MovieFone in Talks To Sell
NEW YORK (AP) _ MovieFone Inc.’s stock shot higher Monday as the nation’s largest movie listing guide and ticketing service disclosed it may be purchased.
In a brief statement that did not identify a suitor or suitors, MovieFone said ``it is engaged in discussions that could lead to the sale of the company.″ It said there could be no assurance a deal would be reached.
But the prospect of a takeover sent stock of the New York-based company jumping $1.50, or by 6 percent, to $26.50 a share, in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
The decision to sell clearly rests with Andrew R. Jarecki, co-founder and chief executive officer of MovieFone, who, with his family, controls 73 percent of the company’s stock and 92 percent of its votes.
Jarecki and Adam Slutski, chief financial officer, started MovieFone in 1989 with Rob Gukeisen, vice president of new technologies, and Russ Leatherman, president and the voice of ``Mr. MovieFone.″
Jarecki and Slutski ``were trying to get to a movie and they kept getting a busy signal,″ explained Christine Fakunkiny, a company spokeswoman. ``By the time they got through, it was 8:15 and the movie had started at 8.″
MovieFone lists show times for 15,000 screens, and sells tickets for 3,000 screens in 38 markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Last year, the company served 250 million movie-goers, or 20 percent of the market.
In the first nine months of 1998, the company’s loss narrowed to $890,000 from $2.4 million in the same 1997 period. In that same period, its sales surged 27 percent to $17.8 million.
MovieFone’s tickets sales jumped last year as consumers became more comfortable shopping on the Internet, and more familiar with its 777-FILM automated telephone service.
The service promotes itself as offering customers the information they need quickly. There is no need to stand in line and tickets can be purchased in advance for popular movies.
MovieFone charges a fee of between $1 to $1.50 on ticket sales. Callers have to listen to a 20-second advertisement, and the company also posts advertisements on its Web site (www.movielink.com).
In Manhattan, the automated voice of Mr. MovieFone has become such an institution that the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission selected the company, along with several celebrities, to record safety messages for taxi passengers. Mr. MovieFone reminds passengers that ``Life isn’t a movie, so buckle your seatbelt.″