Movie theater subscriptions - You stream to the movies


#21

Not really. Amazon Prime is a way to drive business to Amazon. It doesn’t make money. It doesn’t even break even, as far as I know, and that despite the fact that they have to be either the largest or at least among the very top contracts any of the shipping companies (and particularly UPS, their main provider) and can presumably command better rates than most other shippers. And that’s just shipping, without counting what licensing the various digital media they’re packaging in it must cost. I would wager that very few people pay for Prime and then use less than $100 worth of Prime benefits over the course of a year, especially since you can extend the shipping benefits to what, like, three other people? But Amazon doesn’t care, because it’s not about profits, it’s about growing their market share and customer base.

This is a business that specifically specializes in paying for people’s movie tickets in exchange for a flat monthly fee. The only way that works economically is if the majority of their customers are paying more for the service than they are getting in the way of tickets, and the only value proposition they offer is that you pay less for their service than you get in the way of tickets. And then they hope you don’t actually get your money’s worth. Or at least, that seems to be the idea based on the information presented so far. I think a closer comparison would be insurance. Except that the idea of insurance is that the majority of users will pay in without ever getting that much out of it, but if disaster strikes, you are covered against expenditures you wouldn’t be able to make without it. If you don’t have this movie pass, your worst case scenario is that you might decide to pay for more movie tickets in a month than the pass would have cost you. Horrors.


#22

I’d love to do this.

I mean… I’d love to have enough free time to make this worthwhile for me.

The closest AMC to me actually has a pretty good variety of movies it shows. For example, it was the only theater close to me showing The Iceman when that was out… I just… I don’t know if I could even make it to one movie a week, which is the only way this would be worth it financially. As it is I’m happy if I can get in one (maybe two) movies a month.


#23

I’m right there with you. I enjoy going to the movies, but I’m fortunate to get one a month in. The subscription is way overpriced for someone like me, but my guess is this model will see some life around holiday times as people are struggling to find gifts.


#24

To the amazon wish list it goes! Thanks, Olaf!


#25

It’s actually more like insurance. People pay for it, most people don’t get the full benefit out of it. Company offering the product gambles on lots of people not getting the full benefit and being able to make a (hefty?) profit at the end of the day.

Perhaps they’ll collect subscribers’ underpants, too.


#26

Movie theaters are like airlines: an unsold ticket is lost forever. And airlines are increasingly like movie theaters: after you sell a ticket, you can start selling a lot more stuff to the ticketholder.

That means that there is a big incentive to make sure every seat is filled, even if the customer doesn’t pay full price. So I would be really surprised if MoviePass were actually paying anywhere near full price for their tickets.


#27

I think this would be more like a yearly pass to Disneyland. I know people who do that, and they pop into the park whenever they feel like it. Months might go by when they don’t go, other times they are going constantly. The profit would be what people spend while they are there. Ticket sales would not be the profit in this kind of deal. It’s a means to an end. Theaters need to get more foot traffic, that’s the issue. I think they have the right idea but this one movie a day thing is the wrong approach.

What have we learned from the internet era where consuming entertainment is concerned? Convenience dammit! Once you create a deal where I must see a movie a day to take advantage of the deal then you have inconvenienced me- no deal! Offer me a deal where I decide when I go to the movies and now we can talk price.


#28

I guess the price was too high before. They’re dropping the price of the unlimited pass to $9.95 a month. That sounds crazy low. That’s literally less than the price of one matinee ticket at my local theater.

Edit: Oh boy. Are there ever a list of caveats!

  1. 2D standard movies only. No IMAX, no Real3D, etc.
  2. You have to commit to a year up front. Cancelling early incurs a fee.
  3. You have to be within 100 yards of a movie theater to book the tickets.
  4. The list of participating theaters is now hidden behind the app. You have to sign up to see the list.

Overall, this is big no go.


#29

I don’t see the hell that makes money.

Theater operators on one hand could survive, as they just want as many people buying $10 popcorns and $10 drinks as possible. And to do that, you need as many people through the doors as possible.

The studios will get paid, as the startup covers the difference.

But the amount of revenue that they expect to generate is ridiculous.


#30

I think the idea is to inflate their sub base, then sell off the whole thing.


#31

I can’t imagine signing up for a service I don’t even know if I could use (i.e has participating theaters near me). But $10/mo would be worth it if I had a large reliable theater near me. Don’t need 3d or online ticket purchases or any of that, and assuming 2 movies a month (which is less than I used to go to) we are already below matinee pricing.


#32

I have a MoviePass subscription.

I believe it’s a business model that cannot work. Without cooperating with the theaters, MoviePass has to put their own restrictions in place to control it and they make it an awful customer experience.

If they cooperated with the theaters, then there’s no reason for MoviePass to exist because if the theaters wanted to do this, they’d do it on their own.

MoviePass takes your money and gives you a debit card. They switch it on when you check in to pay for a movie, then they switch it off. Its big strength is that it’s transparent to the theaters; it works exactly like a Visa debit card. There’s a story floating around about how AMC is looking into legal action to prevent MoviePass from being used in their theaters, and I don’t see how that would be possible.

@malkav11 mentioned not knowing what theaters are participating, and while his concern is valid, it’s phrased wrong. No theaters are “participating”, the question is whether MoviePass has the data on the theaters you’re using. They might not support an indie theater or something they can’t get showtimes and pricing for, or if it’s some fancy place like an Alamo Drafthouse it might not be supported if it’s more expensive than a “normal” theater in the same way they don’t support 3D or IMAX showings in the places they do support otherwise (I don’t know if that’s true about Alamo, we don’t have one of those, just thinking of an example).

So yeah, the theaters can’t stop you from using certain debit cards, but that’s where we get into the crazy—but necessary—restrictions on how MoviePass works.

Pricing restrictions are just based on the theoretical business model where this might stand a chance in the abstract: you count on people to see it as a bargain, but then overestimate how often they’ll actually get to the theater and in the aggregate, pay more in subscription fees than MoviePass has to shell out for tickets. I believe this is why they don’t allow purchase of tickets for 3D, RPX, or IMAX shows—anything with a surcharge starts monkeying with their projections on subscriptions vs. tickets. You also can’t order tickets online through Fandango this way (again, surcharge).

Actual purchase restrictions are there because this can’t become the new Netflix/HBO password that friends pass around. They have to make sure every person buying tickets is paying subscriptions. So you have to buy your tickets at the theater (another strike against Fandango or other online services), can’t have you making it easier to get tickets remotely for someone else.

You can only see any particular movie once. An individual usually won’t care, but it stops me from seeing Logan on Friday, recommending it and giving you my card to see it on Saturday.

You can only see one movie per day. Again, discourages passing it around between several people, although on this one point I’ll call them out as being overly draconian: it’s not one per calendar day, it’s one per 24 hour period. So I can’t catch a 6:30 show Friday night and then see a different movie at 6:20 on Saturday. As sympathetic as I am to these restrictions overall, this one really bugs me. I’ve got it better than most, I work a half day on most Fridays. Often that means I can catch a movie right after lunch on Friday, and then still be free to see one at almost any time on Saturday. Still, there’s never a chance for a double feature, and catching three movies in a single weekend takes a spreadsheet to plan.

They implement this all through their app; it’s the only way they can attempt to enforce this stuff, but the app itself is pretty bad.

It’s used to confirm you’re actually at the theater to purchase tickets—never had any problems with that. It’s used to select your showtime (this is where they need to have some way of getting the data on their side to know what you’re seeing when) to make sure you’re only seeing movies once—I’ve never had a problem with that specifically.

But it used to still be a little bit of the honor system. Earlier this year you could “cheat” and see the same movie twice if you just told the app the second time that you were seeing a different movie the second day and then buy your ticket for the same movie again. As long as there’s some movie you know you’ll never see, you could “sacrifice” that check-in to see something twice (as long as it was 24 hours later, same price as the ticket you were actually buying, etc.).

That changed a couple months ago, now they require you to upload a photo of your ticket stub, and on my iPhone 6, for some reason it literally takes over 90 seconds to send the photo. I have to open up the app, snap my photo, and then just stand around with the app open for over a minute before I get a confirmation. My phone is showing its age in some apps, but this doesn’t seem like a problem any phone should have.

Oh guess what, sometimes your theater will change their prices too, and MoviePass doesn’t know that until a member reports the change. You find out when you swipe your card, it’s declined, and then you try to remember if the last ticket you bought was $12.17 or $12.57.

This has happened to me twice since February (does this mean I’m literally the only subscriber in my area?), and both times to their credit they’ve corrected it. You have to start a chat with support in the app, and it takes about 10 minutes to resolve, so I hope you weren’t cutting it close, but they do update the prices and both times I was still able to see the movie I wanted.

So yeah, this is an okay idea in theory but there is literally no way I can see to make this anything but an awful customer experience. What they have now is a nightmare, but anything less restrictive would be abused. I would never recommend this to anyone, but I went into it knowing most of this in advance.

Oh also, it apparently used to require a “contract”, you couldn’t cancel at will without paying a penalty, but that restriction was dropped before I joined. That would’ve been an automatic deal breaker. If they’re bringing that back and applying it to my account, that’ll be a dealbreaker again.

I’ve been a subscriber for 6 months. I’ve paid $239.94, and I’ve seen 27 movies, so I’ve paid about $8.88 per movie (matinee prices rose from just under to just over $10 in that time, evening shows when from $12 and change to almost $13).

So in theory, I’ve come out ahead, but in reality, four or five of those are movies I probably only saw because I had the subscription. It’s a lot closer to breaking even if I try to project that I probably would’ve seen 22 movies with a mix of matinee and full price during that time.

So at the end of the day, I’m a fanatic who probably sees more movies than 99.99999% of the population in the first place, and I was willing to play along with the restrictions, and I could still only barely make this worth my time.

I was literally thinking about cancelling my subscription earlier this week—I just went two weekends in a row without seeing any movies and I was getting tired of feeling obligated to make this thing work for me.

I take the drop to $9.99 a month to be a terrible sign, as someone else speculated they’re almost certainly just trying to drive up subscribers to cash out and leave someone else with this dud of a service. But sure, I’ll keep subscribing at $9.99 to ride this thing out for a little while longer.

Please, do not use this service.


#33

Jesus. Thanks for the warning. I was actually considering this since even at one movie per month, I’d still be ahead of the normal ticket price, but this sounds really bad.


#34

Yeah I don’t know, maybe it’s still worth it now at $9.99 a month if you can get yourself in the right mindset. It’s literally a Mitch Hedberg joke at this point:

So it said “You can have this product for four easy payments of 19.95.” I would like to have a product that was available for three easy payments, and one fuckin’ complicated payment! We ain’t gonna tell you which payment it is, but one of these payments is gonna be a bitch. The mailman will get shot to death, the envelope will not seal, and the stamp will be in the wrong denomination; good luck, fucker! The last payment must be made in wampum!

So if you can just come to terms with some goofy-ass restrictions on at least one movie per month and really be okay with that, maybe it’s worth it to jump on and ride this thing into the grave. But in the back of my mind, I’d still be anxious about every showing I went to. Like maybe if I convince my friends to see a show an hour earlier, it will work out and I can get two MoviePass shows on my card in one weekend! That sort of nonsense. You’ve got to decide on your own if it’s worth it.

And I just went to check their website for details and I see it’s still down; I do want to know for certain what the deal is regarding whether they’re bringing back the cancellation fees if I stick around at the new price. Because hell no.


#35

I go to a ton of movies, so I’m the ideal customer for this sort of thing.
But if I had any reservations about it before, now I’m firmly in the “no frickin’ way” camp. Thanks, wholly!

-Tom


#36

I didn’t realise this was a third party thing. That makes no sense at all. Well, it kind of does, I guess. It’s effectively an insurance bet for them, but whereas insurers have masses of historical data and actuarial tables, these guys are “underwriting” their customers blind.


#37

Yeah, I thought it was in partnership with the theaters. As a third party thing it seems insane.


#38

The Bloomberg article makes it sound like they are reducing the price to $10 a month to drive up subscriptions so they can mine their customers for marketing data to resell, and that is how they will make up the cost-per-customer disparity. They have to do something along those lines, because at $10 per month any customer who sees just ONE movie per month is going to cost the company money (after factoring in the cost of doing business), anyone who sees a movie per week is going to cost them dearly. Selling data is the only way to offset that.

But then the question becomes…what data? Knowing what movies you like to see at the theater is pretty narrow focus for marketing purposes. Since the whole transaction is through a debit card that is useless for other transactions, they can’t even track what snacks and drinks you purchase before the movie. My guess is that the app will become more and more intrusive as subscribers are added. Before activating your card it will ask about your snack purchases, or have a short questionnaire for you to complete. Or the app will constantly annoy you with pop-ups about tie-ins with other products where if you do a short survey you can get 20% off at someplace related to the survey.

No thanks.


#39

Plus, how useful is that data? If you can suddenly see x number of movies each month that you wouldn’t normally see, then you’re essentially choosing everything.


#40

I don’t really understand why AMC is trying to stop this. If it acts like a debit card, and they’re getting their money from the 3rd party app, then why would they care?