Giant cinema chain Cinemark USA, Inc., which specializes in stadium-seating and IMAX theaters, announced Tuesday that it will expand selling tickets via the Internet to 14 Dallas, Texas-area theaters in the next few weeks.
The company said it already has been operating the service for the last two months in test mode at five of the theaters, including its Dallas IMAX theater. Cinemark claims to be the only U.S. theater chain to offer real-time ticketing on the Web.
The Plano, Texas-based company operates 257 theaters with 2,736 screens in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and a number of countries in Central and South America. The company booked 1999 sales of $712 million (US$).
Cinemark worked with Dallas-based Vectrix.com to develop the ticketing technology. The service allows Net users to order tickets directly from an online database of available seating, ensuring that available seats cannot be oversold.
Each ticket has a unique barcoded number that is scanned when entering the theater. While the ticket can be duplicated, only the person whose ticket is scanned can enter the theater.
Initially, Cinemark said that Internet customers must pick up their tickets at a dedicated box-office window. However, the company added that it is developing a special kiosk to dispense tickets automatically, and is also “planning for a completely wireless ticketing system that would accommodate cellular telephones, personal digital assistants such as the Palm Pilot VII, and even printing tickets at home.”
“The Internet is an important communication and service tool,” said Cinemark Vice President Randall Hester. “We decided to develop our own online ticketing system and it has worked very well. Our customers have accepted it and tell us daily how to improve it.”
While Cinemark might be the first major U.S. movie chain to offer real-time ticketing, it is not the first company to announce such a technology.
On the same day last month, both Internet postage provider E-Stamp, Inc. and ticket vendor Ticketmaster.com unveiled nearly identical systems that allow consumers to order and print tickets through their PCs.
Ticketmaster said it spent five years developing the technology. Like the Cinemark ticket, company tickets will be printed with a bar code that can be scanned at the event. In addition to making commissions on the sale of tickets, the company intends to exploit added value in advertisements and promotion space.
E-Stamp, which has based its ticket printing system on its stamp technology, said it intends to sell the system primarily to smaller movie theater chains that are not serviced by Ticketmaster.
While Cinemark, with a base of 257 theaters, has a built-in customer base for its technology, both Ticketmaster and E-Stamp must find customers. Now that Cinemark has beaten them to the market, however, it is likely that other theater operators will beat a path to their doors in order to keep pace — if they have not already.