Movie industry embraces old enemy: The cellphone
LOS ANGELES -- Looking to buck the line at the Regency Bruin in Los Angeles' Westwood neighborhood? 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 y...
LOS ANGELES -- Looking to buck the line at the Regency Bruin in Los Angeles' Westwood neighborhood? 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.
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 applications that help consumers get to the movie theater, share their movie plans with friends and family 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 who 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 percent to $10.2 billion in 2011, while theater admissions dropped 4.2 percent to 1.28 billion -- the lowest level since 1995, according to Hollywood.com.
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 percent 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.
"Customers are starting to gravitate toward mobile technology," said Amy Miles, chief executive of Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater circuit, which won approval from Apple last week to offer its own movie app. "I do think it's going to be an avenue of growth because it offers a more convenient way to access our theaters."
A survey released last month from mobile advertising network Greystripe found that 53 percent of smartphone users and 27 percent of iPad users search for movie listings, times and locations on their mobile devices.
"Not only are mobile users going to the movies more frequently, they are using their mobile devices at every step of the process, from learning about new movies and watching trailers to scouring times and locations, finding the theater and even completing the process with a purchase," said Jim Zarley, CEO of Greystripe parent company ValueClick, one of the world's largest digital marketing companies.