What is the sweet spot for getting people to join a movie theater ticket subscription service? For six years, MoviePass has struggled to answer that question and now, under former Netflix exec Mitch Lowe, it’s introducing a radical plan: Selling customers’ data and charging $10 a month for all the silver screen action you can fit into your life.
Today, Lowe announced that MoviePass will allow subscribers to see one showing a day of a film at any theater that accepts debit card payment for just $9.95 a month. The only restrictions that have been announced so far are that 3D and Imax films are off limits. I’d tell you if any terms of service have changed on the MoviePass website but it’s apparently getting crushed with traffic at the moment and won’t load.
MoviePass has been through several pricing and accessibility models over the years. It’s typically offered a list of theater partners, restrictions on new releases, limited advance purchasing, and prices ranging from $30 to $50 per month. It pays theaters full price for tickets and has sought to monetize by betting that people wouldn’t use the subscription enough each month to warrant the price. In 2016, Lowe was brought in as CEO based on his history as a co-founder of Netflix and his stewardship of Redbox kiosk rentals.
The new plan is the same as many startups these days. Lose a bunch of money, gain a bunch of customers, and sell that sweet, sweet data. MoviePass sold a majority stake in the company to Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. on Tuesday and now it has some cash to burn. An average movie ticket costs $8.84 in the US, so the company will almost certainly lose money on subscriptions. Given the new pricing, an average user would only have to go see two movies a month to come out on top.
So, the question is now whether or not the limited amount of data MoviePass can collect from moviegoers will be valuable. There’s only so much that a MoviePass could learn with its current model: data points like what film people are seeing, how many tickets they usually buy, where they’re from, what time and how often they go to the movies, etc.
Investors apparently like what they’re hearing because they sent shares of Helios and Matheson up by 8 percent this afternoon, and MoviePass is planning to go public in March of 2018 according to Bloomberg.
With movie ticket prices surging and streaming services investing in original programming viewers can watch from home, theaters are struggling to get by. Since August 1, AMC theater chain stock has tumbled 36 percent, in part due to lower than expected summer movie turnout. But Lowe thinks that MoviePass can help the floundering industry, and the company can finally become the Netflix of movie theaters that it’s always wanted to be. “Movie theaters have been very slow to innovate in the pricing model, but if you can build a subscription to do the same thing for theaters that Netflix did for independent films, that’s great,” he told MarketWatch.
So far, the movie theater industry’s strategy for fighting back against streaming and home theaters has been to make things more extravagant and expensive. Imax, 3D, and 4DX options can cost up to $30 per ticket, a reach for many individuals and likely prohibitively expensive for large families. Lowe says that MoviePass has research that shows people want to go to the movies more often but aren’t willing to pay the price.
Would you be willing to give up your private data for a seat in front of the big screen? I’m going to guess most people won’t care. We give it up for the opportunity to use free email services, talk with our friends on social media platforms, and swipe our phone instead of a credit card, so why not when we head to the theatre?
But if this model is so ripe for exploitation why isn’t the online ticketing service Fandango raking in huge profits? Well, it’s actually doing pretty well. Sales were up 28 percent in the first quarter of 2017, it sells anonymized user data, has a partnership with Facebook, has gotten into merchandising, owns Rotten Tomatoes, and even has a streaming service. It also got into some trouble a few years ago for not properly encrypting user data.
But honestly, I don’t care if MoviePass blows through stacks of cash and targets me with some Raisinet ads. I love going to the movies and 10 bucks a month is cheap as hell. Now, if only this damn site would load.