outside promotions.

In-theatre, Emagine features MBO-produced m-ticketing commercials during their pre-shows. Says Brandt, "These are full-motion videos, not slide shows. There are also MBO posters in front of the box office, plus MBO has reps at the theatres Friday and Saturday nights promoting the service by handing out cards."
Predictably, the primary MBO users are young adults, not kids, aged 18 to 30, who also comprise the main filmgoing demographic. Explains Brandt, 'This more or less also mirrors the 12 to 24 year-olds, that segment of the population that uses their cell-phones for so many things, especially texting. Many seniors use cells, but they'd never dream of using MBO."

Yet m-ticketing marketers may soon be calling all seniors: Seniors, unlike many teens, have credit cards and, for now, m-ticketing requires credit card payment.

Like its users, MBO's service is young and has a way to go in terms of amassing new customers. Brandt says that the percentage of tickets sold through MBO in July was about one percent, but points out that that percentage doesn't look so weak, considering July attendance at the two MBO-powered theatres was about 175,000.

Even the entrenched online movie ticket services don't do a whole lot better. The New York Times recently reported that for the non-blockbuster films, only about five percent or less of total tickets sold are through these established online services.
In Europe, Asia and Oceania, music and sports fans have been using their mobile phones as tickets to music and sports events for several years; more recently, m-ticketing for movies has become the latest phenomenon.

As Brandt says, "Europe is light years ahead of us with this [m-ticketing] thing." Much of this overseas maturity has to do with the fact that these other markets have been way ahead of the U.S. with regard to cell-phone use and text messaging. But there are signs that the U.S. is catching up.

According to Verizon Wireless spokesperson Brenda Rainey, the carrier, one of the country's biggest, already has 54.8 million customers, with many of these responsible for the 12 billion text messages that were exchanged during the second quarter of this year. For the same quarter, 232 million picture messages were sent over Verizon.

All Verizon Wireless phones are capable of text messaging and all camera phones can send and receive picture messages, so barcodes will travel easily. And, at ten cents per text message, texting - done mostly by the young and shallow-pocketed - is cheap. Even picture messaging is only 25 cents to send or receive. And subscribers to this messaging service, mainly kids, get a deal via bundled packages, although Verizon also has a pay-as-you-go program for those who text less frequently.
But just as technology gives, it also takes a little away, especially when it comes to the challenge of different markets and different devices embracing different formats. There are several kinds of text messages used worldwide, upon which m-ticketing is dependent. These are SMS (short message service), which is actually a binary service and is the simplest. There's also MMS (multimedia sending) and the more obscure EMS. All are pushed through the Net by WAP (Wireless Application Protocol).

EMS, which stands for Enhanced Messaging Service, is an extension of SMS on several networks. A collaboration of such device manufacturers as Ericsson and Motorola, it handles messages that can be displayed as SMS transmissions. But phones that are not EMS-enabled won't be able to deliver EMS' special text formatting (such as bold or italic) or its images and sounds.
But the U.S. presents a different situation. He continues: "Carriers in the U.S. have generally chosen not to support binary SMS, so they are primarily delivering with a mix of MMS and WAP push. In Canada, it's a mix of all three. But whatever the kind of message, the user experience is very similar. A message arrives on the cell-phone, you open it, the ticket is displayed and this same ticket gets scanned for event access."

Paradoxically, as Cameron has it, the U.S. is both behind and ahead. M-ticketing may just be getting its start here, but "the U.S. is jumping beyond SMS, which is what has really caught on in Europe and Asia, and embracing MMS/WAP."
And MBO has "imagined" growing its business beyond Emagine. "We're talking to a very big national chain right now and we'll probably announce that launch in a month or two. It will be in one or two theatres in Texas and will precede a monthly rollout."
Hopefully, being an early adopter of m-ticketing will also pay off, but it's ultimately just about selling tickets, stupid! Declares Brandt, "I couldn't care less where [customers] buy tickets, as long as they buy."

Beyond short lines, long lines and online, there's that all-important bottom line. Says Brandt, hitting a metaphorical pause button as m-ticketing rages on: "Ultimately, the future of the theatre business will depend on the quality of films, no matter where the technology takes you."

Which doesn't mean a soft focus on where that might be. Brandt asserts, "I think we'll see that MBO is at the right place at the right time."

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