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Never Say Die: Theatrical Subscription Service MoviePass Tries Again

Never Say Die: Theatrical Subscription Service MoviePass Tries Again

If at first you don’t succeed…MoviePass, a New York-based all-you-can-watch flat-rate monthly subscription service, is trying a new iteration of its plan to shake up the theater industry the way that Netflix changed DVD rentals. Initially the service to be launched in June in 21 San Francisco theaters was to cost $50 a month for subscribers who wanted to sample unlimited movies via smartphone ticket buys, but faced strong blowback from theater owners, who weren’t brought in on the deal and refused to play along.

MoviePass partnered with online ticketing services and never sought feedback from mom-and-pop exhibitors or big theater chains. Exhibitors hated being bypassed by an outsider setting their own prices, and studios disliked possible complications in their counting of the grosses. Theater owners could wind up losing some of their share of ticket sales. Some were skeptical of the motives behind MoviePass (one long-term goal seems to be capturing information) and offered alternative models, including a lower monthly rate–$50 seems steep.

This time, MoviePass encourages moviegoers to subscribe to its monthly service at MoviePass.com. It will now be available nationwide as an invitation-only Limited Private Beta for charter subscribers, who can extend invitations to friends and family. MoviePass will use studio promotional movie ticket provider Hollywood Movie Money to access 36,000-plus screens in their theater network. After choosing the movie they want to see, MoviePass subscribers can print out Hollywood Movie Money vouchers–long accepted at theaters everywhere– to take to the theater. MoviePass has put off for now a mobile version of the MoviePass service, hoping for a launch in early 2012. Here’s Variety.

AMC at least had some knowledge of the first MoviePass experiment, as they hung a banner on at least one of their theaters; they must have had second thoughts. Clearly having theaters be part of the process would be ideal. The recent Lincoln Lawyer low-price online ticket promo resulted in some theater staffers caught off guard when people showed up with tickets they had not been told to honor. That experiment has not been repeated. Theaters came out behind on the Groupon promos, because the online coupon company takes a big cut. “Plans for this program were developed without AMC’s knowledge or input,” said Stephen Colanero, chief marketing officer at AMC Theatres at the time. “As MoviePass is currently designed, it does not integrate well into our programs and could create significant guest experience issues.”

Quantum Rewards CEO Ron Randolph-Wall, who operates Hollywood Movie Money, said:

“Because MoviePass will be paying theaters the full price of admission using the Hollywood Movie Money system, the theater industry benefits as well as the fans. With theater attendance down we believe that any opportunity to drive movie goers back to theaters benefits exhibitors, studios, and the creative community alike.”

Stacy Spikes, MoviePass co-founder, former Miramax exec, and founder of the African American-themed Urbanworld Film Festival, said:

”Great movies are meant to be seen on the big screen and we are passionate about delivering a innovative service that will give fans more reasons to go to the movies.”

MoviePass plans to offer members exclusive access to advance industry screenings, events, set visits and prizes “that are usually reserved for Hollywood elite,” they promise. MoviePass is also testing a zone pricing model based on the average ticket price in each member’s market. Founded by technology and entertainment entrepreneurs Spikes and Hamet Watt, founder of product placement company NextMedium and exec at Southern California investment fund True Ventures. MoviePass’s backers include AOL Ventures, True Ventures, Lambert Media, Moxie Pictures, Brian Lee, Diego Berdakin, MJ Eng, Ryan Steelberg and Adam Lilling.  
MoviePass could benefit theater chains, which collect most of their profits via concessions, by putting butts in seats, and help studios by encouraging folks to sample pictures they might not go out to see, which could boost word-of-mouth and later DVD sales. Unlimited movie passes have long worked in France, especially in big cities, but they are set up with one movie chain at a time.

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