MoviePass Returns With a Vengeance

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Movie Pass card
My old MoviePass credit card. Photo by Rob Huddleston

I’m a very frequent movie-goer. In 2015, I saw 136 movies in the theater. I slowed down a tiny bit last year, catching “only” 114, and I’m way behind this year, currently on track to see 91 films. (Yes, I know this because I track all of this on a Google Spreadsheet.) Are there fewer movies worth seeing this year? No. What caused the slow-down was that my main source of being to afford movies suddenly went away last summer when MoviePass, the subscription movie service, suddenly changed their pricing structure, as I wrote about at the time. Simple math told me that even as often as I went to the theater, the service wouldn’t pay for itself anymore. So, with a great deal of reluctance, I allowed my subscription to lapse and went back to paying for each and every movie I saw. Which, in turn, led me to start being picky about the movies I saw (although sometimes, not picky enough).

But this week, the company announced that it was adopting a brand new pricing structure that makes it almost too hard to believe: $9.99 a month for unlimited movies. That’s a quarter of what I was paying before, and a tenth of what they wanted me to pay under their last scheme.

OK, “unlimited” is a bit of a misnomer. Under the new plan, they are returning to their old restrictions: you can only see one movie per calendar day, you cannot use the service to see movies in 3D, IMAX, or other large formats like Cinemark’s XD, and you cannot see the same movie more than once. But I’m completely fine with that. I rarely want to see a movie more than once, I hardly ever see movies in 3D or IMAX, and I’m OK having to pay out-of-pocket for the rare movie that is truly worth XD. The one on that list that I honestly hit the most frequently is the once-per-day, but again, it happens infrequently enough that I can manage it.

The new incarnation of MoviePass also include an important upgrade. (It’s possible this was added over the last year since I last used it, so it may only be new to me.) As more and more theaters move to a reserved seating model, waiting until you get to the theater to buy tickets can be risky. So, MoviePass does include an e-ticket feature where you can pre-buy tickets directly through the app, including reserving your seat. The app then generates a QR code that can be scanned at the box office to get a real ticket for the theater. So that’s cool.

There’s also another important change. In the past, it was easy to circumvent the limitation of only seeing a movie once by simply checking in for a movie, but buying a ticket for a different movie at the box office. Now, after checking in, you have to submit your ticket stub via the app. The app’s FAQ isn’t completely clear on how this works, but it is interesting that they closed this loophole in the service. And honestly, at $10 a month, there’s not a whole lot of motivation to cheat the service. I will almost certainly see The Last Jedi several times, but I have no problem using MoviePass the first time and then paying out-of-pocket for the others.

But wait, you say. Doesn’t this mean theaters will lose money? Why would they accept this? Well, they don’t have to worry: MoviePass pays the theater the full ticket price.

So how is the company supposed to make money this way? Well, they probably aren’t. They are obviously hoping to get lots and lots of people to sign up now–and if the slowness of their site today is any indication, that’s happening. Also, according to press reports, CEO Mitch Lowe is hoping that the theaters will eventually see that MoviePass is driving more customers to their theaters, and either give the company a price break on tickets or possibly pay the company for advertising. However, at least one theater chain’s initial reaction is, shall we say, less than positive.

But long term, this isn’t really a business model based on subscriptions. The company was recently acquired by Helios and Matheson Analytics. So even though we’re paying to be part of the service, we aren’t really the customers here. Like with Facebook and Google and so many others today, we’re really the product: by joining MoviePass, you are in essence agreeing to have lots and lots of your data sold. It’s unclear right now whether that data will be limited to things directly from the app, like your location and what kinds of movies you like, or if they’ll use trackers and cookies and whatnot to collect more information about you.

(However, it’s worth noting that the company’s Terms of Service has a long section at the end devoted to DVDs and Blu Rays. I don’t see anything on the site as of now, but I’m guess that this is here because they are thinking about, at some point, selling movies as an additional revenue stream. Or, it’s possible that the current CEO Lowe, who was a co-founder of Netflix, copied and pasted the Terms of Service from his old company and forgot to remove some stuff.)

Personally, I’m OK with that. I live so much of my life out there online with social media and the rest that I don’t figure there’s much of my data that isn’t already being sold. And honestly? If selling my movie preferences means that I’ll end up paying $1 or less per movie per year, I’m completely OK with that. Had this been in place from the start of this year, I would have already saved close to $500 this year alone. But I fully understand that others aren’t as OK with having their data out there. That’s fine, and absolutely your choice to not use the service under those terms.

There’s one more big question mark still out there about MoviePass: their early cancellation fee. The app states very clearly, “MoviePass is a month-to-month, no commitment. Cancel at any time without a fee.” So that is good news as well.

For me, I can’t wait until my new MoviePass card arrives, and very much look forward to evenings where I can’t go the movies because I’ve already seen everything playing in my city. If this all sounds good to you, too, head on over to their site and sign up.

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