“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is an easy way to describe Moviepass.
Last Tuesday, Moviepass announced some new changes coming to their subscription service. The changes involved bumping the subscription fee up to $14.95 instead of $9.95 and limited availability to watch first run movies the first two weeks that they’re out. A week after announcing these changes, Moviepass got rid of them. The price increase and restriction on new releases were scrapped but now customers are limited to only three movies a month instead of one per day. Chief Executive Mitch Lowe said that the new policies will reduce the rate of the company’s cash burn by more than 60%. Those may not seem like drastic changes but they’re much different from the original service that Moviepass was intended to be.
MoviePass was founded in 2011 and has gone through several different phases of pricing. When the service launched, it was invite-only and had two plans: limited, where members could see 2 to 3 films per month, and unlimited where pricing was based on market size. In 2017, it switched to a single film per day, $9.95 per month service. In 2018, the unlimited plan was replaced with a new plan of three movies per-month which came with a three-month trial of iHeartRadio. Customers were also restricted from buying more than one ticket to a movie. In June of 2018, surge fees and peak pricing were added.
In 2016, the service had 20,000 subscribers. That number increased to one million by December, then jumped to two million in February of 2018, and in June it was announced that the company had three million subscribers. The business model may have been flawed, but it’s clearly something that a lot of people were interested in. Rather than have a service that no one wanted to subscribe to, the company had the opposite. As more and more people began to subscribe, it became harder and harder for Moviepass to dish out funds.
It may seem like Moviepass was always destined to fail. Even before I became a subscriber, I had my doubts about how sensible the whole idea was. But it’s served as a great reminder of why trying and failing is much more important than not trying at all. The impact that Moviepass has had on theaters and movie-goers will probably become muddled by the company’s shortcomings and that’s a shame.
People often try and make the claim that theater going is slowly beginning to be replaced by on demand and streaming services. But Moviepass broke those claims by showing that people are still interested in going to the theater. Now, big theater chains like AMC realize what audiences want and have created programs like Stubs after witnessing the success of Moviepass. Moviepass also allowed for more diversity in an audience’s selection of which movie to see. Instead of skipping out on a movie due to not wanting to pay twelve dollars for it, audiences could feel more comfortable with taking risks on movies since they’re not actually paying twelve dollars for one showing. This would just be one movie out of however many they’ll see in a month’s worth of a subscription fee.
Everyone’s experience with the company may be different, but my experience was actually a very positive one. Moviepass allowed me to take a chance on films that I probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on and showed me how beautiful those chances can be. I saw a lot of great films with Moviepass, like American Animals, Thoroughbreds, and Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, and I know that I would have missed out on those if I didn’t have the service. As a film fan, I tend to put myself into a genre bubble. If certain movies fall out of certain genres that I like, I probably wouldn’t go see them. But with Moviepass, I was able to break that mindset and be more open towards films and genres that I may not have previously been open to.
Moviepass also gave me more of a general motivation to see more movies. With a monthly fee rather than once an outing, I wanted to go to more movies so that I could make my subscription worthwhile. Whether it was 10pm on a Tuesday night or 11am on a Friday morning, I had more of a reason to go to the theater. A combination of motivation to go to the movies and a broader range of genres to see gave me a deeper appreciation for film and the theater. I’m disappointed that Moviepass has become so riddled with restrictions, but I appreciate the journey that it’s taken me through.
Moviepass has served as the first major stepping stone for the future of film from both an audience and theater perspective. Rather than criticize and mock it, we should embrace it for what it’s done and look forward to its future.