Hoping to link the computer screen to the silver screen, two Internet giants yesterday launched ventures to direct Web surfers into movie theaters.

Share story


SAN FRANCISCO — Hoping to link the computer screen to the silver screen — and make a little money in the process — two Internet giants yesterday launched ventures to direct Web surfers into movie theaters.

Google and Amazon.com’s Internet Movie Database separately said they would start selling movie tickets through their respective Web sites. That would accelerate the trend of transforming familiar Web sites into full-featured online services that allow people to search the Internet, buy stuff, plot a trip or plan a night out.

Online sales are a small portion of overall box-office receipts, which hit a record $9.4 billion last year. The market is stunted, analysts said, because Internet ticketing services strike exclusive deals with cinema owners, forcing consumers to hopscotch across the Web to find tickets for their neighborhood multiplex.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In fact, IMDb partnered with Fandango and Google with MovieTickets.com — and neither service sells tickets to theaters represented by the other.

“Over time, you’re going to have to have some kind of consolidation or joint marketing agreements,” said Larry Gerbrandt, media and entertainment analyst at Los Angeles-based AlixPartners. “The whole idea is to make it easier to buy a ticket, not harder.”

With its new service, Mountain View-based Google lets users not only buy tickets but search for actors, movie titles or such general keywords as “great action sequence,” then returns movie reviews that fit the bill.

Typing “Tom Hanks on island talking to volleyball” delivers reviews for “Cast Away.” For films in theaters, Google Movies also returns local showtimes and, with a few clicks, lets surfers use MovieTickets.com to purchase tickets from such theaters as AMC.

Google said it wouldn’t get a commission from movie-ticket sales. Instead, the company expects to generate more searches for movie-related terms, which it hopes will in turn encourage companies to buy more movie-related ads.

As for Amazon, neither its Internet Movie Database unit nor Fandango would say whether the company would get a cut of the ticket sales.

But the partnership means Amazon will reach customers during more of a film’s life; the online retailer will sell people tickets to see a movie in theaters, then months later will sell them the DVD.

No one seems to know how much of the movie box office has been captured by Web-based sales. None of the leading companies that report box-office receipts track online sales.

Technology consulting firm Jupiter Research estimated that consumers spent $560 million on movie tickets online last year, which would be about 6 percent of overall box-office sales.

People tend to go to the Web to snap up tickets for hot new releases that are expected to sell out quickly. For example, Fandango calculated that it sold 13 percent of all opening-weekend tickets for “Fahrenheit 9/11” and 8 percent of all opening-weekend tickets for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

But heading to the movies is often a last-minute decision, which means consumers are less likely to use the Web for buying movie tickets than for sporting events or concerts, said Jupiter Research analyst David Card.

And the industry is stunting its own growth by making big players choose sides, he said. Yahoo uses Fandango and sells tickets to its stable of theaters. America Online’s Moviefone uses MovieTickets.com and its theaters.

“There’s no question it’s got to be inhibited by the fact that you have to go to three places to be able to buy tickets for every theater in your neighborhood,” Card said.