Jan 27, 2023 - Economy

MoviePass pushes forward with comeback

MoviePass logo on a phone in front of a red background with the company logo.

MoviePass is back with a revamped program, which is available nationwide. Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

MoviePass, the once-popular movie subscription plan whose too-good-to-be-true pricing structure led to its spectacular downfall, is opening a second waitlist for a revamped version of the program.

Why it matters: A new MoviePass could help bring in audiences as movie theaters around the country shutter. The box office is having a strong start to the year buoyed by new blockbusters, but theaters have reeled from the pandemic, which cratered attendance.

Driving the news: The new waitlist opened Friday morning and was extended by a day, now closing at 11:59 pm ET Tuesday, Jan. 31. It launched as the 800,000 people who joined the first waitlist in August got access to the program.

  • People who sign up for the new waitlist are expected to get access to the program before the summer.

The big picture: MoviePass is not the same service it was before its collapse and is rolling out slowly, the company’s CEO Stacy Spikes told Axios.

  • “We want to control our growth, not kind of like the last time, have a runaway train that you can’t manage,” said Spikes, an original co-founder.
  • AMC, Regal and Cinemark — the three largest chains in the U.S. — each launched their own subscription-based offerings in the wake of MoviePass 1.0's downfall.

But a lot has changed since 2019. Cineworld, the parent company of movie theater chain Regal Cinemas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September and plans to close 39 movie theaters across the country in mid-February.

  • Movie distribution has also changed with the explosion of streaming services and many movies bypassing theatrical releases.

Flashback: Spikes co-founded MoviePass in 2011, but it wasn't until 2017 that the company took off when data firm Helios and Matheson bought a majority stake and dropped the monthly fee to $10.

  • Spikes said he wanted the price reduction to be a limited offer, understanding $10 was cheaper than a single ticket in most markets.
  • Spikes outlined how he was pushed out of the company and MoviePass' downfall in his book, "Black Founder: The Hidden Power of Being an Outsider.”
  • The company burned through cash and couldn't deliver on what it promised. It stopped working for users and shut down in September 2019.
  • Spikes bought the company out of bankruptcy in November 2021. He announced plans for MoviePass 2.0 early last year.
  • In November 2022, Theodore Farnsworth, the former CEO of parent company Helios & Matheson, and Mitchell Lowe, the former CEO of MoviePass, were both charged by the Department of Justice for securities fraud for allegedly giving “materially false and misleading representations” to investors.

The 2023 slate of blockbuster movies, which includes "Ant-Man: Quantumania," "Dungeons & Dragons" and "The Marvels," makes it an ideal time to launch, he said.

  • "I have never seen a slate like this where almost every weekend you have a $100 million film,” Spikes said. “Not a single one of these titles is going to be streaming at the same time. That’s a hell of a commitment from the studios.”
  • Spikes believes MoviePass can help lead theaters' rejuvenation and account for 30% of U.S. ticket sales by 2030.

Yes, but: Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, told Axios that he doesn’t see MoviePass’ “business model ever working.”

  • “It’s really the Netflix business model without any original content,” he said.
  • “They can’t possibly make more money than the movie theaters just on the ticket part. And the movie theaters have the concessions,” Pachter said.

MoviePass relaunch

The new MoviePass launched in September in Dallas, Chicago and Kansas City and then announced an expansion to more cities Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City and Tampa Bay in early January.

  • Now MoviePass Beta is available nationwide and covers “100% of the theatrical universe” for those who signed up for the waitlist, Spikes said.

What’s different with MoviePass, prices and credits

New MoviePass customers get "credits" monthly that can be applied to movie tickets at participating theaters.

How it works: Spikes said there’s “variable pricing baked into the ecosystem” and the credits per film can vary with a partner theater and non-partner theater.

  • With partner theaters, users can often purchase tickets through the MoviePass app versus having to go to the theater to buy a ticket with a MoviePass card and your smartphone.
  • “We look at ourselves as software for a marketplace similar to the way you might think of an Airbnb for the travel and leisure space,” Spikes said.
  • The nation's three biggest movie theater chains are non-partner theatres at this time, Spikes said.

Details: There are three main pricing tiers and a pro plan that is available in select markets. How many credits can depend on the movie, location, day of the week and time of day.

  • The basic plan is $10 a month and gives 34 credits, which is enough to watch one to three movies monthly.
  • The standard plan is $20 a month for three to seven movies and 72 monthly credits.
  • The premium plan is $30 monthly for five to 11 movies and 113 credits.
  • The pro plan is available in select markets for 30 movies a month and one movie a day for $40 monthly.
  • Those prices are more expensive in movie markets like New York and Southern California.

MoviePass waitlist

To access MoviePass, you need to join a waitlist or get invited by a friend, the company says.

  • Emails inviting the initial August waitlist to join have started going out and all are expected to be sent by next week, officials told Axios.
  • Those new MoviePass members will be able to invite 10 friends to MoviePass within the "next two months."

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that MoviePass extended the deadline to sign up for the second waitlist by a day to Jan. 31.

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