According to MoviePass’s chief executive, Mitch Lowe, 85 percent of the app’s users already see no more than three movies a month. This new strategy will rein in the app’s power users, hopefully bringing costs in line without depressing the subscriber base too much. But it also likely signals the end of a wild, fascinating moment in the moviegoing business, in which the seismic impact of MoviePass led theater chains to begin adjusting their business models to fend off a threat to their own profit margins.
AMC, the biggest theater chain in America, has waged the most public battle with MoviePass. In August 2017, after the initial announcement of the $9.95-a-month plan, AMC said it would try and stop the app from purchasing tickets at its theaters, calling MoviePass’s model “unsustainable.” In January, MoviePass retaliated by removing 10 of AMC’s busiest locations from its app to demonstrate the might of its subscriber base (who were diverted elsewhere), and by demanding a partnership with AMC in which MoviePass got a $3 cut of every ticket sold and 20 percent of concessions revenue.
Eventually, AMC came up with a plan of its own. The “AMC Stubs A-List” package costs $19.95 a month and lets subscribers see up to three films every week. There are no restrictions on format—IMAX, 3-D, and the premium Dolby Cinema are included, with no blackout dates. A three-month minimum commitment is required, but AMC does also promise not to change the prices or scale of the plan within one year of signing on. Perhaps most crucially, Stubs A-List lets users book tickets in advance (MoviePass’s system relies on customers buying when they get to the theater, because they need to “check in” on their app before using their MoviePass credit card to purchase the ticket).
If you’re a fan of your local AMC theater, it’s likely a good deal, though the service would automatically restrict your options to the blockbuster and family fare that usually dominates at the multiplexes (some bigger AMCs offer a wider range of releases). But what’s notable is that AMC took action in the first place and eventually offered its customers a new ticket-buying option. For all of MoviePass’s ludicrousness, it has demonstrated that audiences have a real appetite for a subscription-based approach to filmgoing, and larger theater chains are catching on.
The three-movie-a-month model that MoviePass is reportedly settling on (it will go into effect August 15) is similar to Sinemia, a competitor that offers tiered plans including $7.99 for two films a month. Cinemark, a smaller theater chain, also has a “movie club” for $8.99 a month that gets you one free ticket, up to two additional tickets for $8.99 each, and 20 percent off all concessions. Regal Cinemas has talked about instituting demand-based ticketing (though no system has been rolled out). The more indie-minded Alamo Drafthouse chain is also testing a service exclusively at its Yonkers location, though it has not yet revealed the pricing.