MoviePass, The Sequel: Quest To Become The Netflix Of The Big Screen Continues

After a botched initial launch, the all-you-can-watch movie theater subscription service is trying to get off the ground without alienating big-brand theaters.

As on-demand services become more mainstream, it seems like there's little we can't do through a monthly subscription fee, from listening to music, to streaming TV shows and movies, to choosing an outfit. Now, after an earlier, botched attempt, MoviePass is trying to bring the idea of all-you-can-eat to the movies.

MoviePass, which opens up to 75,000 wait-listed users today, is an invite-only subscription-based service that lets you pay between $19.99 and $34.99 a month to watch up to one in-theater movie per day. MoviePass users can attend any theater nationally, as long as it accepts major credit cards. (Drive-ins and cash-only theaters are excluded.) Subscription prices are based on MoviePass's three zoning areas: Members who live by theaters that charge an average of $8 to $10 per ticket can subscribe to the $19.99 tier, while those in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, where tickets can run around $13 to $15 a pop, pay for the most expensive, $34.99 plan.

This is the New York-based startup's second attempt to successfully launch its service without butting heads with major theater chains. Last June, MoviePass first announced a private beta with 21 theaters in San Francisco. The $50-for-unlimited-movies plan backfired before it got off the ground when megachains AMC Theatres and Landmark Theatres said they had never been informed of the service and wouldn't accept MoviePass users. MoviePass eventually canceled its plans to move forward with the beta.

"As MoviePass was created without AMC's input and testing, we cannot confidently say the guest experience would be positive for our guests and specifically our AMC Stubs members," chief marketing officer Stephen Colanero stated in a press release at the time, referring to AMC's own Stubs loyalty program that rewards members for purchasing tickets and concessions.

A month later, MoviePass resurrected itself in an attempt to end-run around the touchy theaters, this time with a new partner in Hollywood Movie Money, which offers promotional vouchers for a large network of affiliate theaters (including AMC's). Under the new partnership, MoviePass members could print out a voucher at home and bring it with them to the theater. Venture-backed MoviePass ate up the price difference between what it made in subscription fees and what regular tickets would cost to make sure the theaters got paid in full. But MoviePass confirms the Hollywood Movie Money partnership has since dissolved, and that the two services are no longer affiliated with one another.

So with no theater or ticket brokerage partners, how does MoviePass plan on surviving? Its newest workaround is a MoviePass-branded payment card that members will use like a regular credit card to purchase tickets at theater kiosks. Starting today, MoviePass members will use its new iOS app to select a theater, a movie, and a showtime. Once you're within 100 yards of the selected theater, you can check in within the app, which activates your MoviePass debit card using geolocation technology.

"This doesn't need to go through anyone's API, it runs on existing credit card rails, and it allows customers to have mobility and access to more theaters, so we think we've solved everyone's issues," CEO Stacy Spikes tells Fast Company.

Just like with its former Hollywood Movie Money partnership, MoviePass, whose major investors include AOL Ventures and True Ventures, will comp theaters for the full per-ticket admission price to make sure theaters stay, if not happy, then at least at bay, since both parties share the same end goal of driving more customers into seats.

One big caveat of MoviePass's model is it doesn't let you opt out of your monthly subscription during off-peak months. Unlike Netflix viewership, theatrical attendance tends to heavily peak twice a year, during Oscars season and the summer blockbusters. But MoviePass doesn't offer the option to skip certain months--say, March, when decent releases trickle out.

But Spikes says the service is aggressively targeting avid moviegoers, or the 10% of theater attendees who drive half of all ticket sales, according to research from the Motion Picture Association of America. Spikes says this demographic is also more likely to drive post-theater purchases, such as DVDs, soundtracks, and branded merchandise. To that end, he says MoviePass will be exploring options to offer these items through its service in the future.

Another way MoviePass might expand its revenue stream include a gifting option for members to purchase more wallet-friendly 30- or 90-day subscriptions for friends. Spikes says MoviePass is also in talks with potential partners such as Virgin Atlantic and CoverGirl, to offer its service to their customers.

"Today's consumers are much more used to subscription services than they are with pay-as-you-go," he says. "And people want to see things on the big screen, but there are still a lot of reasons to stay at home. We want to decrease those reasons."

[Image: Flickr user gtall1]

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