MasterCard International's quest for card acceptance at movie theaters will move a step closer to fruition this week.

General Cinema, the fourth-largest U.S. theater chain, said it is likely to test credit card acceptance in some markets during the busy Christmas season.

"We're trying to determine exactly how important it is to consumers," said Paul Mucci, vice president of finance at General Cinema.

"Obviously, we're moving to a bit of cashless society," he said. "We want to be offering our guests the services they want. If they indicate a willingness for this type of service, it's something we will do."

Fee for Advance Purchase

Many movie theaters allow customers to purchase tickets by telephone in advance, charging them to credit cards. This usually involves a service charge, whereas there would be no charge at the box office.

Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based General Cinema currently accepts advance card purchases through TicketMaster in Los Angeles and Dallas, Mr. Mucci said. The company has 1,351 screens at 248 locations in 28 states.

Eventually, MasterCard hopes customers can buy tickets at the box office as well. During the summer of 1992, the card association tested this concept with United Artists, Loews, and American Multicinema in a "MasterCard at the Movies" campaign.

"We view card acceptance at theaters as a tremendous advantage in meeting the needs of consumers," said Scott Carter, director of small-ticket markets for MasterCard. Many of the theaters in the test continue to accept credit cards at the box office, he said.

Speeding the Transaction

Mr. Mucci said General Cinema remains wary of slowdowns in ticket-buying lines because of credit card purchases.

But MasterCard said its Quick Payment Service, which does not require a signature, will speed the process. Also, the theater could get on-line authorization which qualifies it for MasterCard's lowest interchange fee.

Research shows that consumers would like the option of paying with credit cards. Those who do, have more money to spend on concessions, Mr. Carter said, which is where theaters can increase profit margins.

The movie industry generates $5 billion in ticket sales and $1 billion in concessions per year for theater owners.

Way to Attract Customers

An informal poll of 500 moviegoers in New York and Los Angeles by MasterCard found that 75% of customers who use a credit card indicate they are more likely to use theaters that accept them, Mr. Carter said.

About 22% of cash-paying customers said they would prefer a theater that accepts credit cards, he added. Overall, 36% of all moviegoers said they are more likely to use movie theaters that accept credit cards.

"While other theaters in Manhattan and Los Angeles accept credit cards, there are MasterCard holders elsewhere who want to take advantage of this," Mr. Carter said. "General Cinema realizes that credit card customers live in all markets."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.