Mobile movie tickets still not really here

21 Jun

If you’re a film buff like me, you’re probably always hunting for good apps that help make the movie-going and viewing experience more enjoyable. The first two apps I usually install on any device I come across are therefore Flixster and IMDB.

Flixster is great because it uses a phone’s GPS to locate nearby theatres and then displays showtimes. You can save your favourite theatres, watch trailers and even read reviews. IMDB, meanwhile, is the portable version of the Internet Movie Database website, and it’s integral to solving drunken arguments in bars over trivia, i.e. “The mother from Modern Family was the female lead in Happy Gilmore? No way, you’re an idiot! [Looking it up on IMDB] Oh… wait, you’re right.”

I was thus disappointed the other day when I tried to use Cineplex’s app to buy tickets in advance for a movie.

Here’s the story: I go to the movies once or twice a week, so I know the drill well. If you go on opening weekend, it’s wise to get there early, especially if it’s a big blockbuster-type flick. Usually an hour will do. I rarely stand in the human cashier line, since buying tickets at the automated kiosks is usually much faster (and makes one feel less like cattle). This way, I’m in the theatre at least half an hour before showtime, which is enough to get a decent seat. I often chuckle at the people who show up five minutes before and are forced to leave because the only seats left are in the front row. Clearly they’re rookies who don’t go to the movies very often.

The fact is, if you’re not there at least 30 minutes before you’ll find the movie either sold out or there won’t be any good seats left. I’ve written before about how this could be solved with the assigned seating system that’s common in other parts of the world, but that would run counter to theatres’ chains interest in packing people in early. The earlier people come to the theatre, the more advertising they can be sold.

Now then - what if you could get your ticket ahead of time? If you didn’t have to stand in line, even the shorter one for the automated kiosks, that could shave a good 20 to 30 minutes off how early you need to get to the theatre. That is, of course, the thinking behind buying tickets online and printing them off at home, to be scanned by the ushers at the theatre.

But what about those of us who are deathly opposed to printing anything? Well, that’s where the mobile app should come into play.

Cineplex, Canada’s main movie chain, launched its mobile app back in November, which allows smartphone users to do just that - they can buy tickets from anywhere and don’t necessarily have to be at home to do it.

Hold on, though, there’s a big problem - the app either sends you a ticket, which must then be printed out, or you have to pick it up at one of the automated kiosks. What the app doesn’t do is provide some sort of mobile ticket that can be scanned by ushers right off the phone.

That seems to defeat the purpose. If you have to print at home or stand in line at the theatre, the app seems kind of useless, doesn’t it? Even airlines have figured this out: Air Canada, for example, sends customers an e-ticket that can then be scanned in at the airport gate right from the phone.

I was perplexed, so I spoke to one of Cineplex’s PR folks. He explained that the problem lies in security; there’s currently no way to prevent abuse of such a system. If there was a scannable phone e-ticket, people could simply pass the phone back and forth to each other and sneak their friends into the theatre. I wondered if there were some sort of low-tech solution that could be paired with the e-ticket, such as the customer having to present identification along with it, but that’s apparently not practical for staff to handle at busy times. This is where an airline, where security is often tight, has an advantage over a movie theatre.

Cineplex is working on a solution that is near completion, I’m told. Still, as one person pointed out on Twitter, this current high-tech problem doesn’t seem any different from the age-old low-tech re-entry problem. What’s to stop a group of people from entering the theatre with paper tickets, then one person going outside and passing those tickets to other friends who then get in for free? It seems to be the same thing.

As it stands, the current app only really guarantees that you get a ticket. Whether that ticket translates into a decent seat still often depends on how early you get to the theatre.

Here’s hoping Cineplex figures out its security issue so those of us who love going to the theatre can get truly mobile tickets and thereby save ourselves some time.

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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in apple, Google, movies


4 Responses to Mobile movie tickets still not really here

  1. Link Journal

    June 21, 2011 at 12:46 am

    nice share, i like it

  2. Daniel Friesen

    June 21, 2011 at 4:30 am

    The only argument of paper over the phone I can think of is that the paper tickets get ripped.

    In that case for a high-tech solution to this high-tech ticket problem how about this:
    Embed a QR code with a uuid for the issued ticket, the qr code is scanned by the usher, the device pings the server notifying that the ticket has been used, getting an ok back the device gives an ok beep and a green light. After that scanning the same qr code will give a error beep and a red light signifying that the ticket has been scanned, or “ripped” as you would a paper ticket.

    For bonus points:
    - If the user has a data connection send some data back to the app letting it know the ticket has been scanned and visually notifying the user of this.
    - Where possible instead of a QR code use NFC and eliminate camera focus issues.
    - Code in some knowledge of movie times and what the movie is and give red lights and messages to expired tickets, and if the usher is right at the movie theater door give a red light to a ticket for the wrong movie.

  3. Clayton Lee

    June 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I don’t know if it is different in the US/Canada - but when I go to either a concert or s sporting event at a major venue in Australia, the ticket is only good for one entry - if you try to scan it again it will give an error.

    Now this would only work for cinemas where you get scanned at the entry to all of the theaters - so then you are free to move around and go to the toilets etc without having to re enter through a ticketing checkpoint - but it seems like that is how it works in North America from my experience in NY last week.

    • sparkyd

      June 22, 2011 at 11:10 am

      What he said. There are venues that do this all the time - it’s not new. If I go to a hockey game they scan my ticket and I need to see an usher (or whatever they call the people scanning the tickets) if I want to be able to leave and come back in. The ticket is worthless once it is scanned. I remember this from a Cirque du Soleil show about 8 years ago as well. That is way more secure than their regular paper tickets with a rip in them. Seems they need some new techie people over at Cineplex.


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