It’s a good time to be a movie exhibitor. In 2018, movie theater revenue broke records, thanks in large part of massive event films like Black Panther and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Because of those major tent pole titles, along with many others, it’s expected that the year will end with theaters bringing in $11.8 billion domestically–besting the former record of $11.4 billion in 2016. However, while the films themselves are a hugely important driver of the current boom, there’s something else that deserves at least some of the credit: MoviePass.
The MoviePass subscription service relaunched in late 2017, allowing customers to see one movie a day, 365 days a year, all for only $9.99 per month. Chances are anyone who’s been to a movie theater knows just how insane that is. After all, in many US cities, you’d be hard pressed to see one movie for 10 bucks, let alone a year’s worth. Still, those behind MoviePass–which originally came onto the market in 2011 at a higher price and much less fanfare–believed profit would come because of the data they’d be collecting, which could be used in targeted marketing.
Right from the beginning, it sounded too good to be true and, as we found out throughout 2018, it truly was. The implosion of the service was a sight to behold. In the meantime, though, the company managed to change the way we, the viewing audience, go to the movies. Suddenly, you didn’t have to be picky about what you were going to see because you were going to pay the same price regardless.
In many ways, it’s similar to what services like the Xbox Games Pass or GameFly does for those who want to experience a wider array of video games without dropping $60 every time they want to try something new. MoviePass allowed people to go outside of their movie comfort zone and try new things at the theater. And, for a period of time, it also allowed them to watch a film more than once.
Of course, the flame out that followed was nothing short of catastrophic. Between a shortage of cash and badly handled customer relations, MoviePass went through a series of rule and price changes, leaving many wondering exactly what they had signed up for. Then certain movies didn’t have tickets available and the service stopped working at some theaters, while tickets to specific films started adding a surcharge, making users pay more. When the company announced that it would curate which movies its customers could see, it also became increasingly difficult for users to cancel their subscription.
It’s at this point that many users realized just how bad the MoviePass experiment had gone. And it wasn’t just them.. A number of shareholders filed a class action lawsuit against the company, while a member of the board of directors criticized the company’s management in his resignation letter.
In the end, the service quickly became something of a pop cultural joke and faded into the background to regroup and come up with a way to exist without going even further into debt. In that time, though, other companies saw what MoviePass was doing and figured out their own way of doing things. Because, while MoviePass’ time in the sun may have been brief, a movie theater subscription service is a great idea. After all, that’s why even MoviePass is still trying to make a go of it, though it no longer offers the plan giving customers a movie ticket each day.
And while it may never again attain the heights it briefly held in 2018, at the very least MoviePass will be remembered for revolutionizing the way we see movies. Now let’s just hope the others that rose up during its free fall–AMC Stubs A-List and Sinemia, for example–don’t suffer the same fate
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Author: Chris E. Hayner