Entertaining

MoviePass Review: How the Theater Subscription Service & App Work

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Photo by Juice/REX/Shutterstock (7538745a) MODEL RELEASED Scared couple in movie theater VARIOUS
Photo by Juice/REX/Shutterstock
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I love going to the movies. Armed with an intimate knowledge of my preferred theaters’ value days, half-off matinees, and the strategic deployment of rewards cards, I can average up to 55 movies in theaters a year. So when I heard about MoviePass’ new deal, it sounded like a popcorn and raspberry iced-tea induced fever dream. MoviePass announced a deal that allows moviegoers to see one movie in theaters every day for only $9.95 a month. It sounded to me like Netflix for theaters.

[UPDATE: Moviepass has lowered its monthly subscription rate to just $6.95 if you sign up for a 12-month subscription.]

However, I’ve always been a fairly skeptical consumer and generally abide by the old adage: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” There had to be some sort of catch.

apocalyps333
2 months
I signed up and received my card... I just have no clue how to connect it to...

apocalyps333
2 months
I signed up and received my card… I just have no clue how to connect it to…

After weighing the potential cost and benefit, I decided to give the service a try. If MoviePass didn’t meet my expectations, I would simply cancel in a month and be down ten dollars. The decisive factor for me was learning that MoviePass’ ambitious CEO had agreed to forfeit 20% of its parent company’s stock shares if it did not have 100,000 subscribers for at least one day out of the calendar year after the deal is signed. With an estimated 20,000 subscribers in December of 2016, MoviePass seemed to be putting its money where its mouth is. As of September 15th, MoviePass has reached 400,000 subscribers and struggles to keep up with demand. 

How Does MoviePass Work?

MoviePass dropped its unlimited access price from $49.99 a month to $9.95. For its subscription fee, you can watch one movie every day of the month at participating theaters. After signing up, MoviePass sends you a debit card. You then coordinate your MoviePass App to select your showtime, while using the MoviePass card to pay for your movie.

Sound a little complicated? It’s actually easier than you think. I signed up for MoviePass on the website and waited for my card to arrive in the mail. It took two weeks to get my MoviePass Card due to the high demand; people who I’ve later encouraged to sign up have reported longer wait times, which is consistent with the early criticism I’ve been hearing due to demand. The wait didn’t bother me too much though. While MoviePass did immediately charge my card, my first month of service didn’t start until the card arrived.

The MoviePass Card is a debit card that only works at theaters associated with the program. It’s kind of like a giftcard (it’s an actual MasterCard) that loads the price of a movie’s admission when you get in range of your theater. I downloaded the App and synced my card to it.

What’s the catch you might ask? Does MoviePass have Blackout Dates? Nope – you can catch Reese Witherspoon AND Pennywise opening weekend. Do you have to go to that one weird theater on the outskirts of the suburbs without stadium seating? Nope. MoviePass has a map of participating theaters including AMC and Regal theaters; they claim to have access to over 90% of theaters in the United States. I particularly like that MoviePass also includes many independent theaters. I’m walking distance from my local Laemmle (an indie theater), and with MoviePass, I can take more chances on a foreign, independent and art films. One issue regarding convenience is that you can’t purchase your tickets online in advance. You have to physically be at the location to purchase your showtime.

My first MoviePass experience was on a brutally hot Sunday in Southern California. I decided to watch Wind River – a cool thriller and murder mystery at the Edwards Long Beach Stadium 26, a location I conveniently frequent. As I neared my theater, I logged into the app. One note: you have to be 100 yards (or an American Football field) in range of of the theater to check in. I selected my theater, showtime and entered the last four digits of my MoviePass card. The app had more steps than I liked and it lagged a bit at first (I found that it worked faster when logged into the free Starbucks WiFi). After getting a confirmation, I ordered my tickets at the box office and paid with my MoviePass card.

MoviePass Check In

I felt the rush of movie savings coursing through my veins, until I realized… Edwards had implemented discount Sundays. The Wind River ticket price was only $7.00. I’d actually paid $2.95 more on the price of the movie. The disappointment was only momentary; I would try the service again and at least I confirmed that the MoviePass card worked. This also provided some insight into how MoviePass would recoup some of their money.

How Does Moviepass Make Money?

MoviePass currently operates at a loss. While you only pay $9.95 a month, MoviePass subsidizes the full price of your ticket. MoviePass wants to make money by eventually selling your data; it will request access to your phone’s files and photos (which you can deny) and sync your Facebook account (which is optional).

After recruiting Netflix co-founder Mitch Lowe and selling a majority share of its stock to a data company Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc, MoviePass is seemingly in the data business. While the most invasive requests for access to files and photos are a seemingly obvious “NO,” MoviePass also hopes you’ll sync your Facebook to the app. This is critical to their business model. Right now, a studio can buy an ad on Facebook and display it to a target audience; what studios and Facebook CANNOT do is determine whether you ever went to go watch the movie. I believe MoviePass will use the data to create an enterprise product that measures the effectiveness of the ads to ticket sales. 

In the immediate future, MoviePass’ subscription is not as crazy you might think depending on your location. According to Box Office Mojo, the average price of a movie ticket in 2017 is $8.89. Harris conducted a poll showing that Americans go to five movies in theaters annually. Even if that person doubles his theater trips, MoviePass still profits. Someone like me – an Angeleno who watches fifteen movies a month in theaters – is a nightmare for the service. MoviePass’ ideal subscriber is an average moviegoer living outside New York and Los Angeles. 

Is MoviePass worth it?

For someone who loves movies, I would answer a resounding yes. For most customers, if you watch two movies a month – you’ve already saved money.

I’ve had MoviePass for seventeen days and it’s been a generally positive experience with one glaring mishap. After successfully watching Wind River, Atomic Blonde, and Dunkirk, MoviePass failed to load when I went to see It. Its customer service left a lot to be desired to put it generously. 

With three movies under my belt, I’ve been given to hyperbolically praising the service and making a big show out of how easy MoviePass was to use. I’ll admit, at times I do like playing up the role of the heel. After arriving in range of my favorite theater (Krikorian Buena Park), I smugly flashed the app to my group, insufferably bragging about my savings and how easy MoviePass was to use… only to have it freeze.

I tried everything. I logged into the free WiFi, restarted the app, restarted the phone… and tried to access the check in for forty minutes. So it was with some schadenfreude that my group watched with their teasing eyes as I shamefully paid for my It ticket out of pocket after so much hype. It was terrible. I suppose you had to be there.

But that’s not the worst part. MoviePass’ customer service is truly atrocious. They simply ignore you. There is no customer service phone number on the app (note: it’s 877-646-2892) and you are directed to a chat that never responds. The phone number goes to voicemail, and you would think that a movie theater service would have representatives available before prime movie watching hours. I sent an email on September 8th with a follow up on the 11th, but have yet to receive a response twelve days later. To me, this is the biggest failure of MoviePass – even more so than the freezing app.

MoviePass Fail

The unresponsive app (which would not load the showtimes) and the equally unresponsive customer service chat.

It may seem like a quibble, complaining about paying for a movie I was going to see anyway, but it was more of the principle: A company offers you a service. You accept and pay; they’re supposed to deliver. How will the Customer Service respond should MoviePass raise their prices or fail to cancel a subscription? My experience so far leads me to believe that they are generally unresponsive, and I would suggest going straight to your credit card company to file a chargeback if you can’t get any assistance.

Now for the positives: I saved a ton of money with MoviePass doing something I love. When it functioned, I was able to successfully watch ten movies with the average price per ticket being $1.00. Had I personally purchased those tickets, the average price per ticket would have been $11.34. The total cost of the ten films was $113.38. I personally saved $103.43 (minus my $9.95 fee). For this kind of savings, I suppose 10 out of 11 successful attempts isn’t bad, but when the whole point of this service is to allow you to save money on movies, I would say that even an .90% failure rate is pretty rough.

MoviePass Savings

I ultimately still enjoyed MoviePass despite the non-existent customer service cause the savings was so good. The lower price point is good for the movie industry as a whole. I’ve long theorized that the current cost of ticket prices was making studios less profitable and movies less culturally relevant – particularly at a time when entertainment alternatives abound and studios focus their content towards a broader, international audiences. Higher prices have contributed to making movies more bourgeoisie, and less populist. The public has been priced out of the theater and with potentially $90.00 on the line for tickets, concessions, parking and a babysitter, audiences are less likely to take chances with original movies and challenging filmmakers. 

With a cost saving for the customer and a profit for the studio and theaters why are exhibitors like AMC opposed to MoviePass? It’s mainly to protect future profits. AMC hilariously released this statement:

AMC Theatres announced today its concern that an announcement by a small fringe player in the reselling of movie tickets is not in the best interest of moviegoers, movie theaters and movie studios.

Let’s be clear, AMC does not care about the best interests of moviegoers. Just take one look at concession prices to remind yourself of their “altruism.” The fact that exhibitors are threatened by a price drop is not only an example of healthy competition, but all the more reason to give MoviePass a try.

If you love movies, increasing ticket prices only makes our medium more niche, less relevant, and less relatable. Theaters like AMC are afraid of the long term expectation that this kind of deal will foster. Any sympathy you may have for them (but why would you?), should be mitigated by the fact that more people going to more movies will spend the extra income on concessions (where theaters mainly make their profit).

I know I’ve been more apt to splurge a bit on coffee and popcorn after getting MoviePass. Where I draw the line though, (even if I had the credit card of my worst enemy) is a $15.99 Bavarian Pretzel at AMC in the greater Los Angeles area. Out of everything I saw at the movies – the sheer gall of charging almost sixteen dollars for a pretzel was mind-blowing. A pretzel worth more than the U.S. hourly minimum wage is obscene, but if you were to go on that pound and a half journey of salty baked dough, at least you wouldn’t worry so much about the cost of your movie ticket. But hey, it’s your money; you live your life.

Should I Get MoviePass?

If you are a film enthusiast who watches two or more movies a month and live in a major metropolitan area, MoviePass is an amazing deal. If you’re a film enthusiast who watches three or more movies a month, but live in an area where ticket prices are more reasonable, MoviePass is still a good deal. If you’re a film student, this is a great, affordable resource to have.

If you generally watch six to ten movies a year, this might not be the deal for you. Your movie viewing habits will probably bring you up to one movie a month, but unless you’re going to the movies at least twice a month, MoviePass will generally be a neutral cost. If bad customer service annoys you, I would pass on this app as well.

The savings are hard to ignore, for a film lover like me, MoviePass has been an amazing deal; I would recommend you signup and download the app, with caveats: Protect your data. Monitor your emails and credit card statements for price hikes and upsells. I know that I will alert any changes to the subscription to everyone I’ve recommended MoviePass; we’ve all decided to collectively bail at the first sign of a price hike. For the best value, watch at LEAST two movies a month. Desired improvements to the app would include a more streamlined purchase funnel and raising their customer service standards and response.

I know that for me with movies like Blade Runner 2049, Red Sparrow, All The Money In The World, The Foreigner, Marshall, The Snowman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Last Flag Flying, The Current War, Molly’s Game, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Ferdinand, Downsizing, and The Phantom Thread – I’ll be riding out MoviePass as long as it makes sense. The rest of 2017 looks like it’s going to be a great time at the movies. 

Pros:  True Savings for True Film fans. Price point. More movies and more risks with movies.

Neutral: Privacy Concerns (can be mitigated), App can be laggy.

Cons:  Customer Service, Long wait time for MoviePass card. Must buy tickets at the theater. 

Does your theater support MoviePass? MoviePass Theater List

John Matsuya is an SEO and writer. You can read more of his freelance writing at matsuyacreative.com.

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