Think of it as MoviePass 2.0.
The beleaguered ticketing service is trying to shake off its troubled image as a subscription company in a perpetual state of chaos and near collapse with a new marketing campaign and a fresh array of offerings that are being rolled out this month. The campaign, which includes print ads and a billboard in Times Square, contains images of enraptured moviegoers staring up at a big screen alongside the tagline “let’s go to the movies.”
“It’s a tribute to our friends in exhibition,” said Khalid Itum, executive VP of MoviePass, in an interview. “We’re saying that the best place to see a movie is a movie theater. That’s means getting off your couch and going to one. That’s sort of a story of human triumph fulfilled, as well as a story of our company fulfilling our promise to you as a consumer.”
It was a promise that Itum and his team acknowledge MoviePass frequently failed to keep. As the service struggled to stay solvent, it kept changing its offering. When MoviePass slashed its price to $9.99 a month for a plan that let customers see as many movies as they wanted, the company attracted millions of subscribers. But the offer was too good to be true, and MoviePass kept adding new restrictions and pricing plans, frustrating its users.
But the company believes it has found a break-even model that will allow it to improve its service and continue to operate. This month, MoviePass introduced a new series of plans, which vary in price depending on location. In the middle of the country, where tickets are cheaper, a monthly deal stars at $9.95 and allows customers to see three movies per month at some point during their theatrical run. That plan has been christened “select.” The most expensive plan, known as “red carpet,” costs $19.95 lets people see any three movies of their choosing at any time and in IMAX, 3D, and other premium formats. In major cities, where tickets are more expensive, costs range from $14.95 for the “select” plan to $24.95 for the “red carpet” package. Next week, Itum said MoviePass plans to reintroduce some sort of unlimited program that would enable users to see as many movies as they wanted each month. He did not reveal pricing for that plan.
After losing customers steadily, MoviePass says it has started to regain subscribers. It has also seen consumer sentiment improve. Prior to launching the new plans, only 44% of customers had a positive feeling towards MoviePass, according to data collected by NetBase. Last week, that rose to 59% of respondents having a positive view.
“I feel like we’re turning a corner,” said Itum.
When MoviePass first started making waves, many theater chains cried foul, with many major exhibitors such as AMC and Regal, refusing to work directly with the service. MoviePass was able to get around their objections because it paid full price for tickets and gave customers debit cards to make their purchase. Now the company is trying a less confrontational approach. Itum has been meeting with theater owners in recent weeks, and he’s introducing new offerings he hopes will be more widely embraced.
At one point, MoviePass predicted it would be able to make money by taking a cut of any concessions it helped sell. That enraged some theater owners, because products such as soda and popcorn are heavily marked up and are a major source of profits. The company is abandoning that kind of revenue sharing model and will only charge a small service fee for items it sells. Moreover, it is also abandoning a previous plan to ask theaters to give MoviePass a discount on the tickets that it sells, which was another source of friction. Beyond that, Itum and his team are working to introduce what it is calling a “red label” solution for exhibitors. It would enable them to launch their own subscription programs using MoviePass’s platform and technology. Instead of casting itself as a disruptor, MoviePass is striking, in Itum’s words, a “more humble” posture.
“Our new business strategy is stabilize, optimize, and grow,” he said.
The question is whether or not MoviePass has enough runway to make this change. MoviePass’s parent company, data firm Helios and Matheson Analytics, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year and its stock is about to be delisted for failing to meet Nasdaq’s $1-a-share price requirement. The company is exploring a possible spin-off as a way of hanging on to its publicly traded status, but the issues it faces are manifold and serious. Itum declined to comment on MoviePass’ parent company’s travails.