Would You Pay One Price for Unlimited New Theatrical Releases? MoviePass Hopes So

Would You Pay One Price for Unlimited New Theatrical Releases? MoviePass Hopes So

Jun 30, 2011

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As NetFlix and Video-On-Demand continue to take a big bite out of movie theater revenue, theater owners are finally realizing that they need to do something in order to be competitive and survive. Their latest attempt to get patrons back into the auditorium comes in the form of MoviePass – a new system that allows film buffs to see as many films as they’d like for a $50 per month flat fee.

The veritable film smorgasbord was announced on Monday, with a beta rolling out this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area (check out Wired for a full list of theaters). Company executives are hoping the service will take off and change the way we pay for theatrical releases in much the same way that Netflix changed how we rented movies.

The new system currently only features the $50 per month unlimited movie program, but the company has designs on offering a $30 per month restricted plan that allows for four movies per month as well. Imax and 3D films will require a $3 surcharge per film on top of the monthly flat rate. Given Hollywood’s current love affair with the 3D format, that $50 plan could easily wind up being $60 or more per month with a few 3D viewings…

Theater chains are obviously rooting for the system to work. Theaters make very little money off of ticket sales, instead finding most of their income through the outrageously priced concession items. If MoviePass gets people into their venues with greater regularity, it stands to reason that concession sales will improve – particularly since patrons aren’t paying anything at the box office to get in.

Studios also could benefit from the program, as it would encourage people to view movies they wouldn’t have paid for otherwise. If you’re spending $50 a month whether you view one film or ten, most people will try to get their money’s worth by viewing as many titles as possible. Plus, the online component will allow studios to market their product to distinct audiences based on information gleaned from the use of the system.

Running on an HTML5 platform, and with smartphone apps coming soon, MoviePass is hoping convenience will also factor into the equation when people are deciding whether or not to sign on. “MoviePass makes spur-of-the-moment movie-going as simple as choosing a film on the phone and checking in at the theater,” co-founder Stacy Spikes said. “No more waiting in line.” We’re not sure how much of an innovation that really is, though – we’ve all been able to buy tickets online for years.

The other potential snags with this program are ones of price, location, and quantity. NetFlix charges less per month and offers a library of 50,000 movies, which can be mailed directly to you regardless of where you live and streamed online in many cases. There are less than 20 new theatrical releases in the standard month, and it seems unlikely that anyone outside the most hardcore movie fans would actually want to see even half of them. Is there enough material to justify that $50 price tag?

Meanwhile, movie fans in rural areas with a limited number of screens will have even fewer options. MoviePass may work in an urban hub, where the number of theaters (including second run and arthouse) make it so subscribers can really get their money’s worth, but MoviePass will be a hard sell in places outside of the big cities.

While MoviePass may not be the thing to get more people back into the theater, it’s at least a good sign that theater chains are willing to try something to lure audiences back. As Spikes points out, even with the advent of online ticketing, the way consumers purchase tickets for movies hasn’t changed much in the past 75 years. Perhaps making that process easier and less time consuming, while offering a price range that potentially makes regular theater trips cheaper overall will help spur more changes and keep theaters competitive with the home entertainment market.

Would you pay $50 a month for the ability to see as many theatrical releases as you want? Let us know in the comment section. 

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