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Just what is going on with MoviePass?

Are we seeing the final days of MoviePass? Last week, as we got into the weekend, it sure felt like it. First, there was the fact that the company seemed to, you know…run out of money. That in turn led to a service disruption on Thursday evening, which continued into Friday. Then, when MoviePass returned, they’d essentially blocked subscribers from seeing Mission: Impossible – Fallout, while installing Peak Pricing (more on that in a bit) across the board for weekend screenings. Not exactly a solid run of days for the company. So, today I want to ask this question: just what is going on with MoviePass?

The service made a name for itself by offering up, by far, the cheapest way to see movies. For a monthly fee, in the area of about ten dollars, you could see one film a day, every single day. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, for a while, it wasn’t. Aside from 3D and IMAX showings, you were in like Flint. Then, in recent months, certain theater chains started not wanting to work with the company. Of course, just recently, we’ve seen AMC start up their own competing program. The price for MoviePass has fluctuated, they floated a more limited subscription, and they introduced Peak Pricing. The latter has been, by far, their least popular measure. Adding a surcharge on to high demand films was never going to be popular, but by doing so and apparently just not giving it any thought (oftentimes, the added charge is for a an otherwise empty screening), it seems like a shameless money grab. Tack on that the charge is an extra $8 and suddenly, for some, this weekend was the straw that broke the viewer’s back.

When MoviePass went down on Thursday/Friday, this is what they had to say, in a series of Tweets:

“We are still experiencing technical issues with our card-based check-in process and we are diligently working to resolve the issue. In the interim e-ticketing is working. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience while we resolve this issue.”

“We’ve determined this issue is not with our card processor partners and will be continuing to work on a fix throughout this evening and night. If you have not headed to the theater yet, we recommend waiting for a resolution or utilizing e-ticketing which is not impacted.”

That makes it seem like this was just a bit of technical difficulty. Unfortunately, it was not. The company ran out of money, so they had to scramble to continue to keep the lights on, as it were. Who read all of the stories over the weekend and felt like MoviePass was on solid ground? Nobody. Then, there was the nonsense about not allowing users to see a certain movie. When you’re trying to drum up business, shutting out consumers doesn’t seem to be the way to do it. This was the nonsense that they put out about that genius (sarcasm, just in case you haven’t caught on) move:

“As we continue to evolve the service, certain movies may not always be available in every theater on our platform. This is no different than other in-home streaming options that often don’t carry the latest shows or movies that may be available on other services.”

Here’s the issue, at least in my eyes. While MoviePass has undoubtedly gotten more people to see films and go to theaters, it has, in turn, devalued the experience to some. Now, seeing a movie is a “free” thing, which is wrong, considering you’re paying the company, but still. Heading out to see Mission: Impossible – Fallout (even though subscribers couldn’t) doesn’t feel like it costs money to subscribers, in the same way that Netflix binging doesn’t feel like it costs anything. Yes, more people are going to see things in the movies with MoviePass, and they probably will give shots to smaller movies they otherwise wouldn’t try, but if they won’t come back without the service, what’s the point?

So, where do things go from here? My guess is that we’ll continue to see these quirks added to MoviePass as they struggle to stay afloat. If they do make it through this rough patch, one has to hope they figure out a way to smooth things out. Whether it ends up being raising the price, limiting how many movies in a month you can see, or making Peak Pricing the standard for weekends (though hopefully at a lower price point), they need to figure out a way to be a more consistent enterprise. They’ve presumably brought more consumers into the cinemas, so even if they’re mostly interested in our user data, that’s still something of note.

Time will tell if MoviePass survives, but if they don’t, they’ll leave a mixed legacy. There’s the potential devaluing of a trip to the cinema, which is terrible. One hopes they don’t end up as the Napster of the film industry. Then again, they did help to get some independent flicks seen by wider audiences. In a perfect world, MoviePass figures out a business model that won’t always be on the verge of collapse. If that happens, then everyone wins. For the moment, however, you may want to use your subscription while you still can. Every day could be their last, at least until changes are made…

Stay tuned to see what the future is for MoviePass!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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