Pay per Vue: why is buying a cinema ticket so painful?

Tim Green
Written by Tim Green

Does the act of buying cinema tickets have to be as painful as the act of watching most Hollywood blockbusters? Cineaste and snob Tim Green has a ponder…

Now for a quick thought experiment. Let’s imagine you want to go to the cinema.

I know it’s unlikely. What adult wants to see Transformers 9: Rise of the Recurring Revenue Stream or Avengers 10: Age of the Franchise or FF9: Fast and Superfluous?

Okay. Plenty do. But I’m not not talking about the slow-witted here. They seem unconcerned that the accountants have taken over Hollywood.

I’m talking about you and me – those of us that cling to our boxed sets and our Netflix subscriptions in the face of all that clanging.

But then along comes the occasional great movie made with love and care – Inside Out, Whiplash, Bridesmaids – and we have no option but seek out the collective experience that only cinema can provide.

like Michael Corleone said in Godfather III (another appalling sequel): “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

So you’re up for a night at the pictures (as we over 40s quaintly call it). How do you pay?

Well, there’s cash. Easy and reliable, but also dirty and demanding of a long wait in the queue.

Or you could book online. Now for most cinemas booking online has all the pain and pleasure of other e-purchases. Yes, it lets you buy at a place and time of your choosing.

But it also requires your credit card details and – for the most part – you still have to queue. Why because the ticket itself is redeemed from a machine or cashier at the cinema. So remember to bring that card with you. It’s 2015.

Isn’t it possible to store your ticket as a bar code on your phone? I do believe today’s mobile can support such innovation. (I’m being arch there, in case you didn’t pick it up).

Well, yes it is. The Odeon website, for example, says you can book tickets on its app and then download an e-ticket that will zoom you straight in to the theatre.

But get this: it’s only available at four cinemas. Four.

Now, I assume this situation will improve. However, anecdotal reports (the customer reviews on the app stores, basically) suggest that the Odeon app (and that of its rival Vue) are not great at processing payments. So maybe they need to get bit that right first.

At neither of these giant chains is charge to mobile payment available. This is unsurprising. As we’ve said before on these pages, there’s still regulatory uncertainly over what you can pay for from your phone bill.

Is a cinema ticket a virtual good? A digital one? A physical one? For now, no cinema I know of has tested this.

I wish they would. Buying from an app with one click from your mobile credit would no doubt be a more resilient form of purchase than a card, with all that form-filling and all that back-end hand-shaking with WorldPay or whoever.

Hey, you could also click to add items within the app, like a bag of Haribo (which I realise counts as a physical product even though Haribos taste of nothing.)

You could even do it the old-fashioned way: see a poster for a movie you like, text a shortcode and get back a code that serves as your ticket.

It’d be spontaneous, which would have to be good for box office sales.

Let’s hope an indy cinema somewhere has the courage to try this. And let’s hope they also have the balls to kill anyone who shows their mobile ticket on the way in and then uses SnapChat all the way through the film. I hate that.

photo credit: Wedding Crashers via photopin (license)

About the author

Tim Green

Tim Green