18 August, 2018
The embattled film-subscription service MoviePass launched its promised new subscriber plan today, the one it previously announced would replace its existing standard one-movie-ticket-per-day plan. As predicted, the new plan is meant to allow subscribers to see three movies per month for a $9.95 subscription fee. But it also adds unexpected new restrictions: according to an email gradually rolling out to subscribers, MoviePass will curate a daily shortlist of movies each day that will be available to subscribers. The first week’s menu of movies has been posted on MoviePass’ website.
In a letter to subscribers that rolled out with the new plan, MoviePass says, “As we transition to the new subscription plan, we want to share more details about our service moving forward as part of our commitment to keep you fully informed. For the time being, we will be limiting the films and showtimes that are available to members each day. During this transition period, MoviePass will offer up to six films to choose from daily, including a selection of major studio first-run films and independent releases.”
The push for transparency and “fully informed” customers is welcome, but it’s ironic that it comes bundled with a new, unadvertised set of limitations on the service, and also hints that this plan is just a transition phase. (It’s also odd that the launch of the new service offers “up to six films” per day, when the website currently shows seven options per day.) It’s also somewhat hard to believe in the company’s call for transparency amid widespread claims that it forcibly re-enrolled customers in its new plan even after they cancelled their service. (MoviePass recently issued a statement saying that behavior was caused by a bug, and that “no members were being blocked from canceling their accounts.”)
It’s also unclear whether the widespread ticket unavailability that has been plaguing the service recently will continue. The new plan offers those initial six (or seven) choices per day, but the announcement says “actual availability will change daily,” and “showtime availability may be limited depending on the popularity of those films on the app that particular day.”
That unpredictability has been an ongoing problem with MoviePass, as it struggles to find a profitable model for its business by changing the service it offers customers, often abruptly and without warning. The company has previously angered its customer base by adding Uber-style “surge pricing” to reflect demand for popular movies (even for showings in largely empty theaters), blacking out access to first-run films (including films it actively promoted), pushing some films while blocking others, and blacklisting entire theaters without warning.
MoviePass’ initial rollout letter promises, “We’ll have some exciting updates on additional features and service offerings — that will bring greater value to you as a member — in the near future.” But there’s no hint of how the plan may change after the “transition period,” or whether this plan is meant as a brief stopgap experiment or a more ongoing plan.
Granted, MoviePass has always come across as a company in constant transition. After a disastrous year during which its stock plummeted from a high of more than $32 a share to its current trading value of about 4 cents per share, CEO Mitch Lowe and Helios and Matheson have been looking for ways to reassure investors that MoviePass can eventually leverage its base of 3 million subscribers into profits. Meanwhile, a series of SEC filings has shown that the company is posting huge quarterly losses, leading to auditors suggesting its model is financially unsustainable.
Earlier this week, shareholders in Helios and Matheson, the analytics company that bought a controlling share in MoviePass a year ago and introduced the original $9.95 movie-a-day plan, filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming CEO Theodore Farnsworth and CFO Stuart Benson engaged in fraud by “disseminating materially false and misleading statements” about the company’s financial outlook.
So it may not matter whether MoviePass currently intends this new plan as a long-term fix or a momentary one. The company’s history has shown it’s willing to shift gears rapidly, and that any current statement of intent may be overwritten days later by the next one.