Going to the movies is too complicated.
That’s why a former Lionsgate executive and veteran Amazon engineer built Atom Tickets, a Santa Monica startup that wants to simplify every part of the movie theatre experience down to the line for popcorn.
“A lot of people are going out to the movies,” Atom co-founder Matthew Bakal told Business Insider. “But between getting your friends together and picking a movie and a time and a place, all that stuff is hard work.”
After quietly testing its platform a few dozen theatres over the past year, Atom announced on Monday that it’s expanding to hundreds of theatres in more than 70 cities around the U.S. by the end of the summer. Its launch partners include Regal Cinemas, AMC Theatres, Studio Movie Grill, and Silverspot Cinemas.
The Atom app, which is free to download in the App Store and Google Play Store, lets you order movie tickets like Fandango. You can also you invite friends to go with you, poll them on which movie to see, plan around the night with an in-app chat interface, and order concessions in advance.
When you show up to the theatre, you scan your ticket’s barcode at an Atom-branded iPad kiosk and pick up your popcorn and candy from an express line. Besides a small convenience fee at certain theatres, the app is free for movie-goers.
A Netflix-like recommendation system in the Atom app suggests movies to you based on the genres you like and what you’ve watched in the past. It learns the theatres you frequent with certain friends and can send suggestions on what new movies you might want to see.
Sweet tooth? The app knows which concessions you like so it can lure you back to the theatre with free candy.
The backdrop to Atom, which Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, and Lionsgate invested a combined $50 million into earlier this year, is that movie ticket sales have remained relatively flat for the past decade. And besides the advent of Comcast-owned Fandango and subscription services like MoviePass, there’s been little tech applied to simplifying the movie-going process.
“There just wasn’t a lot of technological innovation going,” said Atom co-founder and CEO Ameesh Paleja, who previously worked at Amazon for 11 years on products like the Kindle and Prime Instant Video.
Paleja and his team tested Atom Tickets at a handful of theatres for the past year to determine whether their app actually lead to more ticket sales. The results were better than they expected.
“We were hoping for a two to three per cent incremental attendance increase, and we got double digit growth,” Paleja said.
Paleja and Bakal are hopeful that their service’s ease of use (the app currently has an average rating of 4.5 stars in the App Store) custom recommendations, and streamlined concessions ordering will ultimately lead to more people going to the movies. To attract new users, they’re giving away the first ticket ordered in the app for free.