MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe stepped in it last month when he suggested that the subscription service’s app tracked customers movements. In an interview with Variety, Lowe clarified that the company only locates its customers in order to direct them to nearby theaters and stressed that the company does not continuously watch its clients.
“What we don’t do and have never done is track,” said Lowe. “Tracking suggests that we’re following you from point A to point B, and we’ve never done that. We don’t intend to do that. That’s not part of the plan. What we do is we locate you so when you want to find a theater that’s in your market, you open up the app and we locate you to tell you, here’s 10 theaters nearby.”
That’s a much different depiction than the one that Lowe painted on March 2 at Winston Baker’s Entertainment Finance Forum, where he conveyed a Big Brother-like approach to data collection.
“We get an enormous amount of information,” he said. The MoviePass app tracks users “in your GPS by the phone… so we watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch. We know all about you.”
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Lowe says he misspoke. However, the company has long maintained that it will be able to justify the low cost of its $9.95-a month unlimited movie service by collecting information on its clients. It has argued that this data will be valuable to studios or theater chains looking to reach customers. MoviePass has attracted critics because of its unorthodox business model. It subsidizes its users’ moviegoing, paying full price for most of the tickets it buys. The company believes that it can more effectively reach customers, making it an attractive advertising platform, and hopes that its user base of 2 million subscribers will be so desirable that theaters will give it a cut of box office revenues or sell MoviePass tickets at a bulk rate.
There are some hurdles with the kind of information-gathering that MoviePass depicts, namely mounting privacy concerns. In recent weeks, consumers have taken a more jaundiced view of data collection. Facebook has been at the center of a massive scandal after reports broke that millions of users’ data had been compromised and shared without their consent with polling firm Cambridge Analytica. Lowe said that MoviePass will be more respectful with the material it collects on its customers.
“We’ve never sold data,” said Lowe. “We don’t intend to sell data. We will only use the data we collect to make our user experience more relevant.”
The dream is to gather enough insight into customers that MoviePass can suggest upcoming movies or direct subscribers to local restaurants or shops when they’re going out to the multiplexes.
“Our vision is that we’ll know all the merchants around the theater where you said you’re going to go,” said Lowe. “We can send you pop ups or push notifications saying, ‘hey there’s a Chipotle next door, use your MoviePass credit card and get your chips for free or go to the Starbucks across the street and get a dollar off your coffee.’ Our intent is really to know where you’re going to go and know when the movie is going to start, so we can give you relevant recommendations.”
MoviePass customers will always have the ability to opt out of those kinds of recommendations, Lowe said. But they won’t be able to prevent MoviePass from having some insight into their habits.
“The agreement we make with our customers is in exchange for giving you a deal that many think is too good to be true, we need to know which movie you’re going to and when,” said Lowe. “That’s the trade off. If you don’t want to do that, you shouldn’t become a subscriber.”