On MoviePass’ Newest Blunder

BC rants.

For nearly two years, I have been a member of Moviepass, and I assume at least a couple of our readers are as well. Utilizing a Netflix-style monthly fee (usually around $29.99; it varies per area) for "unlimited" access, you are able to see one film a day at participating theaters, with no repeats. If you're in an area that has plenty of theaters with independent/foreign films, or repertory programming, this means you can make the most of the program, as it's almost impossible you'll "run out" of things to see (you can only see each movie once - sorry Batfans, you couldn't use Moviepass to see Dark Knight Rises every day like you probably did anyway). Customers in rural areas probably didn't get as much use out of it if they were only stuck with the bigger Hollywood offerings - even if you WANTED to see every feature that came along, there would be weeks with only 1-2 new options.

However, being a Los Angeles resident, it's been a godsend. Not only do a hefty number of theaters participate (the AMC and Laemmle chains, plus most of the repertory theaters like the New Beverly, Cinefamily, and Egyptian/Aero), but even if I were to use it every single day I'd probably never run out of things to see - a fine bonus for someone like me who will watch any movie once. When time allows, I'll go see filler junk like RIPD, or take a chance on an indie that I probably would have waited to rent otherwise (The Spectacular Now, for example - which I loved). I can even be surprised by a Hollywood offering; I was seeing After Earth only to kill some time in an air conditioned room one day in June, but I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. This is the real appeal of the program - my desire to make sure I get my money's worth "forces" me to see more films, and more often than not I'm glad I saw them (RIPD is one exception; Jesus CHRIST was that an awful movie). And because I'm saving money on the films I do want to see, I'm more likely to buy concessions, which helps the theater as well.

When the program first started, it was pretty cumbersome. You'd select a time and theater from your computer, print out a voucher, and bring it to the theater and hope that the clerk could ring it up properly. This often resulted in confused looks, time-wasting explanations, and glitches. It was a good idea, but the convoluted process (not to mention extra drain on your printer) made it hard to recommend, and at that time AMC wasn't even on the program, making my viewing options limited. However, a year ago they fixed it up; rather than issuing vouchers and selecting times on your computer, customers were issued a credit card (via Discover) that would activate when you were at the theater and selected a time using your smartphone. Not only did this work much better (I've only once had an issue, and I'm sure it was just the clerk being a moron), but it opened up the service to more theaters - any location that accepted Discover cards could accept Moviepass, more or less (some theaters, such as the Arclight, requested to be removed. I've hardly been there since.). The only drawback was that 3D/Imax showings were invalid for use with the card; their surcharges would go beyond the card's temporary limit (and let's face it, just ONE 3D ticket in LA on a weekend night would be more than half of the monthly fee), but they made that clear up front and apologized for the inconvenience.

Well, apparently they have a new customer service approach, as today customers were greeted with an email titled "New Features" only to discover that the program was being restricted even further. This new "feature" is a "Countdown Clock" which would run for 24 hours from the time of your last movie selection - if you see a movie at 7pm today, you can't see another one until 7:01pm the next day. This is much different than the standard "once a day" described in its original TOS, not to mention the benefits that were highlighted when we signed up for the service (some even locked into a yearly membership), as it can effectively DENY you the ability to see a movie on a given calendar day. Let's say I see a movie at 10:45pm on a Tuesday night, when midnight shows aren't offered - unless I actually find one that starts later, I can't use the service on Wednesday. Hell, here's an ACTUAL example - yesterday I saw a matinee of Carrie (ugh) at 10:40 am, before I went to work, and planned to see a 10:30 am showing of The Counselor today, again before my 1pm work shift began. But because of this change, I couldn't, because of a TEN MINUTE difference.

Now, the reason for this change is obvious - they are trying to save some money and stay in operation. There's no "discount" on any level - the theater gets the same amount of money they would if we were to buy a ticket the normal way (which is why I am baffled by theater chains like the Arclight refusing the service - it just increases their patronage!), and Moviepass covers that full charge. The way they can make money, besides some minor advertisements on their app, is from people failing to buy 30 dollars' worth of tickets in a given month. You might think it'd be impossible NOT to do that since that's only 3-4 tickets, but you'd be surprised - they actually made money on ME this month as I only used it twice (Carrie and Captain Phillips), both matinees - my 30 dollars netted me 15 dollars' worth of tickets. Of course, other months I've gone 7-8 times and thus saved around 70 dollars, so it all evens out - but their business model cannot sustain folks like me getting their money's worth (and then some) for 11/12 months - they need a LOT of people to have months like mine, and often, in order to keep going.

But here's the thing - I get that, and even have no problem with the idea in general. Sure, it can cause a change of plans, but they're not in surmountable - had I seen The Counselor at 10:30 on Wednesday I could have seen Carrie today at 10:40 with no problem (and still gone to see a movie on Friday night, when I'm not working). And I'm not greedy; I get that they need to pay their bills and count on folks not taking too much advantage (I was shocked to see people on their Facebook page saying things like "the old once a day model was unfair enough, this is just criminal!"). My problem was that they treated us like idiots when they told us about it, calling it a "feature" when even a moron could see that it was their way to limit our crazy movie going ways and putting them in the red. Had they been up front about it, like they were with the 3D/Imax restriction, I'm guessing that the number of angry comments flooding their Twitter and Facebook pages would be greatly reduced. If the alternative is them having to shut down, then this is certainly an acceptable solution - but TELL US THAT. Don't call it a feature and expect us to be excited about the fact that we'll be seeing fewer movies every month. Let's face it, the average Moviepass customer is a hardcore movie fan - even if they only allowed one movie a week it would appeal to us in some fashion. But treating us like morons is a surefire way to just make their apparently dire financial situation even worse - already I've seen tweets from folks who plan to just drive to the theater and buy a ticket for a movie they don't even want to see just to "get back" at them. Whether they actually do this or not, who knows - but Moviepass probably could have spared themselves the threat by being on the level.

Hilariously, in some ways this will actually COST them money. The $7.50 I would have spent to see The Counselor this morning will now be 13 dollars to see it tomorrow night. And again, we humans are a spiteful people - I wouldn't be surprised if folks started doubling their efforts to get their money's worth each month, planning ahead to ensure that the 24 hour clock rarely, if ever, affects them much. And that's just the people who stick with the program - many have already opted to jump ship due to not only the change, but the clumsy, condescending way it was handled. There's also the word of mouth factor that they depend on to spread the word since they don't spend much money on advertising their service - who is going to recommend it to a friend or family member now? It's a shame - such things will only increase the likelihood of the program going under for good, but if that happens, hopefully it will be a good lesson for other businesses - SOME, not all, people might be greedy and hate a reduction no matter what, but ALL people hate being treated like idiots. Had they offered an honest explanation from the start, I'd probably send a single "woe is me" tweet and be done with it - instead, I sent off a bunch and wrote this article. Moral of the story: DON'T BE A DICK.

All that said, there is an easy solution: offer two tiers; one with a 24 hour clock for whatever price you're paying now, and one that retains the "once per day" option for a small fee increase (5 dollars seems reasonable). I'd do it in a heartbeat - they were clearly inspired by Netflix so why not follow their lead on offering different ways of subscribing depending on your usage? Because at the end of the day, as long as it's usable at my favorite theaters, I love the program, and the only part of it I want to see go away is their current method of dealing with paying customers.