Commentary

MoviePass Fades To Black. What Remains For In-Theater Subscription Movie Plans?

MoviePass -- the upstart in-theater subscription service -- has shut down. Yet it's a model that seems to be growing.

MoviePass was built by attaching itself to in-home entertainment subscription streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

In fact, when MoviePass made a dramatic change in its subscription price two years ago -- to the very attractive $9.95-a-month plan, limited to one movie a day over a 30-day period from $50/month -- subscribers jumped. 

By June 2018, MoviePass subscribers had risen from 20,000 subscribers in August 2017 to 3 million.

That's a no-brainer. Given that the average in-theater ticket is around $9.11 per movie, according BoxOfficeMojo, consumers moved quickly. But that deal proved too good to be true -- MoviePass had to make a number of price adjustments as losses mounted.

While MoviePass promised more attendees to theater chains, some -- especially AMC Theaters -- refused to participate in the deal, believing the operation was financially unworkable.

Then somewhere between outrage at those theater owners and the prospects of perhaps weak box-office growth, theater owners like AMC and Regal Cinemas began to think differently: They would start their own subscription services.

As a result, AMC's ‘Stubs A-List’ subscription plan costs from $20 to $24 a month; it has 900,000 subscribers. Regal Cinemas has a plan starting at $18 a month.

In a letter to subscribers announcing the shutdown, Mitch Lowe, CEO of MoviePass, said: “MoviePass remained committed to leading and competing in an industry that is resistant to outside competition and change. We believe that fostering competition and change in the moviegoing industry is critical to the satisfaction of the moviegoing public and filmmakers alike.”

While MoviePass made theater chains make similar moves to address stagnant attendance, the question remains: Is it enough? 

Maybe some new real-time in-theater marketing, such as mentioning some in-home streaming competitors and perhaps their flaws, might get entertainment consumers to find new value in watching entertainment away from their living rooms and devices.

Sharing major movies on a very big screen in a darkened room among lots of strangers? Maybe that adds to the entertainment value.

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