Online ticket purchases ruin a great American pastime

Jerome C. Pandell

There’s a wild Fandango loose in the theater, and it’s giving moviegoers advance tickets, show times – and more than anyone bargained for.

“If I want to see a movie that’s going to be a blockbuster, Fandango saves me from going all the way down to the theater and waiting in line,” Fandango spokeswoman Sallie Green says.

That seems harmless enough.

But by allowing customers to purchase tickets on its Web site, www.fandango.com, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Fandango, Inc., has caused an American cultural icon – the blockbuster movie – to vanish.

Blockbusters such as “Jaws,” the original “Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters,” “Batman” and – though it pains me to admit it – “The Lion King,” are etched into America’s cultural fabric. Watching these films in the theater, a temple of entertainment, became an American pastime in its own right.

But when was the last time you saw the first showing of a film on opening day? How long has it been since you camped out in front of a movie theater, in a line stretching around the block, two hours before show time?

“Buying in advance is the new ritual” for Americans living near the 600 theaters nationwide that use Fandango, says Art Levitt, president and CEO of Fandango, in a May 20 press release.

Fandango ticket holders comprised 5 percent – 820,000 people – of moviegoers who saw “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” on its first weekend in theaters. For the movie, Fandango at times sold in excess of 14,000 tickets per hour, or nearly four tickets per second, during opening weekend.

There’s not just one Fandango loose in the theater, but thousands of them.

And quite simply, the ability to purchase tickets in advance is taking its toll on an important American cultural tradition.

Suddenly, the opportunity costs involved in going to the movies are too high, and Fandango has the cure: advance tickets sales, so you spend less time enjoying a moviegoing experience.

This seems like a non sequitur to me; movies are meant to be escapist diversions.

I’d love to spend more time waiting in line and watching two guys, one decked in Darth Vader gear and the other dressed as Chewbacca, duke it out with light sabers.

More disturbing though is the reason why Fandango was created in the first place.

According to Green, two venture capital firms and six movie theater corporations (dubbed exhibitors) are the sole investors in Fandango.

Because theaters usually get only 10 percent of the gross for the first two weeks a film opens, these movie theaters, including Evanston’s own Century Theatres, decided they needed to increase profits.

The $1 service charge on all tickets bought on Fandango compensates for the money theaters cannot bring in on opening weekend.

Why not just walk down to the theater, buy the tickets in person and save money?

Furthermore, only the six investing theaters can use Fandango to sell tickets, essentially muscling out smaller theaters that play fewer mainstream movies.

But why should I complain about forking more money to money-grubbing theaters? Fandango just started selling tickets in advance for “Men in Black II,” coming out just before the Fourth of July.

“Buying tickets in advance will enable moviegoers to see the film between the barbecues and the fireworks,” Levitt says in a June 21 press release. “They won’t miss a thing if they secure tickets early.”

Let’s hope Levitt’s right – Fandango does not offer refunds.

Jerome C. Pandell is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]