Film

Can MoviePass Help New York’s Cinephiles Save Money?

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Anyone who goes to the movies more than a few times a month on a budget has probably heard of MoviePass. Launched in 2011, the service offers filmgoers a subscription-based approach: They can pay a flat monthly fee for the opportunity to see a movie every day or, for reduced fees, two or three times a month. Over the past half-decade, it’s expanded from using printed vouchers to a location-based app; now, users can view the day’s screenings at any theater within a certain proximity, and set aside a ticket to be picked up at the box office. The fees (which vary regionally) aren’t exactly pocket change, but in an area like New York, where a movie ticket typically costs $15, MoviePass can be cost-effective. (An unlimited plan option in the city, which would let you see one different movie every day, costs $49.99 per month.) With a growing number of independent and repertory screens in New York vying for audience dollars, could MoviePass become a cinephile’s best friend?

That remains to be seen. There are obviously plenty of films to see in the city, but the whole range isn’t currently accessible through MoviePass. Some theaters aren’t partnered with the service, and some only offer an allocated number of MoviePass tickets. For instance, the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn isn’t yet a part of the system, while smaller repertory theaters sometimes change ticket pricing depending on the resources needed to secure a print or a speaker. Many specialty theaters also offer their own membership programs, and larger chains have loyalty rewards programs that can sometimes yield free tickets. On top of that, live broadcasts, IMAX, and 3D movies don’t figure into the “standard screening” caveat of the movie-a-day plan, and neither do festivals – a big part of the New York film scene.

There are also some smaller limitations that users might find frustrating. A film can’t be seen more than once (“standard” screening or not), and with more and more chains offering reserved seating, MoviePass’s day-of ticketing approach can mean rolling the dice in terms of where you sit. But these restrictions can also provide an incentive for moviegoers to see things they might normally have skipped – be it due to only being able to see a title once, or because other options may have sold out.

The app has gone through significant changes over the last two years. The biggest ripple was sent through the customer base by last year’s plan price hikes. The rollout occurred in waves through emails to users informing them of the increased pricing, which varied across the board and included the option of a premium plan (access to IMAX and 3D screenings) that’s no longer immediately available through the website. Less transparently, the service also began to allocate the number of tickets available at certain theaters, leading to blocked off showtimes. To many customers, this seemed like the service was offering fewer options for a higher price. The company wound up issuing an apologetic statement, stressing the sometimes overwhelming nature of change and some of the more positive adjustments, including the removal of the 24-hour clock that sometimes made it difficult to use that daily ticket, and expanding theater partnerships.

It’s that last point that will be a big factor in MoviePass’s continuing growth. In New York in particular, the number of non-chain theaters is growing, as are the ways people watch movies in general – whether it’s with regards to luxury seating or projection format (35mm, DCP, IMAX, etc.). The biggest questions come down to how MoviePass will deal with the smaller houses, which often offer their own ticket discounts, and how the service will adapt to the changes in what (and how) cinephiles want to watch.