What's the Deal with MoviePass?

MoviePass is the newest addition to your ever-growing pile of monthly subscriptions. For $9.95 a month, you get entry to one movie per day in an actual, physical movie theater.

This is an unreal deal. Quality movies for bargain bin prices unreal. 

So, what's the catch? 

MoviePass is way more of a hassle than streaming. For starters, you have to get dressed and physically leave your home. And, that's not all. It takes a crazy long time to access your subscription benefits. A minimum of two weeks will have passed before you are a fully fledged MoviePass subscriber. Yes, our modern brains have been calibrated to crave immediate satisfaction and two-day shipping. But, two weeks still seems like an inefficiently long time to wait. Once you receive your MoviePass card in the snail-mail, you can begin using the service. Although, this comes with its own difficulties. Before you watch a single movie, you have to download their app and check-in to the theater and film of your choosing. You then have to be within 100 yards of the theater to unlock funds and go to the ticket counter to reserve your seat.

The service has some real shortfalls. MoviePass doesn't have the ability to scan seat availability, so it's possible to get to a theater and find out that your movie is sold out. You can only purchase same-day tickets, so if you are trying to get into a hot ticket opening night, you're better off buying a full-priced ticket in advance. To top things off, your MoviePass only gets you into 2D showings, no IMAX or 3D. Let's be honest though, no tears will be shed for 3D.

Have I lost you yet? 

Sure, the user experience is pretty clunky. But, MoviePass could ask me to recite the alphabet backwards for the theater attendant and I'd still subscribe. 

At $9.95, MoviePass is a no-brainer. All you have to do is ask yourself, "Am I going to see at least one movie this month?" If the answer is yes, then MoviePass is for you. 

The most obvious perk of the service is that you are able to see a ton of movies for a super low one-time cost. And, the benefits don't stop there. Having an all-you-can eat movie theater subscription really takes the pain out of spending your well-earned cash on an unexpectedly terrible movie (Mother! was the worst $17 I spent in 2017). It also makes you feel a bit better about those pricey theater concessions. Really, $9 popcorn never seemed like a deal until you realize your movie ticket is basically free. Best of all, MoviePass lets you see movies you may not have otherwise seen if you had to pay the individual ticket price. You don't have to choose between seeing The Last Jedi or Lady Bird. You can see them both, at no additional cost to you. 

I personally enjoy the event that MoviePass has made of the theater-going experience. Since you have to get to the theater in advance of the screening to reserve a ticket, you are often left with ample time before the film screens. I used my MoviePass just last week to see Call Me by Your Name (a phenomenal film that every human should see) with my roommate and fellow MoviePass subscriber, Sam. We got to BAM Rose Cinemas in Fort Greene a few hours early to grab our tickets, then went to a nearby bar to hang before the screening. It was wonderful. 

While it lasts. 

If you are wondering how MoviePass makes money from paying for your movie tickets, the answer is they aren't. Not yet, anyway. The company is operating at a loss while they work to grow their subscriber base. However, they can't just grow the number of users. They have to create the right mix. For MoviePass to dig itself out of the hole of profit-eating ticket sales, it has to find ways to reduce the money it pays per user. A start would be to sign on enough subscribers from low-ticket-price regions (like the South and Mid-America), or adopting the Planet Fitness business model and registering users who go to theaters less frequently. If MoviePass drives enough ticket sales long term, the company may also be able to negotiate bulk discounts with movie theaters or receive a cut of concession sales. 

Ultimately, MoviePass has little hope of making any money from tickets. Their goal is to get to a point where they don't lose money from tickets, while earning their real profit from data insights. 

That's right - you are paying for your right to watch 365 movies a year with $9.95/month and a bunch of your data. 

In August 2017, MoviePass sold a majority stake to big data company Helios and Matheson Analytics. Helios and Matheson has invested $28.5 million to date. That money is being used to subsidize our movie ticket expenses until MoviePass can register enough subscribers to become the cinema experience datahouse of Hollywood's dreams.

Their strategy is working - the service reached one million subscribers in December 2017, just four short months after slashing its subscription price to $9.95. 

MoviePass is in a race against the clock. If they can scale their subscriber base and build solid data infrastructure before their money supply dries up, we can continue enjoying our $9.95 movie buffet. If the company runs out of funding before that happens, they will be forced to raise subscription prices. The alternative is going out of business.

Here's to hoping that MoviePass will be around to stay. 

Between its big data backers and its current CEO, Mitch Lowe, MoviePass is in trustworthy hands. Lowe, co-founder of Netflix and former CEO of Redbox (those $1 movie vending machines you see at every 7-Eleven), definitely knows a thing or two about disrupting the theatrical industry. I give props to Lowe for finally giving the people what we want - a way to see movies and enjoy a quality theatrical experience without having to fork over our entire paycheck.  He's found a way to get viewers into theater seats - a much-needed boost for cinemas, filmmakers and the future of the film industry overall.