Movie Chain Alliance Muscles into Online Ticket Sales

Six of the largest movie chains in the United States announced plans today to form an e-commerce portal where consumers can buy tickets, peruse reviews and view previews.

The alliance is apparently an effort to become less dependent upon America Online’s Moviefone unit, which serves 34 markets in the U.S. and Canada. The venture will also attempt to establish an independent stake in the world of related merchandise.

“We really need to take control of our own destiny,” said Lawrence Ruisi, chief executive of Lowes Cineplex Entertainment Corp., in published reports. “It doesn’t make sense for us anymore to position a third party between us and our ultimate customer.”

Big Players Unite

Other chains involved in the alliance include Edwards Cinemas of Newport Beach, California; Regal Cinemas, Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee; General Cinema Theaters, Inc., a unit of GC Cos. of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; and Century Theaters of San Rafael, California.

Additionally, venture capital firms General Atlantic Partners of Greenwich, Connecticut and Accretive Technology Partners of New York are helping to fund the venture.

According to Ruisi, the e-commerce portal will be funded with $30 million (US$) invested by the partner firms. In addition, J. Michael Cline, the founder of venture firm Accretive Technology, reportedly said that the plan is to eventually take the company public.

Sell Demographic Information, Push E-Mail

Along with generating revenue from advertising and ticket sales, officials added that the new venture will also sell demographic information about moviegoers to film studios and others. It will market movie-related merchandise via e-mail.

The new company, which hopes to begin selling tickets online sometime later this year, also intends to recruit other film exhibitors to its site as well. It is not clear, however, whether the firms will develop their own proprietary technology to sell tickets or choose between similar technologies developed by E-Stamp and Ticketmaster Online.

This new venture is just the latest challenge to AOL Moviefone’s dominance in online ticket sales. Last month, the E-Commerce Times reported that giant cinema chain Cinemark USA, Inc. — which specializes in stadium seating and IMAX theaters — announced plans to sell tickets via the Internet to 14 Dallas, Texas-area theaters.

The Plano, Texas-based Cinemark USA 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.

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