Last week parent company Helios and Matheson hammered the final nails into the MoviePass coffin. For those who do not know, briefly - MoviePass was a monthly subscription plan that offered users to see one movie per day for approx. $10 per month. That means you could see up to 31 movies per month - for $10. Now, it was like a Mastercard backed debit card with MoviePass loading money onto your card in order to pay full price for your ticket. But since you’ve already paid the monthly or yearly subscription cost - you don’t owe any more money. You pay approx. $10 per month to see, let’s say - six movies. But MoviePass loaded FULL PRICE cost on your card to cover the ticket. So, while MoviePass paid approx. $70+ to cover the cost of your six movies, it only recouped $10 from you. Which, as we all like to say, “Sounds too good to be true.”
But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t sustainable … but it was true! I bought the yearly MoviePass subscription for about $85 plus a one time sign up free for $20. And in the year I used Movie Pass I saw forty two movies. Which means I paid about $2.5 per movie. So, I happen to know that MoviePass was legit.
That being said, the deal was too good to be sustainable without additional revenue support because, as you can see, MoviePass lost a lot of money on me alone. You multiply that by the 3 million subscribers they had and you can understand why MoviePass was posting $170 million losses per quarter.
But they had a plan to make money - try to get the theater chains to give them a very, very small percentage of the box office but mainly - the concessions. Theater chains make the majority of their money selling you popcorn and soda. MoviePass was trying to show the chains, “Look, about ten percent of moviegoers come to your theater chain and use MoviePass. Don’t you see how important that is? We could just tell them to take their business to another chain. Don’t you think you should give us say, 1% of your concession sales?”
It was a fine plan. But all the theater chains said, “Nope.”
But MoviePass had more plans. Produce their own movies and profit off them. But they disastrously chose Gotti, a John Travolta nightmare of a film which has, um - a 0% rating on rotten tomatoes. I’ve never seen a movie get worse ratings. MoviePass lost a ton of money on that film.
So that plan didn’t work for MoviePass either. But hey, they still had three million subscribers - they must be able to do something with them, right?
Well, MoviePass made wrong choice after wrong choice when, in an attempt to lower the amount of money they were burning each month put all sorts of minor restrictions on subscribers - restricting repeat views, ticket verification, blocking out some new blockbusters, then only offering a few movies to choose from each week. Then reverting all of those changes and going back to “See whatever movie you want whenever you want” but … we’re raising the price.
Basically, their subscribers lost all faith in MoviePass and bailed en’ mass. I stayed until the end of my one year contract but, to be honest, I was only able to see a single movie in the last two months of my subscription because of the restrictions MoviePass put on accounts.
So, I didn’t renew. And they didn’t ask me to. We parted company about six months ago. And now they’re gone. MoviePass certainly was a bold plan and people certainly liked their initial idea so much that lots of other folks noticed and now there are all sorts of rival plans out there, but they are usually restricted to a specific theater chain. So, for example: the AMC card only works at … well, AMC chains. And that’s what made MoviePass unique. It was a Mastercard that you could use anywhere that accepted Mastercard which means it was highly accessible.
In the end though, MoviePass was just managed poorly. Too many poor choices, too many subscription changes, too many partnerships with other companies that always felt more like a “get rich quick with this partnership” scheme and not an actual legitimate partnership that was going to help MoviePass in the long run. I’ve also recently found out that the guy who took over Helios and Matheson, and therefore MoviePass, was a man named Ted Farnsworth. And, Mr. Farnsworth has lawsuits and failed companies trailing behind him a mile long.
“Mr. Farnsworth … been sued numerous times, according to the Miami Herald, and he found his way into a chief executive role after years spent racking up legal disputes in Florida, related in some cases to real estate investments and other inscrutable financial dealings. The Herald reports that Farnsworth has registered more than 50 companies over the last 30 years, a majority of which have shuttered.”
MoviePass may have been doomed before it even had a chance to thrive. But still, it was a great nine month run for MoviePass ... and then it wasn't.
Movie Pass, a subscription based movie theater service exploded early last year when they offered a “$10 per month to see one movie per day” deal. Many thought it was too good to be true. And many NON subscribers to Movie Pass got high and mighty and wrote smug article, after smug article about how Movie Pass was going to crash and burn.
Well, they were all wrong. Movie Pass has actually been around for several years and it’s still here. Will it be here in five years? I don’t know. But I’m here to tell you that it’s currently still a good deal. It’s certainly not the sweetheart deal it once was, but it’s still good. And now, starting in January 2019, it’s going to get better. Again, not the sweetheart deal it used to be, but much better than the current, “Decent but kind of a pain in the ass” deal it is right now.
Movie Pass, currently, offers a subscriber three 2D movies per month for a $10 monthly fee. Which is a fine deal; however, Movie Pass chooses which movies you are allowed to see each day. And each day they offer a completely different selection. Which means you have to dig through their calendar and find the movie that you want to see. Then you note, “Oh, the movie I want to see is only being offered through Movie Pass at 4:20pm on Wed at a theater that’s 30 minutes away from me. Well, I guess that’s when / where I’ll go see it then!”
So, you will (probably) still get to see the movie you want to see. But you have to put some legwork into it. This is a far cry from their initial “You can see one movie per day for $10 per month.” So, I can understand why customers were reasonably pissed off with terms of service change after change.
But most writers are clearly not subscribers to Movie Pass. So they’re smugly writing snotty hit pieces so if Movie Pass fails they can say, “I told you so! I knew it was going to fail! That’s why I never signed up!”
Um. Okay. You go ahead and do that then. I’ll be over here saving lots of $$$ by using my Movie Pass three times a month. Here are their new terms of service starting in January.
The Select Plan ($9.99 per month): Three movies a month but your choices are restricted to selections by Movie Pass that changes each day. This is exactly what Movie Pass has been offering since August.
The All Access Plan ($14.99 per month): Three movies a month and you can see any standard 2D screening of any movie in your area. This looks to be the best deal.
The Red Carpet Plan ($19.99 per month): Any three standard 2D movies per month plus one Imax or 3D screening per month. I don’t give a damn about 3-D movies. Perhaps you do and this is the plan for you but I’ll be sticking with the All Access. (Here’s how I feel about 3-D films).
This is exactly what they should have been doing since day one. Three plans. I don’t see why it took them so long to figure this out. Now, just as Movie Pass offered last year, the best deal out of a subscription will be if you pay for the entire year up front. For example: if you sign up for the one year All Access Plan you only pay $120.00. Which is a significant discount. But, obviously, that means you have to pay the full $120 up front. Which I’m fine with but some folks might not be. You won’t be able to sign up for the plan until January but Movie Pass has them displayed at their site here for you to check out.
Finally, does this mean Movie Pass will succeed brilliantly? I don’t know. But the bottom line is this - they are currently offering a really great deal (again). Even at $15 a month, as long as you see three movies per, you are saving a ton of cash. I paid about $120 for my yearly subscription to Movie Pass and I watched about 30 movies in 2018 with an average ticket price of $12 per. That’s about $360 worth of movies for $120.
So, if Movie Pass lost $240 on me alone, how does Movie Pass make money, or stay in business? Well - that’s not my problem. =)
But to give you a general example of how they (potentially can) make money: they are investing in feature films, they are looking into building theater chains, they are advertising specific movies to the customers, they are data marketing and mining. Here is a good piece about how they (potentially can) make money if you want to spend more time reading into it.
Again, I don’t claim to know how long Movie Pass will be around. But for now, Movie Pass is still a good deal. And the pain in the ass “we change what movies you can see every day” will go away if I upgrade my subscription for an extra $5 monthly fee.
Which I will totally do as soon as I am able.
Editor's note: In December 2018, Movie Pass offered new terms of service and this story may be out of date. To see their new TOS go to Movie Pass Update (and is it still too good to be true).
Movie Pass has been around for a few years but I’m just now catching on. It started out as a monthly subscription for $50 per month and with it you could use your Movie Pass card to see unlimited movies at your local theater. And by “unlimited” I mean one 2D (non-IMAX) movie per day. Most of your local theaters, including some of the big chains (AMC), accept Movie Pass.
It was an interesting idea, but it didn’t really catch on. So it took Movie Pass almost two years to get about 20,000 subscribers -- mainly, die-hard cinephiles.
Well, back in August that all changed when Movie Pass dropped the monthly subscription fee to $9.95 per month with the same deal: most of your local theaters accept Movie Pass, and you can now see one 2D (non-IMAX) movie per day.
Suddenly, Movie Pass is a lot more appealing, and since the August price drop, added 1.5 million subscribers, including me. I have only just signed up and have not even received my Movie Pass card yet. But when I do and begin to use it, I’ll write a follow up and let you know what’s what. But for now, after reading up on Movie Pass for a few days, here is the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good: It will actually save you a lot of money … if you use it.
CNN reports that the average cost of a movie ticket across the country is roughly $9, according to the trade organization National Association of Theatre Owners, which means you need to use Movie Pass about twice per month in order to save money. Obviously, if you see more than two movies at the theater per month you will save even more money. I usually see a movie once per week at about $10-$12 per movie. Which means an annual Movie Pass subscription will save me approx. $300 per year.
I like this deal already.
Here’s exactly how it works.
Okay, I see a few minor hurdles. You need the App, you need the internet, and you have to be within approximately 100 yards of the movie theater you are attending. These hurdles seem minor to me. But how is this sustainable? Movie Pass CEO Mitch Lowe had an interview with CNNMoney and answered this is exact question.
"MoviePass is kind of a movie insurance program. Our service is really low because we are going to use our understanding of you as a customer to be able to give you relevant suggestions that you might find valuable in your life. We might say there's a great restaurant across the street from the movie. If you go over there and show them your card, you're going to get a free appetizer."
Ah hah! There’s the rub! They sell user data to third parties to make money. Some might be bothered by the privacy concern this raises. Me -- not so much. If Movie Pass notices I watch all the sci-fi movies I can shake a stick at and then offers me Blu-ray, sci-fi movies and/or sci-fi soundtracks, I might be interested.
But then again, I might not. I don’t really buy concessions at the movie theater, so Movie Pass might lose a lot of money -- on me. But Movie Pass is counting on the “gym membership model,” in that folks might binge at first but eventually keep paying the monthly subscription for something they hardly use.
Plus, Movie Pass is negotiating with theater chains for a sales percentage of concessions, since that’s where movie theaters make the majority of their money, and Movie Pass claims they are bringing people back to the theaters. (No, seriously, did you know that it costs a movie theater about four cents to make that large bag of popcorn that you just bought for $8?).
Movie Pass says that one in 35 movie theater customers are now using Movie Pass, and that number is rapidly increasing. It seems like fair leverage to get a tiny fraction of a percentage point for concessions. With the explosion in subscribers that Movie Pass has had in the last six months I expect (well, I hope) it doesn’t go anywhere soon.
The Bad: In order to get the best deal you have to pay for the full year membership - up front.
So, at $7.95 per month, plus a $19.95 one time processing fee you will be charged up front: $115.35.
Hrmmm. That’s a little obnoxious. But if you’re thinking, “Ah-hah! They’re going to grab your money and run!” Well, I too thought that for a moment. But then I saw their press release where they partnered with Fandor, which is a legit independent movie website (you should check it out) where they have some pretty great programing. I’ll reprint the full press release below.
The Ugly: Their customer service sucks. Like, seriously.
Via Movie Pass CEO’s very own mouth, he admits that the company didn’t expect to suddenly expand from 20,000 subscribers to 300,000 subscribers to one million and then, less than one month after reaching one million subscribers, exploding to up to two million subscribers. Their customer service department wasn’t able to keep up with their growth. Costumer service emails or calls went unanswered for months and months. He’s very aware of the problem and he speaks about it candidly in the CNNMoney interview linked above.
And, of course, they can print and mail cards to you only so fast. Customers are told to expect their Movie Pass card in five to seven business days, but it sounds as if the wait is more like two to four weeks. I find this annoying, but not so annoying that I will be passing up this deal.
The Final Skinny: Sign me up.
Movie Pass was a good deal at $10 a month. Movie Pass + Fandor is a really good deal at $7.95 per month (but remember, that’s $115 up front). I suspect Movie Pass is right - people aren’t going to use the Movie Pass card as much as they expect. But I bloody well will!
Keep in mind, the Movie Pass + Fandor for $115 up front is only a limited time offer. If you don’t want to pay the full up front fee - wait until the limited offer is up and Movie Pass will return to a $9.95 per month deal. There will still be a processing fee of $20 but then your first charge will only be $30 for month one, $10 for month two, etc, etc.
Either way, I signed up. I have to wait a few weeks for my Movie Pass card, but I’ve downloaded the App and plan to start watching Fandor films tonight.
As a final note, you may cancel your Movie Pass subscription at any time, but then will not be allowed to re-subscribe for nine months.
To learn more about Movie Pass and / or sign up visit their site here.
The Movie Pass / Fandor Partnership Press Release:
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--MoviePass™, the nation's premier movie-theater subscription service and a majority-owned subsidiary of Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. (NASDAQ: HMNY) (“HMNY”), and Fandor®, the streaming service with the largest collection of independent films, documentaries, international features and shorts, are introducing a new annual subscription plan. This new MoviePass subscription plan will allow movie-goers to visit the theater every day for a year, and have access to the full Fandor content library for a year, for just under $116.
This new annual offer lowers the MoviePass monthly price from $9.95 to $7.95 and is coupled with an annual Fandor subscription. This combined offer is back after testing a limited time run in November 2017; it is now being reintroduced as a limited time offer nationwide.
“MoviePass is not only a phenomenon in the entertainment industry, but it has sparked a movement, now two million people strong,” said Ted Farnsworth, Chairman and CEO of HMNY. “With this new offer, we can make the movement even more accessible to movie-goers. I believe our annual subscribers will become influential movie consumers and an amazing asset and bellwether for the film industry as a whole.”
"Fandor is excited to be part of the disruptive wave redefining how audiences consume entertainment, making a broad range of movies available to our movie-loving subscribers," said Larry Aidem, President and CEO of Fandor. "We look forward to continued collaborations with MoviePass in the coming year."
MoviePass presently drives more than 5% of the total nationwide box office and continues to grow contribution as new subscribers join.
“We’re thrilled to continue innovating and reinvigorating the film and movie theater industries with MoviePass and Fandor,” said Mitch Lowe, CEO of MoviePass. “With more than two million MoviePass subscribers, and new ones joining every day, it’s clear that this is a tool moviegoers need and want. This new offer allows us to continue to reach more subscribers.”
Subscribers who sign up for this new offer will be billed $115.35 ($7.95 a month + $19.95 processing fee), and will receive one full year of MoviePass and one full year of unlimited streaming from Fandor.