MoviePass Does Away With Unlimited Movies. Now What?

“I don’t feel so good…” Image by Reddit user jfleming40. For more, check out the Who Cares What We Think? podcast at @thewhocarespod. Used with permission.

As they say, “all good things must come to an end,” and now it appears that, to no one’s surprise, paying one low fee to see as many movies as you want each month is gone as well.

To say that MoviePass has had a tough few weeks is quite the understatement. Two weeks ago, it appeared that the service might have gone under altogether, as on Thursday, July 28–the night the highly-anticipated Mission: Impossible – Fallout was released–the service was down entirely. Their app claimed it was a “technical” error, but news quickly leaked that the problem was in fact that the service couldn’t pay its credit card processor. By Friday, when most people were going to the movies, the service was back up, but only thanks to an emergency $5 million loan.

The message on the MoviePass app on Friday, July 28 after service was restored (left) and Monday, July 30 when it appears to have died (right). Image by Rob Huddleston

They limped through the weekend, but by Monday they were back to having problems, with users around the country–myself included–reporting that the app was showing “no screenings available” at every theater.

Finally, on Tuesday, CEO Mitch Lowe emailed users. In the email, he apologized for the problems and lack of honest communication. He also outlined several steps the service would be taking moving forward, including keeping “surge pricing” (which I previously wrote in defense of, although that was before some surge tickets reached $8). But more controversial was the announcement that big releases, including M:IChristopher Robin, and next week’s Meg, would be blocked from the service for at least the first two weeks of their release. That is, unless those movies were showing at one of the theaters that has an agreement with MoviePass to support e-ticketing (which is how I was able to use MoviePass to see Robin yesterday.) And finally, the email said that “[s]howtimes that are offered through our service will vary from day to day, and every showtime may not be available. It quickly became clear that the service was rationing tickets, as users all over reported being unable to check into anything by early evening each day. In interviews with press, Lowe also stated that the service would increase the monthly fee to $15, but that was never communicated to subscribers.

But none of that seemed to work, either. MoviePass’ parent company, Helios and Matheson, saw their stock continue to plummet (down to 7 cents) and presumably, the financial bleeding didn’t slow, either. And so it was that early today, Lowe announced yet another significant change to the service.

Three Movies Per Month

Abandoning one of the most important aspects of the service, MoviePass appears poised to switch from unlimited films to a three-movies-a-month plan, while keeping the fee at $9.99, getting rid of surge pricing, and adding back “many” blockbuster films. Apparently, this new plan will allow subscribers to buy additional tickets at a discount. There’s no word yet on whether they will add 3D, IMAX and large format screenings to the service, or if the long-promised family plan will be adopted.

Despite the promise made in last week’s email by Lowe that they “we are working hard to improve the communications to our community moving forward,” the company has once again decided to communicate via the press, rather than directly to subscribers.

It’s disappointing to say the least to see this change. “Unlimited movies per month” was always the key selling point for MoviePass. But, despite the service change, and despite the continued clear contempt Lowe continues to show to his customers, I will remain a MoviePass member. And in October, when my son turns 13 and is old enough to get his own card, I’ll be signing him up (assuming, of course, that Lowe doesn’t change things around a dozen more times).

Why? Because I can do math. A single movie where I live is about $13 in the evening and weekends, which is when I see almost all of my movies. If my son sees only a single movie in a month, we still save some money. Seeing two or three movies a month–and since I average between 8 and 10 per month, there’s no question I’ll hit the three every month–means I’m paying $3.33 per movie, and saving $10 for each of those three movies.

Other Movie Subscription Plans

While MoviePass alone will be enough for my son and many other movie-goers, it still leaves me short 4 or more movies a month. Thankfully, MoviePass has competition.

Sinemia

This company, like MoviePass, has been around for a while, but they only launched in the US recently. Sinemia offers four pricing tiers:

  • 1 2D movie per month for $3.99
  • 2 2D movies per month for $6.99
  • 2 movies per month for $8.99, which can include IMAX, large format, and 3D
  • 3 movies per month for $13.99, which can include IMAX, large format or 3D

All of these plans are billed annually.

Simple math makes it obvious that Sinemia isn’t as good a deal as MoviePass, offering basically the same 3 movie plan for $4 more. However, that $4 does provide access to IMAX, large format, and 3D, so if you’re into seeing movies that way, this makes sense. Unless MoviePass adds them … in which case, it’ll be interesting to see if Sinemia reponds.

AMC Stubs A-List

Despite initially claiming that subscriptions would devalue the theater experience and making empty threats to sue MoviePass, AMC showed this summer that what it was really doing was trying to stall while it came up with a competing plan, which it calls A-List.

With AMC A-List, you pay $19.95 per month and are entitled to 3 movies per week. It includes IMAX, 3D, and AMC’s other special offerings like Dolby. It also allows you to purchase tickets directly through the AMC app, which means you can reserve seats for hot movies in advance from the comfort of your home.

Stubs A-List now moves into position as the best deal for heavy movie-goers … assuming you have AMC theaters near you. But that is the big problem with A-List. If the movie you want to see isn’t playing at your local AMC, or if they time happens to be more convenient at the Cinemark down the road, or if, like me, you have zero AMC theaters in your city, then obviously A-List isn’t going to work for you.

Cinemark Movie Club

The first chain to release its own subscription was Cinemark, which owns Century Theaters. Their Movie Club, released in late 2017, is the worst deal of all. For $8.99 a month, you get one ticket per month. Subsequent tickets can be purchased by members at the same $8.99 price. It’s definitely a savings–the Century theaters near me (they are far and away the dominant chain here) charge between $12-$15 per movie. But you’re only saving $3-$6 per film.

Also, like AMC A-List, Movie Club limits your savings to Cinemark theaters.

The lack of significant savings is slightly made up for by the fact that you also save 20% on concessions, but it’s still a far cry from the deal offered by MoviePass or even AMC.

Costco

While not a subscription service, it’s worth remembering that Costco sells tickets for Cinemark and Regal at a significant discount. These tickets have restrictions, including not always being accepted for new releases or premium screenings or formats, and of course they have the added disadvantage that you have to go wait in line at Costco to buy them, but they should still be considered in anyone’s post-MoviePass plans.

My Plans

As someone who sees 100+ movies a year, I obviously need to come up with something. Just looking at the last year, I saw 8 movies in July. I only saw 4 in June, but that was because we were out of the country for half of the month. There were 6 in May, 7 in March, 9 in February, and 10 each in April and January. The last five months of 2017 were even busier for me: 8 each in August and September, 11 in October, 15 in November, and then 10 in December.

The solution here is clear: mix all of the above. I’ll be subscribing to the 3 movies per month plan with Sinemia, as well as joining Cinemark’s Movie Club. I’d sign up for A-List if I could, but again, there aren’t any AMC theaters where I live.

MoviePass and Sinemia will cover 6 of the movies each month. The Cinemark subscription would then reduce the cost of additional tickets for me down at $9 each (I see roughly 75% of my movies at Cinemark theaters, simply because they are the dominant chain in this area).

It will increase the cost of my movie-going, by a lot. For the last year, I’ve been seeing almost all movies for only $10. But only two years ago, before MoviePass hired Lowe and he began his insane quest to focus on disruption over sound business, I was paying $35/month for MoviePass (and oh how I wish they’d just return to that model).

With this new collection of plans, I’ll be paying $18.99 per month for MoviePass and Cinemark. Sinemia only does annual plans, so it looks like each August I’ll be hit with a $168 fee for them, but for the sake of figuring out the savings let’s add their monthly plan in. So in essence, I’ll be at $32.98. But that fee only covers the first seven movies each month, since again the Cinemark plan merely means you pay $8.99 per ticket.

In the end, my movie hobby will cost between $33 a month when I “only” see seven films, which is a savings of around $70. On months where I go all in and really binge (usually November and December, when I’m trying to see as many potential award movies as I can), my out-of-pocket may get closer to $100, but I’m still saving around $50 over what I would have paid without these plans.

Does MoviePass Have a Future?

While MoviePass has functioned for the last year on an at-best questionable business model, I do think that the fact that theater chains have introduced their own subscription models has shown that the idea behind the company was something consumers want. The theater industry has been well and truly disrupted.

For the last year, Mr. Lowe has tried one hail mary pass after another. This latest scheme will certainly slow the bleeding, although the 3/$10 plan still means the service loses money on every transaction. Whether this latest idea will work or not is anyone’s guess. I have already spent the last week writing and rewriting this post as things have changed seemingly daily. Who knows what they’ll do next week or next month. Only time will tell.

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