What if there was a way to never feel cheated out of your money when you see a movie in theaters? If you paid one flat fee per month to watch any movie you wanted to, would you still complain if the movie was total hogdick? A few months ago a company called MoviePass announced a new subscription plan which would effectively allow you to watch one movie per day in theaters across the U.S. and you only pay $9.95 per month.
Effective today, we are introducing a universal subscription plan for $9.95 per month. MoviePass will have one price point nationwide and it will be for standard 2D films only. As a subscriber, you can see any movie, at any theater, at any time. For your convenience, we currently support more than 91 percent of movie theaters nationwide. Unfortunately, premium formats such as 3D and IMAX will not be included in this plan.
10 bucks! How exactly could any company stay in business charging what in some theaters doesn’t even get you general admission? There’s likely a lot of complex economic math that will bore you to death and we’ll save that for the end of this piece, but for now, let’s look at how MoviePass did IRL.
On September 15, I decided to take the plunge and subscribe to MoviePass in the hopes of seeing Kingsman: The Golden Circle at most a week late. Signing up was simple enough, much like any service it only asks for your name, address, and a billing credit card to set up an account. When I completed signup, I received a message saying my MoviePass card would be delivered in 2-3 weeks.
Okay, cool, probably not going to see Kingsman then. Users will also need to download the MoviePass app to use the service which also provided the alternative of being able to get E-tickets without having your card in hand, meaning I could have used the service instantly after signing up. It’s a great band-aid for those who simply can’t wait to try out the service, but unfortunately, there were no theaters near me that supported their e-ticketing. Weeks went by as Kingsman released, Tom Cruise’s American Made came out, and I want to say Jigsaw; still no MoviePass card in the mail.
After three weeks, I emailed MoviePass customer service. In about 48hrs someone responded to my request to tell me my card had been delayed about two weeks due to the high volume of new subscribers the service received. Apparently since the announcement the company has received over 50k new subscribers and needed to open more facilities to produce new cards. My worry was that a full month will have gone by and I’d have been billed for nothing. I was about ready to start faking my death to get out of what I feared to be some new universal give me your money and I’ll take you to the aliens cult. To its credit, MoviePass acknowledged my concern before I could even bring it up; stating that my service billing would not start until I first buy tickets with it. My credit card statement confirmed their words.
Finally, on October 21st my shiny red MoviePass Mastercard arrived. When the card arrives, users need to link it to your MoviePass app/account and once it shows up on screen…movies, movies, movies! That Sunday afternoon, I decided to put my MoviePass to the test at my local AMC theater to finally catch the movie Dave Gibbons had raved about. Using it was simple enough. You open the app search for the theater you want to go to, choose a showtime, and press the “Check In” button (Note: you need to physically be within 100 yards of that theater).
The app gives you 30min to purchase your ticket with the card before it takes away the money it loaded for purchase or it blows up in your pocket. I’m too scared to let it go past the 30min time limit so I can’t confirm that would actually happen. After pressing “Check-in”, instantly a message appears on screen telling you to use your MoviePass card to purchase your ticket. It works in the same manner as using a Mastercard to make purchases at a store, once you pick the film and time, MoviePass loads the price of a standard admission to the card. To my surprise, it all worked rather smoothly.
There are differences when choosing theaters. Some will allow you to choose your seat through the app, I was told by a MoviePass rep those instances would require you to use E-Ticketing on your phone. As part of the fine print, 3D and Imax showings of films are not available in the app, and currently, there is no way to put the standard cost towards it in order to pay the difference separately for the premium format showings.
If you’re someone that goes to the movies with groups of people, you’ll definitely need to do some logistical planning if you go to a theater that has assigned seating. You can only buy your own ticket with the MoviePass card. There’s a potential that the seat next to you may be bought up in that sliver of time difference between you and your friend’s purchasing. It makes for the movie-going equivalent of launching a cruise missile from a submarine where two people need to turn the keys at the same time
There are a lot of odds and ends in the fine print for MoviePass but nothing shady or purposely hidden. Among MoviePass terms of service are a full menu of conditions in which the service could potentially terminate your deal with them:
(iv) You permit another person to use your MoviePass Card to purchase a movie ticket.
(v) You attempt to purchase a ticket to a movie that is different from the movie you reserved in the MoviePass App.
(vi) You purchase tickets on Fandango, MovieTickets.com, or any other third-party source using your MoviePass Card.
(vii) You sell or attempt to sell purchased MoviePass tickets to other patrons.
(viii) You purchase tickets for a purpose other than viewing a movie, such as to earn theater loyalty program points.
(ix) On more than one occasion during any thirty (30) day period you do not view the movie for which you purchased a ticket with your MoviePass Card in its entirety.
(x) If you use your MoviePass Card for any purpose other than to purchase a 2D movie ticket at a theater kiosk, or we have reason to believe that you have done so, you acknowledge and agree that we have the right to charge a fee of $25 (twenty-five U.S. dollars) (“Penalty Fee”) per occurrence on the form of payment you provided to us for your MoviePass subscription. If you believe that you have been charged a Penalty Fee in error, you may contact customer service to dispute the charge within 60 days of incurring such charge.
How it tracks any of that other than that last part, I have no idea.
Also part of their fine print is a penalty for canceling your subscription. Say you’ve fallen on hard times and need to put that ten dollars a month towards cheese or two Starbucks coffees. Because the service is month-to-month there isn’t a cancellation fee. Once you do cancel there is a nine-month waiting period before you can sign up again. Ouch. That’s some vindictive ex-stuff right there.
As far as the economy of MoviePass goes? Well in theory if you see more than one movie a month, you’ve already cost the company 200% of what they made on you. At every theater you purchase a ticket using MoviePass, it gets that full admission price from the company while you’re not charged anything additional. It makes one wonder why any theater has a problem with this service if it’s still getting its money, but more so it makes me wonder what MoviePass is doing to stay in business. Even as more people join, its needs will always outweigh what it brings in from subscribers so how can it possibly be in business for more than a day?
MoviePass is majority owned by a company called Helios & Matheson Analytics Inc. The company’s shares had rocketed about 692% since the acquisition, climbing to a peak of $38.86 from $2.95 in August. The trading of the shares alone could generate a good chunk of dividend for the company, but what it’s really banking on is data mining. MoviePass is one of the few services that can tell companies exactly who and when people are going to the movies. If MoviePass is able to prove that it can drive incremental box office revenue to studios and cinemas, not only could they generate viable advertising revenue but also create an ecosystem by selling that data to ride shares such as Uber and restaurant chains looking for high traffic populated areas to open in. Those are just the tip of the spear when it comes to what it can do with that consumer data. In a way, the trade-off is equivalent to doing one of those consumer surveys you’d get stopped in the mall for where they give you a coupon for a free slice of that leathery Sabarros pizza after. We’re giving up our thoughts on what we’d buy and when through MoviePass everytime you choose to go to a theater through them.
Would I recommend MoviePass to you? Yes, but be cautious and don’t count on being able to use the service in a reasonable amount of time. Within the past two weeks, a few people on the site’s blog have been posting about still not receiving their cards. The high volume of demand is still going on and you should bank on not being able to use it for about a month once you sign up (if you have no E-Ticket theater near you). So far, it’s been a good deal for me. I’ve seen Kingsman, American Made, Suburbicon, post-media screening of Thor Ragnarok, and Bad Moms Christmas all with MoviePass. Is it worth missing out on 3D and IMAX versions of the films. That’s personal preference, to me, it absolutely is. Considering half the things shown in IMAX aren’t actually filmed in the format but converted, it’s just a bigger screen for a few extra people to me.
Data mining is certainly a concern in this digital age, but I give the service no more information than I would my local T.G.I.Friday’s. MoviePass claims to know if I’ve actually seen the movie I bought a ticket to, through them, but I call utter bullsh** on that. According to it, I’m also not allowed to collect rewards points for theaters I go to but I get receipts with a purchase price on them and without a designated will call at theaters, if I have to wait like everyone else I should get what everyone else gets. It isn’t entitlement if it is what other patrons receive.
MoviePass is far from signaling the downfall of the movie-going industry. Films themselves are already doing that with lackluster quality product. In fact MoviePass might just be the answer, how many more would throw caution to the wind and watch any movie they even have a remote interest in if it wasn’t costing them 15 bucks a pop in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect data MoviePass can produce after its first two quarters with the new universal subscription price.