MoviePass Is Coming Back Soon, but Providing No Details on What It Is You’ll Be Buying

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MoviePass Is Coming Back Soon, but Providing No Details on What It Is You’ll Be Buying

Call me old fashioned, but it really feels like if a company is preparing to relaunch itself following a spectacular implosion that destroyed all value in the brand name, they should probably be prepared to explain in detail how the new service will work on the day they start asking for sign-ups from the public. That seems like a really low bar for a revamped version of MoviePass to clear, but wouldn’t you know it—the newly rebooted MoviePass is now signing people up for its beta app, without providing any concrete details at all on how the service will operate. And it probably shouldn’t surprise you to learn that tens of thousands have already signed up, because thankfully, one is theoretically just “saving a spot in line,” rather than putting any money down at the moment.

A little caution, before funneling any actual cash toward a rebooted version of MoviePass, would certainly be easy to understand. This is, after all, the company that exploded into the pop cultural consciousness in 2017 when it dropped the price of its monthly “unlimited movies” subscription to only $10, a price point that proved far too good to be true. MoviePass had originally been founded by Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt way back in 2011, but it struggled to find a receptive audience until the company was bought out by Helios and Matheson Analytics and then made the unprecedented move to drop its price in 2017. Overnight, MoviePass became a cultural sensation, with subscribers going from 20,000 to more than 3 million in less than a year. But the company was losing money hand over fist, and never found a way to effectively monetize all the demand.

Helios and Matheson paid the price, being delisted from the Nasdaq in 2019 and filing for bankruptcy in 2020, while MoviePass was shuttered following countless scandals—including customers struggling to cancel their accounts, or having their accounts reactivated without their consent after cancelation.

Co-founder Stacy Spikes, meanwhile, regained control of the MoviePass brand for pennies on the dollar, and is behind this relaunch, which reportedly signed up more than 30,000 interested parties on the “wait list” in the first five minutes. Nor will this version of MoviePass even attempt to style itself as an “unlimited movies” plan—rather, it will reportedly offer tiered plans at $10, $20 and $30 that will give “credits” to its users, which can be “cashed in” to see movies at any participating theater. Theoretically, that makes the upside of this version of MoviePass similar to what it has always been—it provides flexibility and allows the user to go to any of their local theaters.

What’s unknown, though, is what you’ll actually get for your dollar. As in: How many credits is $10 per month worth? How many credits does it cost to see a film? How does “peak and off-peak pricing” factor in, as movie theaters will reportedly be able to control how many credits each film may cost at any given time? Just how much will pricing be allowed to vary? Will every major theater chain be on board with the system? What happens when you end up with leftover credits that aren’t enough to see another film? Are they wasted, or does it somehow buy you a ticket at a discounted rate? None of these questions have even begun to receive answers yet, and until we see how MoviePass is planning to handle these most basic of concerns, it’s hard to get over a certain sense of cynicism regarding the brand.

Suffice to say, the MoviePass relaunch is reentering a film distribution/exhibition landscape that is significantly different in 2022 than it was even in 2017. Streaming services, aided by the cultural shift of the pandemic, have increasingly normalized having major film premieres in one’s own house rather than at theaters. Movie theater chains such as AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse have established their own, popular subscription services, and it’s hard to imagine any customer currently paying $20 per month for AMC Stubs is also going to sign up to pay the same for a rebooted MoviePass. And at the end of the day, there’s simply fewer film admissions to go around to begin with, as theaters are still struggling to bring audiences back at pre-pandemic levels.

Which is all to say, there’s a lot of potential issues that MoviePass, or any other service like it, needs to address and overcome in order to become a success. And we’ll believe they’ve found the answers, when they’re actually willing to provide those answers.

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