SCREEN SUBSCRIBERS: Ste Thomspon discusses what the future holds for the ticket booking market.
After the recent case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens highlighted the growing trend towards pre-booking in the cinema industry – with a record number of tickets sold in advance in the UK – a new market is emerging for the creation of bespoke online services to handle the logistics of selling tickets for individual titles.
Powster, the brainchild of Ste Thomspon, is one such company attempting to cater to this trend. Based in Hackney, London, it is set to open an office in Los Angeles following a sustained period of growth in the UK (where its software now covers 87% of the country’s cinemas) and abroad.
Powster’s main product (see below example) is a ticket-booking service that allows users to find all of the cinemas screening a certain film near their location, amalgamating all of the data in a single place. As part of its service, the company also designs and builds individual websites that act as the film’s homepage, with the booking service embedded.
In terms of its place in the market, Thompson is bullish about Powster’s current standing: “We’re by far majorly the biggest in the world, no-one’s even close.”
His logic is hard to argue with. The company’s current clients include six major movie studios and 35 smaller distributors. Just glancing at its website reveals that aside from Disney’s record-shattering Star Wars sequel, which Powster launched the website for in 25 countries, it has worked on campaigns for another of Disney’s latest, The Good Dinosaur, as well as The Weinstein Company’s Oscar-contender Carol, Warner Bros’ Black Mass and Sony’s Spectre. Across these websites, they are receiving up to 300,000 hits per day.
“We’ve reached the tipping point where we are working with most of the industry, the films we worked on in 2015 represented 80% of the UK box office,” says Thompson. “But the room for growth is still massive, in the US we represent 7-10%.”
Thompson believes that the shift away from the traditional method of booking cinema tickets on the day towards pre-booking can represent a healthy shift for the entire industry.
“It helps distributors convert audiences that they’ve captured with marketing,” explains Thompson, highlighting the fact that distributors are now often making ‘book now’ their primary marketing message rather than a film’s release date.
One of the major sources of traffic to the websites Powster builds is through the social media accounts set up by studios to promote film releases; an ever increasingly important aspect of marketing.
“If you were a fan of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Facebook or Twitter, when the tickets become available a link will be posted to the page we’ve built; the studios can then measure the activity,” explains Thompson.
The audiences reached through social media campaigns, which tend to be younger, are particularly appealing to distributors and exhibitors alike, says Thompson: “That’s part of the market we are addressing; it’s very hard for those exhibitors to reach that younger audience and get them thinking about going to the cinema.”
By enabling studios to host Powster’s ticket booking software through these official wbsites and by encouraging pre-booking, studios stand a better chance of utilising the momentum of social media buzz, which is famously short-lived, adds Thompson.
However, the primary challenge currently facing Powster is that while the number of cinemagoers booking online continues to grow, the vast majority still book through the websites of specific cinemas.
“People who love an individual cinema, they will just go to that cinema’s website, but a younger audience might not have a particular favourite cinema, it might just be that they really want to see an individual film.” says Thompson.
In the future, Powster could go beyond being a tool for distributors, and the movie listing section of its own website (currently a prototype) could become a destination for consumers to browse the films currently on release near their location.
For the present, however, Thompson is focused on cracking the American market: “Over the next 12 months, it’s a matter of getting the US studios on board, they’ve got traditional ways they market their films.”
Powster also face stiffer competition in the US than in other territories, with other ticketing services already established.
But Thompson sees companies such as Fandango, which operate more towards the purchasing endgame rather than Powster’s marketing-booking middle ground, as potential partners rather than competitors: “If I can send more people buying tickets to fandango, all the better, I’d love that, I reckon they probably see a lot of traffic from us.”