Why Movie Ticket Presales Don't Work in Russia

Moscow Skyline - H - 2016

Tickets can only be pre-sold once an exhibition license has been issued, and Russians "are not used to planning a movie theater visit several days or weeks ahead," with the likes of 'Star Wars' a rare exception, says one observer.

Movie ticket presales are relatively new for the Russian film industry, but so far, they have not yet really taken off. Why?

Russians are not used to planning their movie theater visits in advance, and the kind of tentpoles that make people take care of tickets in advance, avoiding standing in line, are few and far between, observers say.

"[Pre-sales] are not as popular here as in Western countries," Alexander Semenov, editor and publisher of industry trade journal KinoBusiness Today, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The first reason is that our viewers are not used to planning a movie theater visit several days or weeks ahead." And he cites a lack of tradition for such services, saying: "Back in the Soviet era a service of this kind did not exist at all."

According to Semenov, another major reason for Russians' unwillingness to purchase movie tickets in advance is that the lion's share of releases don't generate very high demand and big films get very wide play in theaters.

Major releases typically get 50 percent-60 percent of all screens in the country, so there is always a chance to buy a ticket immediately before the show time. As a result, chances that a viewer can show up at a movie theater and see a show is sold out are slim.

"Today, movies that are in high demand, get a sufficient number of screenings," Darya Ryazantseva, exhibition director at distribution company Volga, which recently released Woody Allen's Cafe Society, tells THR.

"Currently, there are enough screens in bigger cities to satisfy active movie goers' demands," she adds. "So, there is no rush to see movies and, consequently, no presales."

Meanwhile, there is also a legal obstacle to ticket presales. Under Russian law, tickets to a movie can be pre-sold only once an exhibition license has been issued for the movie. And an exhibition license is often granted just days before a release date, shortening the period for ticket presales.

An overall box-office slump in Russia is also apparently playing a role. Many recent releases have opened to empty houses, while even hit movies have shown lackluster performance in the country.

Over the last year and a half, only a handful of releases made people line up for tickets – or buy tickets in advance. Last year, Universal's Fifty Shades of Grey generated 50 million rubles ($760,000) in presales by the time of its Feb. 12 release, the highest presale figure ever recorded in the country at that time.

That record was broken in December as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, whose presales amounted to 80 million rubles ($1.2 million).

Fifty Shades of Grey presales accounted for about 4.5 percent of the movie's total gross of $16.6 million, and for The Force Awakens the proportion was roughly the same, 4.6 percent.

The Force Awakens and Fifty Shades of Grey combined presales are believed to account for over 50% of overall Russian BO presales.

The Force Awakens' record remains unsurpassed, and this year's releases haven't even come close to it, with this year's most anticipated Ekipazh (Crew) pocketing only 30 million rubles ($457,000) in presales.

Still, experts and industry insiders agree that a focus on developing the presales business could help with release planning.

"A developed pre-sale system would give more precise data for release planning and gross forecasting," Semenov says. "[Presales] could become an extra instrument for analysis and forecasts related to releases," adds Fyodor Sosnov, head of the analytical department at the cinema fund, an organization administering state cash for the film industry.