The Stats Behind Cinema’s Digital Ticketing Boom

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Just as it has done with retail, e-commerce has revolutionized the moviegoing journey. Seeking to better understand customers’ moviegoing journeys, Boxoffice parent company Webedia Movies Pro teamed up with market research firm Vertigo Research to gain valuable insights into how digital technology is changing the practice of going to the cinema. The joint collaboration, known as Boxoffice Profile, surveyed over 100,000 recent moviegoers in the United States on a weekly basis throughout 2018. The project’s findings are now available in a recently published white paper, “From Discovery to Purchase: The Moviegoing Experience Begins Online.” 

The study found that digital ticket purchases increased by 18.7% in 2018, while tickets purchased at the box office decreased by 5.4%. Digital ticket buyers were also found to attend the cinema in groups, buy more concessions, and seek out premium amenities like 3D or reserve seating at a surcharge. 

Boxoffice spoke with Marine Suttle, SVP – Chief Product Officer at Webedia Movies Pro, to get a better sense of the white paper’s findings.

Marine Suttle, SVP – Chief Product Officer, Webedia Movies Pro

What are your main takeaways from the results of this white paper?

The white paper is based on a very extensive and precise set of data giving us an unprecedented look into the behaviors of cinemagoers throughout their whole moviegoing journey. We were therefore able for the first time to comprehensively observe and quantify cinemagoers’ attitudes toward new practices such as e-ticketing, subscriptions to ticketing services, and new technologies at the theater. Perhaps one of the most fundamental takeaways was the importance of digitalization in the average moviegoer’s journey to the cinema. More and more patrons, across all ages, adopt digital tools to find show times and to purchase tickets. What also stood out from this white paper is that people are looking for more premium experiences. Concession sales are up, especially meal purchases which grew by more than 30 percent in 2018. Another striking trend was that moviegoers purchasing their tickets online appear to choose more premium experiences, attend in larger groups, prefer PLF options, reserve more premium seating, and consume more, especially meals and alcoholic beverages. As digital tools allow continuously more premium reservation options, there seems to be a clear, distinct moviegoing path for online shoppers and in-cinema buyers. 

How has the moviegoers’ journey evolved—from show time discovery to ticket purchase—in recent years?

It is undeniable that the multiplication of digital options for show time discovery and ticket purchase has made the moviegoer’s journey much more digitalized. On average in 2018, only 15.3 percent of moviegoers found their show times directly at the theater, and the proportion decreased by 12.5 percent in 2018. Consultation of show times directly on the theater’s website or app is becoming more and more common. Search engines are also key battlegrounds as people increasingly use them not only for show times but also to find a theater’s website. For example, 20.8 percent of moviegoers used Google to look up show times last year. For some websites, more than 75 percent of visitors came from Google, also yielding higher conversions.

When we look at ticket purchases, we note two important trends. First, digital sales are booming. While on average 75.1 percent of ticket sales came from purchases at the cinema, these are decreasing. In 2018 alone, they fell by 5.4 percent. On the contrary, e-ticketing grew by 18.7 percent in 2018, representing 21.3 percent of the market. We need to keep in mind the tremendous potential for growth that digital sales represent. Looking at China can give us a better picture: online ticketing went from 0 percent to 80 percent of the box office in a matter of years. Secondly, the moviegoer’s journey is taking place more and more on their mobile phone. In 2016, according to a Technavio report, the market was dominated by desktop transactions, which accounted for 52.88 percent of the revenue. Today, mobile transactions lead online sales, reaching more than 70 percent of transactions for some cinemas. 

You’ll be participating in a panel on artificial intelligence at CinemaCon 2019. How do you think the next generation of digital data tools will impact the cinema industry?

Much ink has been spilled on AI’s impact on content itself, but AI and machine learning will also transform cinema exhibition. Voice and mobile payments will have a major impact on the industry, creating new opportunities for easier, more seamless show time discovery and purchases. Machine learning could be used to better predict box office results. AI could also be employed to hyper-target returning customers, creating a recommendation system or a personalized list of show times and special deals and events that match the moviegoer’s previous preferences. Blockchain equally represents new opportunities for exhibitors. Incorporating blockchain technology into ticketing platforms could create more secure and interoperable payments. We can even imagine a future where customers are biometrically scanned and greeted by name based on blockchain ticketing platforms. There’s an enormous potential for AI and VR to be coupled to create a unique immersive and interactive experience in the lobby of the theater, perhaps proposing films to come or giving a preview of the movie patrons will watch, creating a whole different discovery experience. 

Have we fulfilled the potential of e-commerce at the movies? What’s the next stage in this evolution?

We have seen a lot of changes in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go. Exhibitors need to embrace technology more dynamically to be able to fully tap into the potential of the trends we’re seeing. A lot remains to be done to build a more robust online presence. The optimization of user experience on apps and websites is essential to attract more moviegoers, yield better conversions, and create stronger and longer-lasting relationships with customers. With the undeniable importance of search engines in discovery and purchase, SEO optimization should also be a primary focus. Moreover, there are more opportunities to increase sales of other products like loyalty programs, gift cards, and even concessions. E-ticketing infrastructures can act as a shop window for other activities. We still need more effort in these areas for the potential of e-commerce to be fulfilled. But technological innovations also offer some exciting opportunities for the future. Mobile payments will certainly become more central to e-commerce as mobile technologies such as Apple Pay and GPay are increasingly used and accepted by retailers. A recent study by Tencent and Ipsos found that 77 percent of all transactions at the theater are made through mobile payment. Another great opportunity is voice technology. We already know that voice is important in the discovery process, but there is more potential for the translation of discovery into transactions. 

How can exhibitors better prepare themselves for this new digital transition that is transforming the industry?

The expertise of exhibitors is to run theaters the best they can. That’s what they should focus on. To better prepare themselves for this new digital transition, exhibitors should surround themselves with technology experts who know how to deploy an optimal digital strategy that fits their needs. They should rely on experts who understand and pay attention to technological trends, in the cinema industry but not only, and who have a better sense of how digital innovation can be used to adapt to ever-changing consumer behaviors. 

Are there any lessons from the tech giants—Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon—that the cinema industry can learn from?

There are a lot of lessons that the cinema industry can learn from the tech giants. A better user experience, with cleaner, easier, and more intuitive show time and ticketing platforms is definitely important. We have witnessed the triumph of Instagram in recent years. That’s a good example of a user-friendly platform that appeals to consumers through images. In the cinema industry, posters, trailers, and other visuals can perhaps play a similar role for marketing on ticketing websites and apps. What tech giants have also understood very well is the need for personalization in a very fragmented and saturated media landscape. They have mastered data to do so. In the cinema industry, data can be used to target moviegoers more precisely in a personalized way to appeal to their preferences based on their previous moviegoing behaviors. Moreover, social media provide a great model for the creation of a direct customer relation. Creating direct links of communication between theaters and moviegoers can prove very helpful to collect data on their behavior, but it can also strengthen brand building. More and more moviegoers choose the films they want to watch because of social recommendations, so that’s another area that the cinema industry can emulate from social media to achieve better targeting and to build community conversations.