The Battle Over Cyber Movie Listings

By: Steve Outing

The Gate, the online service of the San Francisco Chronicle and KRON-TV, sports a new look this week after a redesign which coincides with the recent merger of the newspaper new media and television staffs. The spiffed up site also contains full movie listings for the Bay Area, after a conflict with some local movie theater owners was resolved, at least temporarily.

Last month, a struggle ensued between The Gate and some local theater owners, including the United Artists chain. UA objected to the Web site posting movie times for its theaters, claiming the information to be its intellectual property, and asked that its movie houses be removed from the online listings unless times were supplied by a service of UA's choosing. UA is in the process of developing a listings Web site of its own.

The Gate complied temporarily with the request and removed the UA theater movie times, apparently fearing that the dispute could threaten UA print advertising in the San Francisco newspapers. The Gate had been receiving movie listings from the newspapers, and was not paying for them. But according to Gate manager John Coate, a new arrangement has been made with Cinema Source, a company that supplies movie time listings, which now sells listings to both The Gate and the newspapers. The site again includes complete Bay Area movie showtimes.

Coate says that Cinema Source delivers daily theater showtime listings by 6 a.m. each day, which are imported into The Gate's movie guide database. "We regard that as public domain information," he says. (The Gate's eGuide entertainment area includes a nice feature that allows Web visitors to select a movie or theater and see showtimes; and listings include capsule reviews and links to full movie reviews from the Chronicle.)

The real issue

The movie listings dispute between UA and The Gate appears to be primarily a business conflict, despite UA's claims to "intellectual property rights." The San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner are among newspapers in the U.S. that charge movie theaters for the privilege of having their showtimes listed in a daily movie times feature. (The movies times guide is not an editorial feature, and is administered by the advertising department.) Speculation among the San Francisco media community is that UA and other theater owners object to having to pay, which might have been a factor in the Gate dispute. (UA officials could not be reached for this report.)

Indeed, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative newsweekly which includes movie times on its Web site, has not been approached by UA or any other theater owner. The Guardian gets its movie times from theater owners, who regularly fax them to the newspaper. The data is formatted into a database by the Guardian staff. Editorial director for new media Jim Maples says that his paper has never charged theater owners, and he thinks that's why he hasn't heard a complaint from them even though his site is publishing basically the same information as is The Gate.

Maples thinks it "rather absurd" for theater owners to try to cut off what is, in effect, free publicity for themselves on the media Web sites. He cites the recent court ruling against the National Basketball Association as justification for considering movie times as in the public domain. In the NBA case, a judge ruled that game scores are not the sole property of the NBA and that an online service that broadcasts the scores may do so without paying licensing fees to the NBA.

Forcing the issue

The Gate's Coate points out that San Francisco is the No. 2 movie-going market in the U.S., which amplifies the issues involved. Theater owners, most observers agree, want to charge other companies for aggregate movie times data, so the idea of a newspaper company charging them is particularly galling. Coate says UA wanted The Gate to work with a listings supplier that UA authorized, and, of course, pay for the data. The likely favored party is Hollywood Online, which has an agreement to be the official site for listings from the National Association of Theater Owners; showtimes for some 13,000 screens nationwide are due on the site in the coming weeks.

Coate says that the alternatives were inferior to what his staff could do. Hollywood Online, for example, refers Web visitors to 777-FILM for specific movie times, rather than posting them directly online. "There's no there there," he says of that service. He doesn't think users will tolerate the extra click that that solution would require to get to the showtimes. "I think this comes across as mildly extortionist," Coate says of theater owners' pressure to use a service sanctioned or owned by them.

Coate acknowledges that the situation remains "delicate" between The Gate and local theater owners, but he thinks consumers are the winners by his site's stance that movie listings are in the public domain. He says the Chronicle Publishing Co.'s attorneys and executives are "all on the same page" in believing that movie times are fair game for publishing on their Web site.

Contact: John Coate,

Doubly good news

Internet usage in the U.S. and Canada has more than doubled in just over a year, according to a new study by Nielsen Media Research. During December 1996, nearly one-quarter of North Americans over the age of 16 -- or 50.6 million people -- used the Internet at least once. The Nielsen survey was of 6,600 randomly selected adults, and was reported this week at Internet World in Los Angeles.

This is the best study yet to confirm that the Internet is growing quickly into a mass medium. It's great news -- much better than anticipated in terms of Internet penetration -- for Web publishers hoping to eventually turn a profit in interactive media.

US West Interactive buys into Student.Net

US West Interactive Services has taken a 35% stake in Student.Net Publishing, an Internet publishing company founded by students at Yale and Columbia Universities. Student.Net, based in New Haven, Connecticut, operates a Web site for college students, written by college students.

As a part of the investment, Student.Net will develop local editions of the Student.Net site for universities located in cities served by DiveIn, US West's Web-based community information service, which is due to launch in 10 cities next week. Student.Net also will develop audio and video programming maximized for the cable modems and networks provided through US West Media Group's businesses.

Contact: Stewart Ugelow, Student.Net,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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