Over Thanksgiving Break this past year, my mom told me about a deal that seemed almost too good to be true. She said that for $90 I could see unlimited movies in theater for a whole year. Originally, I thought that my poor mom was being swindled by some internet scam. What was a MoviePass, and how could movie theaters make a profit off of this? Why would they sign off? Are they just banking on people not using it enough?
As you probably know by now, MoviePass is a monthly subscription-based film ticket service that allows its users to attend unlimited movies (Those penny-pinchers are excluding 3D and IMAX, though!) They recently changed the monthly charge to just $9.95 per month, which, if you actually use it, can be cheaper than one ticket alone. Their website, however, is incredibly vague, and I relied more on the testimony of my peers that were urging me to sign up for the service. Ever reluctantly, I signed up.
Signing up, however, does not mean that you can automatically head on over to the Violet Crown and watch the newest Oscar nom. Once you’ve signed up, the company creates a personal credit card of sorts that takes about two weeks to arrive in the mail. Once it arrives, you have to activate it, and from there, you can take it to the theater. At the theater, you have to activate it yet again and select your movie and time. Sketchy, right?
Altogether, it is a arduous and at times confusing process, but once I swiped my card for the first time, it was like magic. In one weekend I saw Call Me By Your Name, I, Tonya, and The Darkest Hour, all at different theaters across Charlottesville. Every time I used it, I kept thinking, “This is too good to be true.” And maybe it is.
Recent developments have proved problematic for this subscription-based start up. I received an email from MoviePass that transparently laid out the deals they had made going forward, as well as the theaters no longer eligible. MoviePass said that at its core they “strive for mutually beneficial relationships.”
Sound the alarm bells right there.
After announcing their slashing of prices, AMC, one of the biggest theater companies in the country, dropped out. This is shocking, especially when this deal seems to benefit the theaters because MoviePass reimburses the theaters for the full cost of the tickets. But AMC is worried. They deemed the business model unsustainable and said MoviePass may eventually let its 1.5 million customers down. An AMC representative stated, “From what we can tell, by definition and absent some other form of other compensation, MoviePass will be losing money on every subscriber seeing two movies or more in a month.”
Don’t count on using your MoviePass at an AMC theater any time soon.
The relationship between MoviePass and AMC has been rocky since its inception. While AMC signed on, albeit reluctantly, it has been basically waiting for the moment to withdraw. MoviePass accounted for roughly 62 percent of the ticket sales this past year, and with customers having basically a “free” ticket, they tend to spend more on concessions, which help newer, smaller theaters such as Charlottesville’s Alamo Drafthouse sustain their niche business model of fine dining in the theater.
Time will tell if MoviePass is the savior of the the physical movie theater – or, by selling them on a risky strategy, the final nail in the coffin. Though still a wary customer, I side with the notion that this is ultimately beneficial for the theater companies. Charlottesville has an interesting mix of theaters, each worth a visit, from name-brand cinemas (Regal), to regional niche theaters (Violet Crown), to an itty bitty one that prides itself on customer experience (Alamo Drafthouse). Personally, I have seen more movies in this past week than I had seen in the previous eight months. At each of the showings, I spent decent money on concessions, too.
My advice would be to take advantage of this subscription opportunity while you still can, especially if you’re a cinephile like myself. I can finally achieve the coveted goal of seeing all the best picture nominated films without breaking the bank – or the law. In the end, these movies deserve to be seen, and theaters over the past year have been packed to the brim thanks to MoviePass.
Apparently, it’s not just a small company trying to swindle my mom.