In the coming months, moviegoers with Interac debit cards will pay for their tickets and popcorn with a tap of a card at any of 134 Cineplex Entertainment theaters throughout Canada.

Cineplex Inc. has agreed to accept Interac Flash, a contactless payment enhancement of the Interac debit card, for small-value payments at its theaters, Toronto-based debit card services and payment network provider Interac Association announced Aug. 23.

The Cineplex theaters join a list of Canadian merchants accepting Interac Flash, including McDonald's, Quiznos, Dairy Queen, Petro-Canada, and others. Interac Association calls Interac Flash the first contactless debit technology available in Canada.

Movie patrons can purchase tickets and concessions at the theaters by holding their Interac debit card over the point-of-sale terminal reader to make purchases, says Allen Wright, vice president of products and services management for Interac.

The card uses EMV chip technology, which employs cryptographic techniques to protect consumers against skimming, counterfeiting and fraud tactics such as electronic pick pocketing, Wright says.

"At this time, our focus is on Interac Flash, but extending this enhancement to the mobile form factor is a natural next step in providing the user with the option of using their Flash-enabled card or a mobile device to complete a transaction," Wright says.

Cineplex will begin installing nearly 3,000 Interac Flash-enabled terminals in the fall of this year and expects to see all of its box offices and concession stands accepting the contactless payment method by June of 2013, the theater company stated in a press release.

Cardholders making a payment do not have to insert the card in a reader or enter a PIN, Wright explains. However, issuing banks can set a contactless limit, after which the card must be inserted into a reader for payments, Wright adds.

After the cardholder completes a debit purchase with a PIN, the contactless limit automatically resets. Banks generally set those limits at $50 for small-value purchases, $100 for gas and groceries, or a cumulative spend limit of $200, Wright says.

A consumer making purchases at a store or service provider that does not accept Interac Flash would complete transactions with the regular Interac debit card.

Currently, RBC Royal Bank, TD Canada Trust and Scotiabank issue the Interac Flash contactless card to its customers. The Interac Association payment network processes the card payments, Wright adds.

Cineplex Entertainment did not respond to inquiries for information.

Interac's move to a contactless upgrade of its debit card was good news in Canada because many consumers in the country prefer debit cards as a convenient budgeting tool, says Catherine Johnston, CEO of Advanced Card Technologies Canada.

Interac established itself as the debit card and network of choice in Canada through government regulations, partly because MasterCard and Visa Inc. were "slow to bring their debit products into this market," Johnston says.

Indeed, MasterCard and Visa Canada only recently have begun to push harder to break the stranglehold Interac has on the country's debit network for merchants, with Visa establishing a new debit card that tests government regulations about only using the Interac network for debit transactions. 

An Interac contactless debit card should be quite popular at Canadian movie theaters, which tend to have many unmanned kiosks that accept other payment types, Johnston says.

"It makes perfect sense now for the theaters to take debit cards, and I can see a strong business case for retro-fitting [point-of-sale] devices to bring debit into the mix," she adds.

Deborah Baxley, principal at Capgemini Financial Services, said she thought payment technology companies would have targeted movie theaters for contactless payment years ago. "I am surprised it hasn't taken hold before," she says.

But now some competition related to payment cards and movies will unfold in Canada, Baxley says.

Scotiabank in Canada issues a contactless Visa-branded "Scene" credit card, which rewards users with points redeemable for free movies at Cineplex theaters, Baxley says.

Late last year, NCR Corp. sought to shorten theater box office lines by developing a software it called "Usherman" that allows movie ushers using an Apple Inc. iPad anywhere in a theater lobby to scan tickets that patrons have paid for online and printed or downloaded onto mobile phones. 

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