May 9, 2002 4:15 PM PDT

Movie fans ditch lines, go online

The next installment in the "Star Wars" saga is about to open, but the days of camping out to get tickets to such films may be drawing to a close.

"Attack of the Clones" is set to open next Thursday, and some die-hard fans began camping out weeks in advance to get tickets to the show. But many others have chosen a different route: buying tickets online.

In many cases, online ticket sites such as Fandango.com, AOL's Moviefone.com and MovieTickets.com are tapped into the same ticketing systems as local box offices, meaning that moviegoers are just as likely to get tickets online as offline. And the advantage is, of course, that they don't have to stand in line to get them.

"Maybe it takes a little bit of the fun out of it, but it certainly keeps you a lot warmer," said Stacey Herron, an entertainment and media analyst with Jupiter Research.

But it's up to movie theater managers to set aside tickets for those who want to buy them at the box office--and if they don't, the people camping outside could be left in the cold.

Online ticket sales still comprise a small percentage of overall sales of events and entertainment tickets. But the numbers are growing, and in some cases people are buying tickets online in equal or greater numbers than those buying them at the box office.

In urban markets such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, for example, a "high percentage" of tickets are being sold online, Herron said. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the portion of tickets sold online for some movies has reached 50 percent, said Sallie Green, a spokeswoman for Fandango.com.

Meanwhile, some online ticket companies say the majority of their advance ticket sales--purchased a day or more ahead of show time--are being done online, with the number reaching as high as 80 percent in the case of theater chain AMC Entertainment, company spokesman Rick King said.

"Today's systems are just a lot more user-friendly than pitching a tent or bringing a folding chair and spending the night in front of the theater," King said.

Going online proved a popular way to get tickets to "Spider-Man," which was released last weekend. Sites such as MovieTickets and Moviefone said "Spider-Man" already ranks among their top sellers of online tickets.

But "Attack of the Clones" is proving to be an even bigger draw, especially for those wanting to get their tickets early. Moviefone and Fandango both say that 70 percent of the tickets they are selling now are for the upcoming "Star Wars" movie, even though the first showings won't happen until around midnight next Thursday. Show times at theaters in San Francisco, New York and St. Louis were already selling out.

"Attack of the Clones" follows the success of "Phantom Menace," which drew big numbers of customers to nascent online ticket sites in 1999, some of which were unprepared for the traffic.

To be sure, not everyone will be able to buy tickets online in advance for "Attack of the Clones." Many theaters still don't sell tickets online, and some that do keep a pool of tickets reserved for their box-office customers.

Some moviegoers may not want to buy online because online ticket companies often charge a service fee on top of the price that customers would pay at the box office.

And there may be something to standing in line with a bunch of other "Star Wars" fans eagerly awaiting the next sequel. Or maybe not.

"You can literally see people standing in line to buy tickets as people are dialing on the phone and beating them to the tickets," said Russ Leatherman, founder of Moviefone. "People who stand in line are just crazy."

 

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