MOBILE APPeal: Interview with Matthew Bakal, Chairman & Co-Founder, Atom Tickets

As digital ticketing continues to heat up in the North American market, BOXOFFICE speaks with Atom Tickets Chairman & Co-Founder Matthew Bakal to get an update on the mobile ticketing app that wants to put concessions ordering front and center for the moviegoer.

You’ve added a number of high-profile exhibitors in 2018, what do these new business ties mean to the company?

We came out of the gates strong with Regal and AMC, launching nationwide in the summer of 2016. Obviously, they get a good share of the market covered, and we’ve been adding exhibitors, at least one a month, since then.

During CinemaCon we announced nine new exhibitors that were launched this summer, including Harkins Theatres. In the last year, we’ve rolled out everybody from ArcLight to Megaplex to National Amusements to Studio Movie Grill to Bowtie to B&B. You name it, the list is growing every day.

So we’re over 20,000 screens, and they’re 20,000 of the highest volume screens in terms of box office. It’s been really exciting, a testament to the fact that the product is resonating with exhibitors and consumers alike. 

The first couple of conversations I had with Atom were about the technology and its potential. Now, we’re talking about a product and its footprint.  What is some of the feedback you’ve heard, both from exhibitors and moviegoers, throughout the last year? Have there been any features that particularly connected with those segments?

We love new ideas. We love bringing more innovation. At CinemaCon, a lot of our conversations were around the concessions experience. Overall, the two features that have really resonated are social and concessions. Concerning social, it’s been about inviting friends or family members to come with you to the movies. From an exhibitor point of view, that takes a pragmatic dimension: can we get one extra visit a year? That could happen because you want to see the movie, or you might want to go because your sister is going. Either of those reasons will have you show up to the movie. That’s why our social feature has really resonated.

The second is the concessions piece. We have an amazing team; really good technology from Amazon, Google, Facebook–but you also have to be a little bit lucky. In our case, one of the key things that’s happened in the last two years is Starbucks and others–Dominos, Subway, McDonald’s–have launched pre-order products. So what it’s taught consumers is: you order, you pay on your phone, then you pick up. No more standing in line. We’re the ones bringing that to movie theaters.

We had this idea around the same time Starbucks was testing. We were in a couple small theaters, AMC and Regal locations in Ohio and Tennessee. We put up a small sign saying “Pick up here” and a little velvet rope so it felt VIP, but it was a really simple implementation. It started working; we saw more and more incidents of people buying concessions and greater basket sizes. On your app, it’s really easy to add one more thing to your cart. There’s no pressure to pick and move on from people in line behind you. You have all the time in the world to make your choices. It has really resonated with consumers and exhibitors who are seeing their concessions sales go up. We’re already doing it in over 200 Regal and about 50 AMC locations.

How much do you collaborate with users to roll out new features to the app?

The good thing about technology: technology is built to be optimized. So we’re learning things every day. Among our exhibitor partners, the General Managers are always the most helpful because they know what’s happening in the theater, they’re there every day. The GM’s said it would be great to have a “Prepare Now” button. Maybe you’re in the mall walking around and you’re about to come into the theater. So we said that’s a great idea, let’s go build it. About 60 days later, we had a ‘Prepare Now’ button. We tested it in a few theaters, it worked really well, so we rolled it out to the whole platform.

Millennials are a popular demographic when it comes to purchases from mobile apps, does that align with your user base?

Our average user is 27 years old, evenly split male/female. Very diverse, only about 40 percent Caucasian. Which is to say we look a lot like the Millennial and the Gen Z population of the United States and Canada. That’s a point of pride and differentiation for us. We’re bringing incrementality amongst younger moviegoers. That is different than who you’ll see buying through other channels, like at the box office, other online ticket sellers, or through loyalty programs. 

Atom Tickets is also a digital ticketing destination for event cinema. Have you developed any insights on usage of events through partners like Fathom Events? 

We power the Fathom website for tickets, and I think it’s been a good partnership for both of us. It’s all about incrementality, helping  people who want to go and see concerts or revivals or an opera at the movies. Part of the issue is not the content itself, it’s reaching the customers to make them aware of the content. We think we have a great platform to be able to do that. 

As a third-party ticketer, what are some of the advantages that exhibitors can lean on by working with you?

The studios are putting great content up on the screen. The exhibitors, I think, are innovating where they should be innovating: adding better seating, adding reserved seating, adding upgraded food and concessions, adding bars. There is a concept in economics of comparative advantage. Focus on your speciality. We’re technologists.

For us, we want to be there from when a consumer thinks about going to a movie to when they enter the lobby. How do we make that a seamless experience? Then they get to their seat and maybe have their food delivered to them–no need to pull out a wallet, no need to stand in line. If we make it that much easier, could we get you to go one more time a year to the movies? If we could, based on 1.3 billion tickets sold last year, it would be a really big deal. That’s the simple goal. I come back to comparative advantage. We’ll focus on our piece, the exhibitors focus on their piece, the studios focus on their piece. 

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