MoviePass is a subscription-based service that allows users to watch almost any movie in theaters for a flat monthly rate. In August, the company announced a surprisingly low price of $9.95, leaving many scratching their heads. I interviewed René Sánchez, cinema expert and movie critic at CineSinFronteras.com, and we discussed the privacy implications and the potential impact to the online streaming industry.
Even though I’ve been using it for a month already, it still feels too good to be true. Were you surprised by the MoviePass announcement?
Yes, I was surprised by their announcement to reduce the monthly subscription price to just $9.95. It is such an amazing deal, especially when you consider that a regular, 2D movie here in the Seattle metro area costs between $12-15. So even if you only watch one movie every month, you will be saving some dollars with MoviePass! What shocked me the most was to know that the major exhibitors and theater chains were onboard with this change. I expected a lot of pushback from them, considering their old-school ways to operate. So far, only AMC has tried (and failed) to restrict the use of MoviePass in their theaters.
What’s the problem that MoviePass is trying to solve?
People don’t go to the movie theaters anymore. Studios and exhibitors keep blaming Netflix and other rival streaming platforms for their audience loss, instead of recognizing the real root cause: the movie-going experience has become very expensive and obsolete. Ticket prices rise every year (the same goes for concessions), studios keep releasing sequels and remakes no one asked for, and most multiplexes scream for renovations (uncomfortable seats, run-down interiors, and poor image and sound quality). To top it off, patrons can sometimes be rude and annoying.
Again, it’s really not Netflix’s fault that people want to stay at home, rather than going out to watch a movie. Who wants to pay more than $60 (including tickets, food and parking/Uber) to enjoy a mediocre movie in a rickety auditorium, while everyone else is either talking or staring at their phones?
Will MoviePass disrupt media streaming services like Netflix, iTunes or Amazon Video?
If proven successful, I think MoviePass can push streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu to invest even more in original content (films and shows).
Let’s talk about users’ privacy: the data that MoviePass is collecting seems to be the biggest asset of the service. Who would be interested in this data and what could they use it for?
Exhibitors and movie studios might find this data very useful. Theaters could use this data to decide what movies to book, the length of their run/engagement, as well as marketing campaigns or promotions. For example, if a theater knows that most of their patrons watch horror movies, then they can book the upcoming horror release in the two largest auditoriums during its first week.
I also believe this data could help exhibitors to find niche audiences based on their patrons’ interests and watching habits (Bollywood movies, Japanese animation, Spanish-speaking productions). Studios could use this information in a similar way that Netflix and other digital portals mine their usage data: to decide what type of content to produce, and to target and distribute the productions to the right markets.
Do you think that usual moviegoers will care if private companies know what movies they watch and when?
I don’t consider myself a casual moviegoer (I watch at least 6 movies in the theater every month) and I really don’t have a problem with private companies knowing what movies I watch or where I go to watch them. I already share my movie-related activity across different sites, like Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so it doesn’t matter to me. Actually, I think it would be cool if the studio sends you a discount code to buy the soundtrack or other merchandise (posters, t-shirts, etc) after watching a movie, or if they share exclusive behind the scenes content with you.
Everyone seems to agree on one thing: MoviePass is not making money out of the $10 per month that is charging subscribers. Do you think that MoviePass will survive with its current price and benefits?
I remember reading an article where MoviePass promised to maintain their $9.95 price for a year. What is going to happen after that? I don’t know.
You’re totally right, MoviePass is not making money with their current price model and some theater chains, like AMC, are not super thrilled about the service. If MoviePass cannot figure out a way to make money in the next few months, I believe they will start adding certain caps or limits to their existing service (for example, you can only watch X amount of movies per month), or they will establish a tiered offering with different prices and limits.
I really hope it stays as it is, but at the same time I know it is too good to be true!
MoviePass feels a bit like an on-demand service, since the process starts by “checking in” from an app on your phone. Will initiatives like this change the cinema industry in any meaningful way?
Definitely. I think MoviePass has already proven to Hollywood studios and to exhibitors that the obsolete movie-going experience needs a revamp. Lately, some theaters have been in talks to try out a new pricing model, which follows the concept of “surge” from Uber: if a movie has high demand (lots of tickets sold or check-ins), then its price will adjust accordingly. I have mixed feelings about this idea, but at least I am glad theater owners and studios are starting to experiment and to take risks in order to engage with the audience before it is too late. Otherwise, multiplexes are doomed to meet the same fate of the now-extinct movie palaces in the 70s and 80s, when they were faced against the arrival of home entertainment.
I also think MoviePass will help smaller and independent movies to get exposure to a broader audience. MoviePass, just like Netflix and other subscription services, gives you this type of “freedom”, where you are more likely to take a risk and watch something completely different and unusual because you feel like you’re not paying full-price for it. I think this behavior will certainly allow users to discover new voices in the movie industry, and in turn, it will help Hollywood studios to continue supporting fresh talent and diverse ideas in movies.
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Image via MoviePass