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Will MoviePass Ever Get it Together?

The company can't stick to a business model

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espite being an Extreme Couponers-level cheapskate, I was convinced to subscribe to MoviePass a few weeks ago. When a friend first suggested I make an account with the service, though, I was immediately out. I was already paying for Spotify Premium and the one-DVD-at-a-time Netflix mailing service, and had recently canceled my FilmStruck streaming account because the amount leaving my checkings every month was anxiety-inducing.

But after the company’s business model was explained to me, I was sold. If I paid just $9.95 every month, I would apparently be able to see one movie a day. All I’d have to do is show a MoviePass card, which would soon come in the mail, to the ticket-person. I’d no longer have to limit how many times I’d visit a theater each month; I now had no reason not to go out and see movies that I was only mildly interested in. I could even see a movie I loved more than once if necessary. 

 

For my first outing as a MoviePass subscriber, a group of friends and I saw Blockers (which I had no interest in seeing) and A Quiet Place back to back. And the whole experience was curiously thrilling, not just because we knew we now had a reason to get away from campus regularly, but also because something that we might have previously considered an expensive hobby now cost us so little. It all seemed too good to be true, but none of us wanted to question it. Netflix and Spotify, after all, at one time also seemed too good to be true. 

 

A few days after I got my MoviePass card, though, worrying headlines about the company started surfacing again, even though it seemed as if the service, which has had numerous false starts, had finally hit its stride. It was announced that $9.95 would now allow you to see just four movies every month, with a so-what of a three-month trial for iHeartRadio All-Access attached to supposedly ease the blow. When asked if this new plan was just temporary, Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, couldn’t conclusively answer the question: He said he wasn’t sure if the unlimited plan would ever come back. (Fortunately, the latter returned this week after the uproar.) 

 

It has also been revealed that customers are now unable to see certain movies more than once, with no real explanation given as to why. MoviePass additionally has stipulated that you pay for the first three months of your subscription right off the bat.

 

Over the last few months, MoviePass attracted an astonishing two million subscribers, in part due to the fact that they altered the original unlimited plan, which used to cost between $40 and $50 a month. But the seemingly unending, almost weekly, adjustments to the company’s offerings, paired with the truth that it is struggling to be profitable (its owners, Helios & Matheson, lost about $150 million in 2017), make me worried that it won’t be much longer before the joy of being able to go to the movies every day becomes a distant memory.

 

Its owners are fervent in their claims that MoviePass will someday be profitable: By 2019, cash flow will supposedly finally move upward due to ad sales and the selling of subscriber data in a way comparable to Facebook or Google. But will that hold true when you regularly change the things that made your product so appealing to begin with?

 

Even if my current plan does end up affected by whatever changes MoviePass will inevitably be pushing in the future, I’ll still keep it; as long as the $9.95 price tag remains and I can still see a good number of movies every month, that’s a bargain. But at the rate the business revises the services that made it worth the monthly fee, my confidence in its staying power is low. 

 

- MAY 4, 2018

 

This piece also appeared in The Daily.