So remember a few days ago when I wrote a piece called “What I want from an all-you-can-watch movie theater pass?” That was inspired by the news of MoviePass, a program that would offer unlimited Netflix-esque access to movie theaters for a flat monthly rate. The things I wanted were like “reasonable pricing and “reserved seating” but I guess I should have included more basic stuff like “that it exists and is available to the public” and “doesn’t draw the white-hot rage of exhibitors.”
The story breaking last night from Wired, who got my hopes up by telling me about this idea in the first place, is that MoviePass’ beta test, which was supposed to kick off this weekend in San Francisco, is now on hold, ostensibly because they built this entire product based around movie theaters without getting the movie theaters’ support. In the words of George Costanza, “was that wrong? Should I not have done that?”
Well, yes, obviously! Apparently, MoviePass “coordinated its ticketing with online ticket sellers, instead of cinemas, after not being able to get exhibitors to sign on.” In other words, the theaters said no so the company tried an end-around by working up a technology that worked with online ticket websites instead. When the service was announced, all these companies read the news with incredulity. One exhibitor chain CEO whose theaters were unwittingly part of the planned beta test described his reaction to the news of MoviePass to Wired as “stunned” and added “we are not interested in outside entities setting ticket prices for us.”
That was number two on my list of wants for an unlimited theater pass, “flexibility across all movie chains.” And it’s pretty clear now that the whole thing has fallen apart that that was a big sticking point. Why would all these theaters want to work together? They’re competitors! In a business that’s based on customer loyalty, you can’t encourage potential ticket buyers to go somewhere else. Even more fundamentally, why would they want someone else taking and controlling their ticket sales? This idea might work for moviegoers — it definitely works for moviegoers — but that doesn’t mean it works for movie theaters.
With exhibitors balking, MoviePass is now, in the words of Norman Osborne, “back to formula.” If it ever comes to fruition some day, I would be very surprised if it had that much desired flexibility. I think we’ve got a decent shot at one theater chain putting together their own private all-you-can-watch system; it’s too good an idea for that not to happen. But an umbrella organization operating independently of — but utilizing the theaters of — all these chains? Don’t hold your breath.