So we went to see Bulworth, which is a must-must-see (warning: raw language), and when we got to the line to buy tickets, there was a seating chart dividing the theater into "zones." We were politely asked where we wanted to sit and issued tickets with seat numbers just as if it were a football game or a Broadway show.

Terrible idea. I’m writing this in the hope it will not catch on. And I think it won’t, because it’s a terrible idea.

First let me say I’m no Luddite. "Hello, and welcome to MoviePhone!" may be annoying, but it’s a terrific idea. That’s the one where, if you like, you can call in advance — 777-FILM or 888-FILM in the cities I’ve used it — and purchase your ticket in advance.

It’s great for the customers, because many do want to be assured they’ll have a seat when they get to the movie. It’s great for the movie theaters, because it increases the proportion of occupied seats. Some people now go to a movie who wouldn’t before because they didn’t want to risk not getting a seat … or because they didn’t have a paper handy to see what was playing. On top of that, some small percentage of MoviePhone purchasers buy tickets over the phone but don’t show up. I’ve done that myself. Not that I am loose with $18 (the cost of two tickets), but it’s actually not a huge price to pay for the option of seeing the eight o’clock show of Bulworth if you can get out of work in time. So in a sense, MoviePhone increases a theater’s capacity from 100% to maybe 102% of its seats, without having to build any new seats.

Good for the theaters, a nice option for the customers — especially the older ones, or the ones who have to engage a baby-sitter, only to find the show’s sold out when they arrive.

Brilliant.

But assigned seats? A terrible idea — as I will argue tomorrow.

 

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