From the moment former Netflix and Redbox co-founder Mitch Lowe took over MoviePass and immediately slashed prices, the naysayers have been predicting failure. “It’s not sustainable,” they all said. “You’re setting consumers up for a disappointment,” they warned. “You’ll shoot your eye out,” they chanted.
Wait. Scratch that last one. That’s from A Christmas Story. But, much like Ralphie aiming his beloved “Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock” for the first time and immediately shooting his eye out exactly as he’d been warned, Mitch Lowe’s date with failure has seemed pre-determined, that is if you ask his critics, like apparently everyone who works at AMC.
As has become increasingly common over the past couple of months, MoviePass became temporarily unusable this past Thursday night, with the official reason being some kind of error with the company’s card services. Bullshit, said the critics, especially since MoviePass is the same company which, without explanation or warning, previously pulled its services from certain big markets just to gain leverage over certain non-responsive theater chains. You never can be too sure what’s actually happening with them behind the scenes.
Then came the reporting about this latest failure (via IndieWire):
This morning in regulatory filings with the SEC, MoviePass’ parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics told a very different story: They ran out of money to pay its bills. As part of this morning’s filling, MoviePass announced it is taking out an emergency loan of $5 million that would be used to pay “merchant and fulfillment processors,” which should allow the company return to operation.
Yet even once the spigot gets turned back on, the question remains for how long. The loan’s terms are onerous; MoviePass will pay $1.2 million in “original issue discount” to receive $5 million cash, and the note is due next week. According to the terms of the loan, lender Hudson Bay can demand repayment of more than $3 million on August 1, and the rest by August 5.
This follows the company’s already controversial implementation of surge pricing, which was promised as an Uber-like surcharge on the most in-demand movies and movie times but has since evolved into an added tax on top of all movies everywhere at any time except for maybe Tuesdays and Wednesdays and anything before noon. So, users weren’t exactly pleased with the latest problem:
Eventually, the card service was fixed by late Friday afternoon, and as of this writing on Sunday afternoon it still seems to be working. Lowe included a new note to subscribers apologizing for all the recent hassles and warning that in the future certain movies – like Mission: Impossible – Fallout – might be not be available on MoviePass unless you go to a smaller chain e-ticketing theater which has been more friendly to them.
It’s too soon to write the MoviePass obituary now, simply because every time the company has seemed on the brink of collapse Lowe and the swindlers at Helios and Matheson Analytics pull some angel funding out of their collective asses. However, things, well, they could be better, and a recent effort to use an accounting trick to prop up the stock value eventually backfired, resulting in the company selling for practical pennies on the market now.
All of which leads me to what I promised in the title: if MoviePass is on its way out, what other options are out there?
1. AMC A-List
For $20 a month, you get to see 3 movies a week in any format you’d like – 2D, 3D, IMax, whatever else AMC offers. Should you choose to do so you can simply see the same movie 3 times, not the most original chose if you favor variety but as someone who saw Infinity War 4 times I really should shut up. Moreover, A-List also offers discounts on concessions, such as free upgrades on soft drinks and popcorn. Unlike MoviePass, there’s no cumbersome card to worry about nor do you have to be a certain number of feet from the theater to reserve your ticket. Like MoviePass, though, A-List has already been accused of being unsustainable, but as the leading theater chain in North America it is better equipped to operate the service at a loss, which the CEO has acknowledged is the plan for the next 9 months.
Plus: You can see around 12 films a month in any format you want and reserve your seats using the AMC app on your phone wherever you migh be at the time.
Minus: It’s only usable at AMC theaters.
Flying under the radar for months now, Sinemia is a MoviePass competitor which is honored at most theaters around the country. It hasn’t generated many headlines simply because it’s nowhere near as good of a deal as MoviePass nor does it have that company’s same tendency to constantly shoot itself in the foot. Still, in response to the recent MoviePass unrest Sinemia has lowered its prices until the end of the summer. Here are the current offers:
- $3.99 per month – One ticket to any movie per month
- $6.99 per month – Two tickets to any movie per month
- $8.99 per month – Two tickets to any movie per month, including 3D, 4D, and IMAX formats
- $13.99 per month – Three tickets to any movie per month including 3D, 4D, IMAX formats
What they don’t say in their pitch for this new sale, though, is you have to buy an annual subscription to get the sale price. Sounds to me like a classic ploy to bring in a fast infusion of cash. MoviePass pulled a similar trick last year with its annual subscriptions offered around the holidays.
Plus: Still cheaper than buying tickets individually; Wider variety of theater options; Pricing tiers offer more options than either MoviePass or A-List
Minus: What if you normally want to see more than 3 movies a month?
3. Paying for movies the old way
Believe it or not, you still can simply walk up to the 16-year-old behind the ticket counter at any theater and pay full price for a ticket.
4. Some combination of the first 3 while you wait to see what happens with Regal and the Alamo Drafthouse
Now that AMC has bitten the bullet and launched its own MoviePass killer, the expectation is that in success A-List will force other theater chains to join the fight with their own subscription offerings. The Alamo Drafthouse is already known to be planning a beta-test of some kind of service later this year. Regal’s new corporate owner, the UK-based Cineworld, already has its own subscription model in Europe. How long before they port it over here?