MoviePass Shuts Down

Sep 16, 2019
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MoviePass is no more. The movie ticket subscription service is shutting down. But despite its failure as a business, NPR's Vincent Acovino reports it may have succeeded in disrupting the movie theater business model.

VINCENT ACOVINO, BYLINE: It was the summer of 2017 when movie fan and culture writer Margaret H. Willison saw buzz on Twitter about a new subscription service being offered by a company called MoviePass. For just $10 a month, the service allowed users to see unlimited movies, one per day, for the entire month.

MARGARET H WILLISON: That means if I see even one movie a month here in Boston, where I live, I've earned $5.

ACOVINO: Willison signed up. Her friends did, too.

WILLISON: We, like, put together a list of us and our other friends who had MoviePass. And there would just be a weekly email every week. And it would be like, what night are you guys free?

ACOVINO: Willison and her friends liked the kind of movie-watching freedom the service offered, one that let them take risks on movies they might have otherwise passed on.

WILLISON: It wasn't just like, oh, I could go see "Skyscraper" with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson - although I did see "Skyscraper" with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson - it was like, oh, I could go and see a Hitchcock movie I've never seen before. I could go and see a foreign film I've known was important.

ACOVINO: The $10 MoviePass plan was started by CEO Mitch Lowe, a former Netflix executive who'd joined as the MoviePass CEO in 2016. By December 2017, just months after the new $10 unlimited plan was launched, MoviePass announced that it had grown 6,500% and had a million subscribers.

But since its inception, critics had warned that the $10 price point wasn't sustainable. Mitch Lowe told NPR's The Indicator in June of 2018 that the service was losing $21 million a month. That August, the service removed its unlimited plan, allowing subscribers to see just three movies a month. And while the unlimited plan did eventually return, users complained about inconsistent showings and throttled service until its eventual shutdown last Saturday.

Comscore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian claims that despite its failed funding model, the service forced major change in the moviegoing industry.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN: Movie theaters are now looking at what consumers responded to in MoviePass and trying to create their own version of that that actually is a business model that can be sustained.

ACOVINO: Theater chains like Regal Cinemas and AMC have started their own subscription services, and Dergarabedian says that's not just a good thing for moviegoers.

DERGARABEDIAN: Whatever brings more people into the movie theater, that's good for the industry, and that's what the movie theaters want to keep going.

ACOVINO: Independent filmmaker Sean Baker, who directed 2017's award-winning film "The Florida Project," was a subscriber. And he sees the appeal from many angles.

SEAN BAKER: People started to recognize that they missed the theater experience. They missed going to a theater, seeing a film in the optimal conditions - on the big screen with proper sound - and, also, without the distractions of everyday life that we have now.

ACOVINO: Baker says the service helped audiences experience movies how they're best seen - in theaters.

Vincent Acovino, NPR News.

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