MoviePass — a new service that many have called "Netflix for movies theaters" — sounds like a cinephile's dream: After paying a flat monthly rate ($25-40, depending on your geographical location), subscribers can see unlimited movies in theaters for no additional charge. But MoviePass's launch hasn't been dreamy. After an early beta test in San Francisco in summer 2011, the service was abruptly withdrawn. The problem: MoviePass discombobulated major theater chains such as AMC, which saw it as a threat to their overall ticket sales. After months of tension-easing discussions with chains and movie studios, MoviePass' CEO says his company has now activated memberships for people who preordered the service and swears it's back for good. If it really works, MoviePass could turn out to be a rare win-win for both theaters and customers, raising overall theater revenue while saving moviegoers money. Here, a guide:
How do I sign up?
Once you subscribe at moviepass.com and pay your first flat monthly fee, you're mailed a user-specific membership card that looks like a credit card. To get even that far, however, you'll have to get in line. There are 75,000 users on the wait-list for MoviePass, which is currently invite-only. The only shortcut is to find a friend who is enrolled with the service; each subscriber can invite up to 10 friends to join.
How do I use the card?
First, subscribers use a free smartphone app to choose a theater, a movie, and a showtime. Once they've arrived at the theater, they check in with their app which loads their MoviePass card with enough money to pay for the full ticket price at that specific location. The card can then be swiped by a cashier like any other credit or debit card. So, in other words, although a subscriber has only paid a flat monthly fee of $30 or so, the theater still gets paid in full.
What's the catch for subscribers?
There are several. You can only see one movie per day. MoviePass can't be used for IMAX and 3D screenings. You need an iPhone to use the app (though an Android version will reportedly be available by next month).
How could MoviePass possibly make a profit if the company is paying out the full ticket cost?
There's a "balancing act" between "people who over-use the service and people who under-use the service," says CEO Stacy Spikes in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, and since theaters show only a limited number of films at any given time, it's unlikely that even the most dedicated filmgoer could see a movie every day. Spikes claims the company's research has shown they have "an economic model" that will yield profit even as it pays for full-price movie tickets.
Is it worth the money for subscribers?
That depends on how often you go to the movies. "The break-even point is probably around three or so movies per month," estimates Brad Tuttle at Time. If the average subscription price is around $30 per month, MoviePass costs the customer roughly $360 per year, which means you'd have to see roughly 40 movies per year to justify the cost. The key question: Are there really 40 new movies released each year that you think are worth seeing?
What does MoviePass mean for movie theaters and studios?
Though these parties' resistance to MoviePass is well-documented, early evidence shows that the service results in significantly higher sales on both concessions and tickets. Sixty-four percent of MoviePass users report going to more movies than they did before, and spending 123 percent more on concessions. And since the MoviePass card works just like a credit or debit card, the only thing the theaters should notice is bigger profits.