One of the more spectacular entertainment service blunders of the year may be the introduction of MoviePass, an AOL service that would let moviegoers essentially buy a subscription plan for watching movies in theaters. Per this Wired article, you would pay a flat fee of $50 a month to watch as many films in a theater as many times as you want, via a nifty new smartphone reservation app. A "lite" plan would let you watch up to four films for $30. More than one source described MoviePass as a potential Netflix for movie theaters.
A test run was supposed to roll out in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area in 21 theaters this weekend, and then go national in the fall. Unfortunately, it soon came out that AOL hadn't exactly worked out the details with individual theater chains yet, and AMC and Landmark quickly announced that they wanted no part in the MoviePass beta test, dropping the number of participating theaters down to about five Camera Cinemas in San Jose. The plans for the beta test were put on "hiatus," and we all collectively rolled our eyes at AOL for the premature announcement.
Corporate stumbles aside, is this a good deal for moviegoers? In my case, yes. I like the theater experience, and I would go more often if I could. Rising ticket prices have been a major reason why I've had to cut back on trips to the multiplex and wait until many films hit DVD. The Bay Area is my neck of the woods, so I think I can provide a little price analysis here - ticket prices vary from place to place, so I'm assuming the MoviePass prices would also vary accordingly. A single evening movie ticket will usually run me about $10-12 before surcharges - more than a whole month of Netflix. There are some decent matinee deals around, but my schedule is such that I can't take advantage of them very often. At my local AMC, it's $6 for the morning screenings and $8 for the afternoon ones. The smaller houses vary. Currently, I can only justify going to see a movie in theaters at evening prices about twice a month.
With that in mind, I think the $50 unlimited plan would be worth it at certain times of the year for a really rabid cinephile, assuming you could buy month to month. December and January awards season would be amazing, being able to run amok among my local indie and art theaters, seeing every single Oscar nominee, and the movies that should have been Oscar nominees, and all the holiday releases on top of that. In the spring and summer on the other hand, I've found that there is really only about one interesting film I'd pay to see in theaters being released per week. I'm sorry Hollywood, but just because you spend $100 million dollars to market a film doesn't make it interesting. An unlimited plan wouldn't be worth the money, though the $30 limited plan might be feasible. The price is still on the high side, considering $30 for four tickets costs about the same or is actually more expensive than just buying matinee tickets individually from a major chain.
And this is assuming that both the chains and smaller theaters would be participating, in order to maximize viewing choices. The deal would be a lot less attractive without one or the other. I don't watch mainstream movies or limited releases exclusively. If I had to choose between them, I'd pick the limited releases simply because they're harder to find and less accessible in the long run. I'm still waiting for some movies to reach DVD that I wish I had seen in theaters back in December. Most moviegoers aren't like me, though. I'm sure a chain could roll out a similar service with few complaints.
MoviePass is a promising idea, and I'll follow future developments with interest. A subscription service could do a lot to help attract viewers who have been abandoning movie screens for cheaper entertainment options. Theater owners should remember that even though Hollywood has been reaping bigger box office totals than ever, audience attendance has actually been dropping precipitously. It's good to see someone being proactive about turning the tide. AOL may have jumped the gun, but now that the idea is out there, I think it's only a matter of time before someone tries this again - maybe an individual chain, or maybe a group of smaller theaters.
Until then, back to Netflix.