Why Atom Tickets is Optimistic About Movie Theaters' Future

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

Why Atom Tickets is Optimistic About Movie Theaters' Future

Owning a movie theater right now is no picnic. Deciding when and how to reopen as society confronts the next phase of the pandemic is complicated by patchy public health patterns, uncoordinated regulations and unpredictable customer behaviors.

AMC, the biggest theater owner in the U.S., plans to begin reopening on July 10th. Last week its chief executive Adam Aron told Variety that AMC would not require customers to wear masks, only to reverse course the next day following a public backlash. Regal and Cinemark, two other big cinema chains, also plan to be up and running by mid-July. All three companies, plus many smaller ones, have begun sharing their plans to provide moviegoers a safe environment to allay their health concerns and lure them back to the big screen.

Among those plans: encouraging customers to use cashless and contactless payments for tickets and concessions, which may prove to be a windfall for Santa Monica-based Atom Tickets.

"We designed Atom for convenience," co-founder and chairman Matt Bakal told dot.LA. "But it has benefits from a health perspective."

Reason for Optimism

Founded in 2014 to streamline the moviegoing experience, Atom Tickets has since raised over $100 million, including backing from Disney and Lionsgate. The company has also just announced a partnership with Snap that will embed Atom's ticket-buying functionality directly onto the social media platform; all the proceeds will go to Atom.

"Last year, about a third of tickets in the U.S. were bought digitally," Bakal says. That lagged well behind digital ticketing for sports and concerts, which he says typically fall in the range of 65% - 85%. "Our business could grow significantly as people shift from box offices to digital."

But will people show up?

A recent poll that Atom sent to its customers yielded a somewhat surprising answer.

"The hypothesis was that young people would be more eager to go back than older people because they feel more invincible...whereas older folks might be less excited," Bakal explains.

But of the 1,500 people who responded, demand was high regardless of age, with 77% of all respondents saying they plan to return within a few months.

Data courtesy of Atom Tickets

The respondents also identified which safety measure was most important for them to feel comfortable enough to return to the theater. Spaced seating was most popular, with over 42% of the vote. Enhanced cleaning procedures came next at 21%, followed by staff and customers wearing masks at 14%.

Data courtesy of Atom Tickets

Social distancing will limit the number of customers theaters can hold, but Bakal notes this concern may be overblown.

"To some extent movie theaters can be profitable around 25-30% capacity," he says.

But he acknowledges that high-demand bursts are essential to many theaters' bottom line, meaning that they generally need to fill up at primetime hours and around big openings of major films – like Disney's Mulan, which is set to open on July 24th (for now); or Tenet, directed by Christopher Nolan, which for several months had been slated as the first major post-lockdown release before being pushed back two weeks by Warner Bros. to July 31st.

Still, Bakal suggests that lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic, such as an increase in remote working, may shift consumers away from past patterns of movie-watching.

"People looking for empty seats might say Wednesday or Monday is fine," he says.

Bakal says theaters may also shift their screening allocations by devoting more screens to popular films, for instance, in order to meet demand while limiting crowd sizes.

Atom currently provides ticketing services to over 2,000 theaters, around 350 of which also use it for concessions. Bakal says interest has grown among Atom's customers to add on the concessions service, and that prospective new customers have been calling.

The Snap Partnership

"We'd been talking to Snap for about three years about making something," Bakal says. "Then it got serious 12 months ago. They told us they have some interesting long-term platform growth opportunities... and (asked) would we be interested in developing something."

A Snap spokesperson told dot.LA that "working with Atom was a no brainer." She cited a 2018 study commissioned by Snap, which is also based in Santa Monica, that found its users buy half of all movie tickets sold in the U.S.

The partnership is part of Snap's new "Minis" program, which was introduced at the company's Partner Summit earlier this month. Minis are new utility features that integrate into Snap users' chat windows. Though not all of them will include a financial transaction, they expand the platform's foothold in ecommerce. The Information previously reported that Minis "echo WeChat", the Chinese chat-and-more platform whose parent company, Tencent, owns about 10% of Snap.

"We're looking for ways to bring engaging experiences to our app – specifically experiences that reinforce the product philosophy behind Snapchat, which is that it's for (you and) your real friends," a spokesman said. "This is really the first time that we're introducing more utility to Snapchat for real friends."

The Atom Mini, called "Movie Tickets by Atom", was one of several that Snap previewed at its recent summit. It allows friends on Snapchat to watch movie trailers together, chat about whether they'd like to see it, choose a theater, select a seat (and see their Bitmoji characters occupying the socially-distanced seating chart), and individually purchase tickets — all within the app.

Atom Tickets Snap interface

"By platformizing Snapchat, we're bringing it to the world. And we're bringing the world to Snapchat," the representative said.

She described the Atom Mini as the "most fully fledged" that the company will have in its first batch. It will likely launch sometime after Snap's next earnings report in mid-July, she said.

"It emphasizes the whole philosophy behind Minis, which is facilitating activities (and) experiences, online and offline with your real friends," she said.

"The most popular form of out-of-home entertainment is movies," Bakal says. "If you take sports and concerts and you double it you get movie attendance. When you look at that you say, 'Wow, all these people are on (Snap) already saying I want to go see the new Bond movie, I want to see Black Widow' -- so why not when they're having conversations there not even make them need to leave Snap...It became a very natural thing to do."


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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.


We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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