Gather Your Friends: Atom Tickets app makes movie outings more convenient


“There are a lot of people who think about going to a movie, but many fewer of those people actually go to a movie. And the question is: Why is this happening?”

Matthew Bakal, executive chairman and co-founder of Atom Tickets, believes he’s found the answer behind that motivational gap, and has developed a potential remedy.

“If you look at the MPAA and NATO and Nielsen data, what you find is between the time a consumer thinks about going to a movie and then he or she starts inviting friends, talking to family, picking a movie, picking a showtime, picking a location, people fall off. So our thinking was: Could we use smart e-commerce technology to get a few more percent of those people back into the movie theatre? Make that decision process easier, make the group invitation process easier, make the payment process easier. Where it often falls off, even if you’ve made your decision with your friends about the movie and the time and place, is when you ask, ‘Who’s buying?’ So could we make it easier where you can invite people and they pay their own way?”

Ameesh Paleja, Atom Tickets’ CEO and co-founder, asserts, “We said, let’s bring the best of e-commerce techniques that have been developed over the last ten years and apply them to the ticketing space. Candidly, when you look at the market, there are other third-party ticket providers and they did a lot of great innovation from a business perspective with exclusive contracts and muscling competition out of the space. But when you look at it from a technology perspective, they haven’t really done much of anything in the last 15 years. It’s basically lipstick on a pig. The idea is, can we bring better recommendations, better personalization, data mining, data analysis, machine learning—all of these techniques that have been developed and are working in real life and apply them to the ticket space?”

Paleja, an engineer by trade, brings a wealth of e-commerce experience to this new company, established in 2014. He worked with Microsoft for many years, followed by nearly 12 years at Amazon. “I basically helped build all their digital products,” he says. “Kindle, Prime Instant Video…I helped launch Kindle Fire in 22 countries.”

“There are a lot of guys here with backgrounds in Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon,” Bakal attests. “People who are the best and brightest in what they do.”

The Atom Tickets mobile app is multi-faceted, and Bakal says it will be up to exhibitors to decide “which bells and whistles” they want to use in their operations.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of their new technology is the social-invitation function, similar in some ways to how Evite helps coordinate party invitations and RSVPs. The Atom Tickets app streamlines the process of planning a night (or day) out with friends at the movies. It provides reviews, trailers and synopses on current cinema offerings, and the opportunity to poll your friends on current movie options. Then, with a few clicks, moviegoers can seamlessly invite people to the same show they’re interested in and order tickets and concessions, all from their phone. (Again, each person pays separately, with the option of treating others.) At the theatre, consumers go to the ticket takers and concession counters where they simply scan their QR code at proprietary tablet scanners provided free of charge to the exhibitor by Atom Tickets. For moviegoers, there are no paper tickets and no IOUs.

In the meantime, the user-friendly and engaging app is compiling valuable information on each moviegoer who uses it. “Every touch, every swipe, every time you do anything inside the app, we’re basically collecting that telemetry and sending it back to the server,” Paleja explains. ”And then the server analyzes that information and turns it around and updates the experience the customer is seeing. The idea is, we want you to see the movies that you’re going to be interested in… The more and more our customers use the app, the more and more we learn about them, and the more and more we can target them effectively.”

Paleja continues, “When someone watches a trailer more than once, it’s a strong signal indicator that they’re interested in that movie, and no one is using that information to sell them tickets. Coming from Amazon, I say this is nuts. [The studios] generate these beautiful assets, this beautiful artwork, people get excited about the story, they love the characters, they love the actors, and then they put a big ‘Closed’ sign on the door saying you can’t buy your tickets yet. Atom Tickets is trying to come up with a way to say: Let’s incorporate that data into the mix.”

Among the other “bells and whistles” in development are special offers programmed to a specific movie, specific week, specific circuit, specific theatre, specific showtime, even a specific person. And Atom is looking into variable pricing, both for less in-demand showtimes and for larger groups assembled via the app. “The movie industry is one of the few that doesn’t do this,” Bakal notes. “It grows revenue over time for both studios and exhibitors, but it’s a complex issue they need to work out in their agreements.”

Under their group-based volume-incentive proposal, Paleja explains, “As more people come in, everyone’s ticket price goes down. Our customers are our marketers, in this case. They’re socially and financially motivated to get more people to go.”

‘There’s a lot of empty inventory in the movie business,” Bakal notes. “1.5 billion tickets are purchased in the U.S. and Canada, and there are 5.5 billion unsold seats. On the weekends, there are [still] over two billion unsold seats.”

Bakal and Paleja believe their system can help reduce those numbers. And they’re not alone. At CinemaCon in Las Vegas, they announced that the nation’s two biggest theatre circuits, Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Theatres, had signed on as exhibitor partners, along with regional circuits Studio Movie Grill and Silverspot Cinemas. These new partners join Canada’s Landmark Cinemas, the first chain to do a circuit-wide rollout. (Regal and Carmike had earlier test runs of the app.)

“Those guys have been great in honing the system, and they’re seeing strong results from their customers,” Bakal reports. “You can’t take for granted that young people are going keep seeing movies as a ritual the way we see it, so you have to do something to encourage them, and part of that we believe is being social, being mobile, talking to them on their phones. Regal and AMC have been very forward-leaning in saying, ‘This makes sense. This is the wave of the future. Let’s get onboard now and quickly.’

The first studio to invest in Atom Tickets was Lionsgate, where Bakal worked as an executive, and The Walt Disney Company and 20th Century Fox have also come onboard as investors. Atom Tickets hopes to have more than 15,000 screens using its app in North America by the end of the year. The free app is available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play.

“We’re all movie lovers,” Paleja attests, “so we’ve tried to build a product that we would want to use ourselves.”

“Trying to think about what is annoying to us about going today, what prevents us, and trying to make it better,” Bakal adds.

Paleja muses, “It’s funny, everybody’s gotten so used to some of these problems that they don’t even think about them as issues.”

“I stand in line at the box office, I stand in line at the concessions. Why?” Bakal asks.

Bakal sums up the concept this way:From when you think about going to a movie to when you get into your seat with your popcorn, how do we make that whole process easier, more Uber-like? If we could make it more convenient, could we get you to come one more time a year? We think so.”