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Ailing MoviePass still inspires imitators

August 22, 2018

MoviePass has helped create an alternative to standard movie tickets, even as the subscription service struggles to develop a business plan that will prevent it from fading to black.

AMC Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and a company called Sinemia Premium are providing or will soon provide ticket options similar to those now offered by MoviePass.

It’s a move that seems, at best, counterintuitive especially now that MoviePass is being sued by its investors after posting a $126.6 million loss in the second quarter and losing $132 per share, which now is worth about a nickel.

But industry experts see a silver lining at least for competitors amid all that red ink.

“It’s another example of competition being healthy for a given industry,” said REELZ movie critic Leonard Maltin. “MoviePass started it they forced the theater chains that didn’t want to be part of their program to say, ‘Maybe we can come up with a better idea and own it ourselves.’”

Founded in 2011, MoviePass experimented with business models and pricing schemes, eventually offering customers a curious bargain access to a theatrical film release every day for a monthly subscription of $9.95, about the price of one matinee movie ticket in many markets. In its most recent plan, MoviePass limits monthly customers to three movies a month and quarterly/annual customers to six films a month at certain times of the day.

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com, says the subscription model represents an organic change to an industry which already survived the threats posed by the emergence of television (circa the 1950s) and the dawn of large, inexpensive flat-screen TVs.

“Every industry faces evolution and adaptation. Cinema has a track record of embracing those things very well without sacrificing what made it work to begin with,” Mr. Robbins said. “That’s what good art does, that’s what good business does. The film industry is an emblematic fusion of the two.”

The AMC Stubs A-List service allows users to watch up to three movies a week (even in IMAX and 3D) for $19.95 a month plus tax.

Sinemia Premium’s subscription service offers a four-tier plan, ranging from $3.99 a month for one movie ticket to $14.99 a month to see three films in a month. Those prices reflect Sinemia’s summer sale options.

The Cinemark Movie Club allows users to see one movie a month for $9 (along with 20 percent off concession prices), which can be rolled over if they aren’t used in a given month.

Tim League, CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, says MoviePass’ arrival led to some industry “trepidation” as to what the subscription model could mean for the industry.

Mr. League couldn’t overlook how members of Alamo’s fan base applauded the concept.

“We’re hearing from our customers that they like the idea of the subscription economy,” said Mr. League, who personally subscribes to services providing everything from cooking spices to fair trade chocolate. “It allows an exposure to things that I love and I can see that being a parallel for our space,” he says. “We’re also cognizant that in order for [subscriptions] to work long term it has to be a sustainable model.”

Mr. League’s company is testing a subscription service in its Yonkers, New York, location with a price point in the $15 to $20 range for unlimited film going. Alamo’s Yonkers-based plan also allows for advance booking. The current Yonkers model is being used by a small group of customers, but interest is growing on a national scale. The chain currently has 40,000-plus strong waiting list for similar Alamo subscriptions.

Alamo’s full subscription model plans are not yet final, though. Ultimately, whatever model emerges will align with the company’s worldview.

“It lowers the barrier to entry to explore movies. It’s why we exist, to champion independent films and all movies, big and small,” said Mr. League, adding that Alamo is seeking feedback on its beta test to shape the finished product.

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