On Monday morning, like millions of others across the globe, I woke up early looking to buy tickets for the eagerly anticipated 7th instalment of Star Wars, The Force Awakens. Demand for tickets was unprecedented, in the United States alone IMAX generated more than $6.5 million in ticket sales – it’s previous record for one day of sales was less than $1 million – and the US retailer Fandango has revealed that the film sold eight times as many tickets on its first day of release as the previous record holder, 2012’s ‘The Hunger Games’.
The world has changed much since the release of the original in 1977, though some things remain the same; Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammill return to the cast, and British people queue. The way we queue, however, has been drastically changed by developments in the intervening years. Where hundreds lined the streets of London on the day of the original instalment’s release, in 2015, millions woke up in the comfort of their own home to purchase tickets online.
The picture, as we know, is not so rosy. The unprecedented level of demand – particularly for tickets to IMAX screenings – wreaked havoc on the websites of Cineworld and Odeon (£), the two cinema operators with the large, high resolution screens in London, compromising the functionality of the ticket buying process for days.
@ODEONCinemas if the sight had worked this morning I'd have got tickets. You're shit and I will never be booking again with you.
— joey (@JoeyPoulter_) October 19, 2015
Ticket sales crashing websites are nothing new, as any Glastonbury hopeful will tell you, and as minutes spent clicking ‘refresh’ turned into hours, my fury with my cinema provider of choice grew. Never again would I book tickets with Odeon – just as soon as I’d got the Star Wars tickets I craved. I was not alone; many, like the user above, took to Twitter to tell cinema providers they were never using their service again
How could the cinemas not see this coming? How does any vendor, aware of hysteria surrounding their event or product, fail to prepare for an event as huge as Glastonbury, or a new instalment of Star Wars.
The answer is that this does not represent a failure. This is not the must-have Christmas toy or the new iPhone, with factories failing to produce enough units by a particular deadline. The BFI IMAX auditorium, run by Odeon, has a capacity of 485 seats, with 172 showings between the film’s release on the 17th of December and the 21st of January, many of which are in the early hours of the morning or in the middle of the day, for a total of approximately 83,000 seats . In the context of a music festival, as the most common of the website-crashing events, this is tiny, and for an event with as wide an appeal as Star Wars, we are looking at an economy on an entirely different scale.
Whether these tickets sell in 10 minutes on the sleekest online service possible, or in 10 days on a website no longer fit for purpose, they are going to sell, and whilst there will be unmet demand, the cinema can only sell its allocation. What’s more, the fervour of fans of the saga means that however bad the service, however long it takes, however many times they click ‘refresh’ and however many times they tweet, desire to see the film in a setting which befits the occasion will outweigh any distaste.
So why would you spend money making your website more resilient? In this instance the passion of cinema-goers and the limited capacity of auditoriums has created a context in which fervent demand vastly outstrips supply.
In many ways we should applaud the vendor in this instance for not exercising the laws of supply and demand to their fullest extent, allowing the market to set the price, a price that would inevitably rise far above the £22 of the tickets sold by the Odeon.