If you want to see a first-run movie in New York City, you need to plan in advance. That's because nobody in Manhattan stands in lines anymore to buy tickets. Instead, they pick up the phone and call 777-FILM—usually early in the week—and purchase tickets for a specific show over the phone. The MovieFone company, started in 1989, now sells tickets for 11,500 screens in 30 major cities—60% of the country's theaters—and receives between 1.5 million and 2.5 million phone calls each week. When Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace opened in May 1999, advance tickets purchased through MovieFone completely sold out every Manhattan theater.
Currently, MovieFone makes its money from advertisements played over the phone and a commission on the tickets it sells. But the company, which was purchased by America Online in February 1999, may soon have another important revenue stream: analytical market information that predicts which movies will succeed, which will flop, and by how much.
When The Lost World: Jurassic Park opened Memorial Day weekend in 1997, it accounted for 59% of all tickets sold by MovieFone. At the end of the weekend, the movie had received a 61% market share for all tickets sold in the U.S. And that wasn't just a fluke. When Love and War opened on January 24, 1997, the movie commanded an 8% share of MovieFone calls, and a 9% market share.
According to an article in the New York Times, this level of prediction is unheard of: "The biggest movie tracking ...