This might be the saddest Datacember story of them all for the sole reason that there is no one out there to read it. Everyone on the planet (this one and maybe some others) is at “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Or if they’re not there, they’re packing the malls and aisles at Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, Kohl’s — or sitting at their computers or tapping on their smartphones, buying Star Wars lightsabers, Star Wars action figures, Star Wars Lego sets or Star Wars jewelry, bedspreads, lipstick, aprons, waffle makers or on and on. (Datacember will tackle the huge haul from Star Wars related products some other time.)
And yes, movie ticket sales are good. Consider the massive pre-sales generated by the movie, opening in select theaters today and worldwide Friday. It has me bracing for the sequel — “Star Wars: The World Has Run Out of Popcorn.”
Fandango says the latest Wookie-packed production has broken all pre-sales records — by a lot, according to Deadline Hollywood. By Tuesday, Star Wars tickets were accounting for 90 percent of the company’s sales, Deadline says. The first-day box office was expected to easily surpass $50 million. Vox put the advance sales figure at eight times higher than the first-day pre-sales for any other film.
Over at AMC theaters, they’re saying that advance sales for the movie already have broken its single-day sales record by 10 times. And MovieTimes.com says Star Wars sales on Monday accounted for 91 percent of its sales and that the day’s sales were three times their entire sales on Friday, Deadline Hollywood says.
The smart money in Hollywood — and yes, there is smart money in Hollywood — says the movie could easily go where few films have gone before. (I know. I know. Star Trek reference.) The potential weekend haul, says Deadline Hollywood: a cool $150 million, a 38-percent boost over franchise chart-topper “Revenge of the Sith.”
The pre-sale numbers are staggering, but what they say about consumers’ changing habits is probably more significant. Consumers, you see, are buying more and more stuff online — perhaps you’ve heard. OK, of course you’ve heard, it’s the movie industry that has been a little slow on the uptake. It’s slow no more.
“While it’s still a nascent piece of the overall business, it’s going to continue to become a bigger and bigger thing,” Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney, told the Los Angeles Times, speaking specifically about advanced sales. “Technology is going to continue to do more to build a relationship with consumers.”
The trend — Fandango says its ticket sales are up 60 percent year over year and competitor MovieTickets.com says its sales are up 40 percent over last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The growing shift in ticket sales is following the shift in most aspects of life — banking; shopping reserving; flights, hotels, rental cars, restaurant tables; job hunting; news and entertainment consuming. And, as the LA Times story points out, it means a new and potentially deeper relationship between the movie businesses and moviegoers.
Online ticket transactions, whether advance sales or not, provide companies like AMC, Fandango and MovieTickets.com with data about movie fans’ preferences — preferences for movies, sure, but also preferences for movie times, the frequency with which they want to see movies and the like.
That means theaters, depending on their relationships with ticketing operations, can plan ahead for the number of screens they’ll need and whether they should expect surges on certain days and at certain times. It means they can personalize offers for discounts or even notifications concerning coming events. (Events like the seven-movie Star Wars marathon in San Jose on opening day.)
The Los Angeles Times, for instance, quotes the CEO of IMAX Entertainment saying that his company has added unusual show times — yeah, 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. strike me as unusual — to feed the demand for “The Force Awakens.”
The increasing availability of data also raises a familiar question: How much consumer information is too much information for the movie industry to have? The answer is as familiar as the question: The key is transparency. As long as moviegoers understand what information they are agreeing to provide in return for buying online, the shift can be a plus for movie fans who receive relevant discounts, Netflix-like recommendations and reserved seats right where they like them.
In the best cases, then, the upside is bigger profits for theaters and better deals and more convenience for consumers. In other words, may the data be with you.
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Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.