MoviePass is on my last nerve.
The too-good-to-be-true subscription movie ticketing service is only costing me $9.95 a month to see a movie a day, but that’s if I can even use it.
On Thursday, July 26, MoviePass subscribers discovered they couldn’t use their MoviePass cards to purchase tickets after checking into movie theaters. A tweet from the MoviePass Twitter account acknowledged the outage, but said the company was working to resolve it.
And it did, by securing a $5 million cash loan to keep paying the merchants and payment processors who load MoviePass debit cards with money when people go to use them at the theater. The cards are working again, reportedly, but for how long? MoviePass is running out of cash because people are using it so much.
The service has 3 million subscribers and hopes to add an additional 2 million by the end of the year. It currently buys 6 percent of all movie tickets sold in the U.S. But data firm Helios & Matheson, which owns a majority stake in MoviePass, lost $242 million in the nine months ending June 30 trying to keep the service from being crushed under the weight of its own success.
To keep the service afloat, Helios & Matheson have rolled out new models to make more money — a lower-priced subscription that offers three movies a month for $7.95, and a Peak Pricing feature that charges you an extra $2-$6 per movie, depending on how busy a showtime is expected to be.
Or at least that’s what MoviePass said when announcing the feature. In reality, Peak Pricing is all over the place. Weeks-old movies at matinee showtimes are being Peak Priced. In some cases reported on social media, MoviePass charged one person a Peak Price fee and not a friend using a separate account for the same movie at the same time for the same theater. My husband, who prepaid for an annual subscription, isn’t Peak Priced for any showings, but I am, because I have a monthly pass. It’s infuriating.
My biggest issue with MoviePass is that you can’t buy tickets in advance. My favorite movie theater is Alamo Drafthouse, and their showings typically sell out ahead of time. To use my MoviePass at Alamo, I have to go to the theater in the morning, buy my ticket, then leave and come back at showtime. The theater is close to my house so it’s not the biggest inconvenience, but it’s just enough of a detractor that using MoviePass is more trouble than it’s worth. (Alamo is piloting its own monthly subscription, which I will be first in line for when it comes to Brooklyn.)
Sold-out showtimes, Peak Pricing, and an “oops!-we-ran-out-of-money” outage that could very well happen again — remind me again why I’m paying $9.95 a month for a service I can’t use without a headache?
When MoviePass launched, there were no affordable movie-ticket subscriptions. The company completely up-ended the way we go to the movies. Theater chains are getting in on the act with their own subscriptions. Alamo’s season pass pilot is still getting underway, but AMC is going full-throttle with its Stubs A-List program, which gives you three movie screenings a week for $20 a month. (As you may have guessed, Stubs A-List is only good for movies at AMC theaters.)
Sinemia is another subscription upstart. It isn’t as cheap as MoviePass, and it has an unfortunate name, but it offers perks that MoviePass doesn’t, such as advance ticket purchases, 3D and IMAX screenings and family plans. The downside: You have to pay up-front for an annual subscription, which starts at $48 per year for one movie a month.
MoviePass’s future seems more uncertain, and I’m tired of being a guinea pig for a company that’s trying to figure out how to make money on the fly. It was a wild ride, but I’m done.