Although movie theater attendance has been on the decline, the cost of tickets keeps rising. Enter MoviePass. Founded in 2011, MoviePass is a unique subscription service that allows its members to see unlimited movies for just one monthly fee. MoviePass uses a prepaid debit card system- just throw the MoviePass app on your smartphone, use it to select the theater and movie you'd like to attend, and MoviePass will immediately load the cost of one ticket onto your MoviePass card. Then, you buy your ticket at the box office, like normal, and from there, it's just rinse, lather, and repeat. You can do this to see one movie per day, for an entire month, all while paying just a one-time monthly subscription fee.
But, how much is that fee exactly? MoviePass made headlines, when it unveiled its new, Netflix-ian low price point of $9.95 per month, for its unlimited movies subscription plan. Yes, you read that (mostly) right. For just $9.95, you can purchase one movie ticket (2D only), every day for an entire month- not quite unlimited, unlimited; but considering the average cost of a movie ticket, in 2017, is $8.84, MoviePass members will easily make back their monthly subscription fee after just two visits to the theater.
So, you may be thinking, “This is great! I love movies, and I love paying $10 for any mildly useful sounding monthly subscription service! Why haven’t I heard of MoviePass before?” Well, the answer is pretty simple. In 2011, MoviePass initially sold its unlimited movie subscriptions for $30 a month. And, while $30 doesn’t quite provide the same level of savings as $9.95, fairly frequent movie goers could quickly benefit by seeing about four movies a month.
However, over the next 5 years, that $30 price rose to a point where some MoviePass users, in certain markets, were paying up to $100 a month for unlimited movies (3D and 2D), and $50 for 6 movies (2D only) a month. Not quite what your average consumer is interested in dishing out, especially for a service they’re not guaranteed to use on a frequent enough basis. Thus, for much of its existence, MoviePass appealed to a more niche market of cinema patrons- those who would see two to three movies a week, every week, rather than your more casual weekend warrior film watchers.
At $9.95 a month, though, MoviePass has the chance to inject itself right into the monthly budgets of Americans everywhere, nestled snuggly between those Spotify and Amazon Prime subscriptions. In the hours after MoviePass announced its new pricing structure, internet film buffs and deal seekers alike, flocked to MoviePass’s website and app, crashing both in spectacular “Reddit Hug of Death” fashion. Even now, two days after their initial announcement, MoviePass’s website cautions new users that they might get kicked off during sign-up, due to heavy site traffic.
Now you’re probably wondering, “Okay…but what’s the catch?” Well, there’s a couple of things. The first being that AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the US, is going after MoviePass hard, threatening legal action to prevent a competing subscription service from being used at its locations. Now, the mere threat of legal action doesn’t prevent MoviePass from being used at AMC theaters, at all. But, it could only be a matter of time before other theater chains follow suit, and real legal action inevitably follows.
The other issue is a bit more concerning. Just how is MoviePass able to buy tickets at full-price from exhibitors, while selling an “unlimited” number of these same tickets for a flat rate of $9.95? The answer is a sweet, sweet $27 million investment from data firm Helios and Matheson Analytics. MoviePass is basically operating at a loss, by design. According to Deadline, “B. Riley analyst Eric Wold notes that studios and exhibitors “are NOT taking a discount under the MoviePass model. We understand that MoviePass is absorbing the ticket discount and hoping to make up the discount through monetizing the data… and the breakage (from those consumers that do not use it to the full extent each month).” The big eye catcher there is the monetization of user data- an obvious play given MoviePass’s giant investment from a data analytics firm. In this age of social media and internet advertising, the sale of our personal preferences and spending habits shouldn’t be so shocking. But, it’s still a little disconcerting that for a business model as innocent as a movie ticket subscription service, the real prize is our user data.
I decided to give their service a try, to see how well-deserved all the hype has been. The initial sign-up was exhausting to say the least. I tried creating an account on MoviePass.com, during the midst of all the price drop press, and it took me a few dozen tries before my registration request went through. These attempts were spread out over the course of several hours, as lag times were horrible, and the site kept crashing on me. I imagine this won’t be an issue going forward, as the number of new users starts to level out, but it was a tad frustrating, to say the least, and not the best introduction to the service.
After successfully signing up, the website gave me an initial timeline of five to seven business days, for the MoviePass card to arrive in the mail. However, due to the high volume of new subscribers, the wait ended up being closer to three weeks- an expected, maybe even reasonable, delay; but, still a bit irksome. I finally received the card in the most ordinary, unassuming envelope you could imagine. If I wasn’t a firm believer in all things paperless, I would have guessed it was a bill of some kind. But, instead of a bill, inside this precious vessel, I found a bright red prepaid debit Mastercard, boldly labelled “MoviePass,” as well as a brief letter thanking me for joining, and listing the three next steps in my MoviePass journey.
Step 1: Download the MoviePass app from the App Store or Google Play Store. Simple enough. MoviePass is one of just two apps that show up when searching “moviepass,” so it’s easy to find, even for those non-tech savvy folks out there. What did give me pause, however, was the unsightly three out of five-star rating. Scrolling quickly through the reviews, it seemed to be that the most common complaint came from users who had signed up after the $9.95 price reduction was announced, a.k.a. when MoviePass.com, and its app, crashed beneath the collective interest of literally the entire internet. It’s hard to really fault MoviePass for that, especially because by the time I used the app for the first time, under what I assume are normal server traffic conditions, I experienced no crash issues, at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite- the app worked fine.
The second most common complaint was that users aren’t able to see what theaters accept MoviePass, without signing up for a subscription, first. This one’s a little more difficult to defend. Most of the theaters I regularly go to appeared in the app, but there were some that didn’t, and I live in a large city. It would be unfortunate to live in a smaller town, where the one local theater ends up not accepting MoviePass. If this is a potential concern for you, buyer beware. Other than the less than stellar App Store reviews, MoviePass was no different to set-up than any other app. Just install- allow MoviePass to send notifications? (Yes) Allow MoviePass to use your location? (Yes) Sign-in with your account, and you’re on your way.
Step 2: Go to the theater. Use the app to check in to a movie and showtime. Technically, this is two steps, but listing them together is important, especially for first-time users. MoviePass doesn’t work like Fandango, or other movie ticket purchasing apps, because you’re not using the app to actually purchase the tickets. The MoviePass app asks you to select a theater and a movie, so that it knows how much money to load onto your MoviePass card (which, again, is just a prepaid debit card). You buy the ticket at the box office, with your card, and the cost of the ticket, including sales tax, is covered exactly. The only caveat is that you can’t really select your movie ahead of time, since you have to physically be at least within 100 yards of the theater for the app to work. This might sound more complicated than the ease of buying e-tickets through the Fandango app- a process that’s soothingly free of all human interaction. But in practice, I found MoviePass simple to use.
Step 3: Purchase your ticket with your MoviePass card at the kiosk. Buying a ticket with the MoviePass card was no different than the dozens of debit/credit card transactions I make in a week. In the back of my mind, though, I was a little worried that the card wouldn’t work for some reason- that it hadn’t loaded with the entire cost of one ticket, that some stick-in-the-mud ticket seller would deny the card, in the name of corporate policy. Alas, my fears quickly subsided, as my transaction completed without a hitch. In fact, the box office teller even complimented me on my MoviePass card. And, the best part? I was able to count this purchase towards my Regal Crown Rewards Club- a huge, huge plus. The only real downside to this process is the inability to buy multiple tickets at a time. Meaning, that if your theater uses reserved seating, you’ll need to choose your seats separately, from the rest of your group, and hope that nobody swoops in on a neighboring seat, in the meantime.
MoviePass only costs $9.95 a month, and if you see even just one movie during that time, you’ll make your money back on that one visit, alone. Less realistically, but not improbably, if you see a movie every other weekend, or maybe you try to catch the newest releases every Friday, you’re going to be saving some serious cash, and possibly even earning rewards points on the side, depending on if the theater you go to allows you to use your MoviePass purchase towards their loyalty program. It would take a truly terrible app, and a horrifying user experience, to outweigh these benefits. And thankfully, MoviePass has neither. Sure, the app might not be flashy, and the little quirks that MoviePass forces onto the ticket buying process are noticeable; but overall, these “flaws” are negligible. If you’re a movie lover, or even just a movie liker, you should sign-up for MoviePass and not look back.