When I signed up for MoviePass back in November, it was unlimited film viewings per month. Also, I was limited to 2D viewings and once a day. When I signed up for, it was an amazing deal. Since then, it hasn’t not changed too much for me, except for that blackout of selected AMC theaters. However, people have asked me whether they should join, but I am more hesitant about telling them too. Especially since they are limited to 4 movies a month, which is still a good deal, but their business practice is increasingly becoming increasingly shady.
I’ve always known that the free ride wouldn’t last forever, though. The company’s business model, which has MoviePass losing money on pretty much every ticket sold, seems too unsustainable. Two changes the company has begun toying with recently make it appear MoviePass is readying to gut the core value of the service. In other words, the moment when MoviePass stops being worth it is feeling closer than ever.
We learned earlier this week that for new subscribers, MoviePass is no longer allowing customers to see one movie per day. Instead, the $9.95 subscription will allow customers to purchase only four tickets per month, with MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe admitting that he doesn’t know if the “unlimited” plan will ever return. To help ease the blow, MoviePass is throwing in a three-month trial of iHeartRadio’s All Access subscription, though it’s not exactly clear why a three-month trial for an audio service is supposed to be a decent stand-in for movie tickets. The new plan also bills customers quarterly, so you have to pay for MoviePass in three-month chunks. That’s a far cry from the annual plan of $89.95 upfront — or just $7.50 a month — for a full year of MoviePass’ unlimited access plan. That plan is no longer available, either.
The other change is a modification to the company’s terms of service that prohibits MoviePass customers from buying tickets to “select” movies more than once. MoviePass has been reached out for further comment, but a support ticket explaining the change justifies it by saying, “We hope this will encourage you to see new movies and enjoy something different!” That’s an even more distasteful change, because the company is offering zero guidance or transparency about what films will be impacted. What has made MoviePass great for consumers is the ability to see films whenever you like, knowing that if your friends want to see something in the future, you can always go a second time. For tentpole blockbusters — movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther, or The Avengers: Infinity War — repeat viewings are a cornerstone of the fan experience. MoviePass used to enable that.
Now, the service is asking for three months of subscription fees upfront, with no guarantee that a given movie won’t be impacted by its latest, unannounced change. In addition to that, many users are now reporting an expanded test from MoviePass, one we first heard about earlier this year, in which users in certain markets are being asked to upload photos of their ticket stubs. The stub verification is ostensibly to test for “fraudulent activity” and “to ensure that MoviePass is sustainable for the entire community.” An email from MoviePass reads, “Please note that failure to cooperate with the below safeguards could result in irreversible termination of your subscription.”
MoviePass has used these kind of bait-and-switch tactics before, usually as part of selective market tests as a way to see what its subscriber base is willing to put up with. We’ve seen the company play hardball with AMC by blacklisting popular theaters in major markets like New York City, and play fast and loose with math in order to inflate the amount of revenue it drives in ticket sales. Some of the moves have been ways to bring major theater chains to the bargaining table, in MoviePass’ bid for a possible cut on concessions or ticket sales.
We’ve also seen the company cut deals with smaller studios to promote movies like I, Tonya and Death Wish, while simultaneously prohibiting MoviePass customers from buying tickets to competing movies. That test seemed to be designed to show how MoviePass could direct audiences toward the movies it was being paid to promote. But as is the case with almost all of MoviePass’ tactics, it’s the company’s paying subscribers that are left in the dark, as the basic value of their subscription is undermined or stripped out without any notification or explanation.
On the business side, all of these tests seem designed to cut corners, save cash, and determine how little the company can get away with offering while it tries to figure out a more sustainable business model. For a while, the working assumption was that MoviePass would monetize its users’ viewing habits, and Lowe has said the grand plan is to cut deals with restaurants, bars, and other services to create a holistic, all-in-one night out that starts when a person leaves their home.
But Lowe’s admission that MoviePass would track user location data to do so kicked up a privacy controversy, and MoviePass has since disabled the mobile app’s location-tracking ability, which it says it never used. An independent auditor compounded the issues earlier this month when it said it had “substantial doubt” about the ability of MoviePass’ parent company to stay in business in the face of the service’s ongoing losses.
But those concerns are ultimately inside baseball for the average moviegoer. The only thing that matters for potential consumers is whether MoviePass as a service is worth the cost — and all the corner-cutting, tests, and secret changes have undermined the core service to the point where it’s almost not worth the trouble. Over the last seven and a half months, I’ve seen 25 films through MoviePass, for an average of around 3 films per month. I’ve had some repeat viewings here and there — the new Star Wars and Black Panther, to name a couple — and I’ve fortunately not run into any of the above-mentioned issues. Not yet, at least.
The underlying issue is if MoviePass is using long-term sign ups to prevent mass cancellations if they choose to alter their deal further is a nifty trick. However, shortly after I signed up, MoviePass has played out all these changes in the media and never informed their customer base until three or four days after the news. It does not bode well for transparency or raises concerns that the company could simply vanish and that will be it. MoviePass seemed to be an idea of someone that could grab a large set of users. The after thought was, we will figure the money issue later. Well, later is here.