For those of you that don't know, moviepass is a revolutionary subscription service for theatre goers. You pay a monthly fee and you get to go see one movie per day for the month (no 3D or IMAX). There's an app you download to your smart phone, and you select the title and showtime of your movie. Once you check in, moviepass loads funds onto a debit card that was sent to you when you signed up. You get to the ticket window, use the debit card to pay for your ticket, and enjoy. Simple right?
Until last year when suddenly moviepass jumped back into the public consciousness with a new offer of $9.99 a month.
TEN BUCKS A MONTH TO SEE UP TO 30 FILMS IN THE THEATRE EACH MONTH?!?
Okay, I'll stop now.
We knew we were living on borrowed time and intended to make the most of it. We saw films that normally I would watch a preview of and think, "Yeah, maybe I'll catch that when it comes to DVD or Netflix." Movies that I wouldn't normally give the time of day to I was now in the theatre watching. I won our yearly OSCAR ballot largely on the strength of having seen a wide swath of nominated films. Mel and I both work unconventional hours meaning we had afternoons available, so we hit matinees like the Titanic hit icebergs.
The point is, it was great.
Until it wasn't.
Though we weren't overtly aware of the problems moviepass was enduring (other than the widely reported customer service issues or app lock ups) but when you swell to three million subscribers in such a short amount of time, there are bound to be a few glitches. And when that happens, you make adjustments.
The first tweak the company sent out was clarifying that No 3D or IMAX showings actually meant no premium showings at all. This would include special event screenings like Fathom Events. And of course, because of the nature of the app check in, you couldn't do online or reserve seats. And then they started grousing with AMC, picking a fight with the nation's largest theatre chain. Just before Avengers: Infinity War, they removed the ability to see a film more than once with the service. And then in order to make sure there was no abuse, after you purchased the ticket, you had to take a picture of it with the in app camera and submit it to them. Then came the bombshell that they were mining personal information and planning to sell it. This one rankled a few feathers among the community, but I looked at it as it was only info I had given them, (like my location at a restaurant near the theatre, so who cares if I get a few more coupons for a place I already frequent or see an ad or two for them?)
As the cash strapped company continued to bleed money, they introduced surge pricing, where select titles might cost you an additional surcharge if you saw them during "peak times". It started with Friday and Saturday showtimes, (which didn't effect us, because, matinee!) and then expanded out to opening week.
With Mission: Impossible Fallout, the company blanked it out all together, listing it as a premium showing.
The irony of all these changes is the name of the service is moviepass. The definition of the word pass (as a verb) is to advance. To go beyond. To continue. To succeed. To transcend. All of these indicate forward movement.
But the plan seems to be moving steadily backward.
Now while all this is going on, the rest of the industry keeps bemoaning the fact that the business model was doomed from the get go and it was unsustainable, yadda yadda yadda. And then three more subscription programs hit the market.
Soooo... it's bad when they do it, but not when YOU do it?
Sinema isn't so much of a subscription service as it is a discount service. You can get a one, two or three ticket a month plan, and pay for an add on to make one of thsoe tickets IMAX or 3D available, from anywhere between $3.99 to $14.99 a month depending on which option you go with. It also has an app, but sends customers to traditional sites like Fandango to purchase their tickets. We understand this to be a decent service, but a logistical nightmare.
Cinemark offers one 2D movie ticket a month for a $9 fee and is only valid at Ciemark theatres (now that Cinemark has bought Regal, we imagine this will roll out wider across the country sometime late this or early next year.
AMC Stubs A List is probably the best value of the new plans, and the closest to moviepass. $19.99 a month for 3 movies a week, and it includes IMAX, 3D, and other premium showings. Unlike moviepass, you can buy tickets in advance. The only downside we can see is that this plan is only valid at AMC theatres (the nearest one to me is an hour a way, so now I've got to factor in transportation and time costs as well.)
It's unclear if moviepass failed to take these threats seriously, or just didn't care.
And then the crash happened.
One random Thursday, the app suddenly didn't work at all. Apparently the company had run out of money and was unable to purchase tickets for it's users.
Friends started bemoaning the loss of a good thing. A few canceled thier subscriptions. A few are doggedly determined to ride the ship to the bottom.
And then Mitch Lowe, CEO of moviepass sent us a very nice appology letter, stating that they were aware of the issues, and they they had essentially done a piss poor job of communicating with us, and they vow to fix both.
But changes were coming.
The first was that more big titles like Mission: Impossible Fallout would not be available to use.
Okay, that sucks, but I'm kinda okay with it. I was always gonna pay to go see the new Star Wars or Marvel movie anyway, so those were kinda bonus freebees with moviepass. No worries. (And oddly enough, we planned on seeing M:I 6 this past week, and found we couldnt. So we changed to Sorry to Bother You. In the time it took us to get to the theatre (an AMC, as we were in Kansas City at the time) the showtime went away and "there were no more showtimes at this theatre". So I pulled up the app and searched for other near by theatres... and found that I could go see Mission: Impossible at a B&B just ten miles down the road. So we did. I'm not sure if this randomness is the result of changes not hitting at the same time while they are rolled out, or if it's on a theatre by theatre basis (B&B is a MUCH smaller chain than AMC).
The second was that not all showtimes during the day would be supported going foward, and we'd have to double check the app before we left for the theatre.
This one is a little more screwy, but still, I can adapt to live with it.
Then he promised transparancy.
Variety broke news 2 days later that the service was increasing in price to $14.95 a month. We were not told (and haven't been notified as of the time I write this.)
Again, I feel like if I was eyeballing the service at the $29.99 price point, going to $14.95 isn't a huge deal. Granted, it is a 50% price hike, and as of yet, the new, transparent movie pass hasn't told me about it.
Out of curiosity, I stated crunching numbers. I have been a moviepass subscriber for 10 months. At 10 dollars a month, that's a cool $100. The app tracks your movie watching, so there is a record of everything i've seen with it since starting my subscription. I am up to 62 films. An average of 6 films per month (far in excess of what I knew I HAD to go see to break even if I had signed up when it was $30 a month), at an average cost of $1.61 cents per film.
$1.61 per title...
Sorry haters, but at that rate, I'll live with the idiosyncrasies of the app and customer service. If the inconvenience or inaccessibility continues to throttle things, I'll re-evaluate that decision. But for now, I'm rearranging deck chairs with the rest of them. Because this too shall pass.
And there may be hope on the horizon.
Helios and Matheson repaid the loan, in full, and early. For a company that has been bleeding cash for as long as they have, that indicates an infusion of support from somewhere, or someone. They remain committed to getting moviepass to work, which means they believe in the business model, if not the implementation of it. Other subscription services are coming into play, but moviepass has the name recognition. It's believed at this point that another company may be looking at acquiring the service and assisting in the retooling to get it profitable.
Admittedly, this is a ton of speculation at this point. But for now, moviepass refuses to pass over to the other side.
* EDIT 8/6/18 - The daily saga continues... DarkHorizons.com is reporting that moviepass has announced they WILL NOT be raising the price to $15 a month as previously mentioned, but WILL be limiting subscribers to three movies a month. Helios and Matheson said in a statement that only 15% of its subscribers had used the service to watch four or more movies a month and the new model won’t impact them.
Sounds like they wanna pass the buck to me.