MoviePass 3D: Attack of the A-Listers

If you work at MoviePass, you know your company's future is in question when Vanity Fair runs the headline "Enjoy MoviePass While You Can, Folks". Only a few days ago, Business Insider reported that MoviePass lost $40 million in May alone, and that it would need to raise up to $1.2 billion in additional funding. While they’ve taken actions to bring down their costs— such as blacking out new releases, allowing subscribers to only see a movie once, and will soon start charging you a fee to see a movie during 'peak hours'— conventional wisdom is that MoviePass will fail; it’s just a question of when.

But despite all this, tomorrow AMC Theatres is launching “Stubs A-List”, a new teir of their existing membership program centered on a MoviePass-esque subscription plan for $19.95 a month. With this program, AMC now joins Cinemark in offering a subscription service, which leaves Regal as the only major American theater chain without one. But why would they do this? You’d think given all the financial woes facing MoviePass, my own pessimistic appraisal of MoviePass would lead to an equally pessimistic appraisal of AMC’s A-List program. But, I think there’s more at play here than many realize:

  1. They know more than we do — As the largest theater chain in the United States, AMC has a huge advantage, even over MoviePass, of determining the impact a subscription ticket service can have.
    All MoviePass cards are actually a MasterCard. Through backend trickery—and a requirement for customers to verify the purchase—these cards can only be used to purchase tickets at approved theaters. After MoviePass launched its $9.95 subscription plan, if AMC saw a significant increase in tickets being purchased using a MasterCard, and a similar increase in attendance, it would be a safe guess to attribute that growth to MoviePass. But they can even take this further. Because MoviePass can only be used for tickets, if MasterCard usage didn’t increase at the concessions stand, but, like attendance, there was a notable increase in concessions sales, those sales could also be attributed to MoviePass users. With that data, AMC could easily determine if launching their own service would be profitable. In other words: AMC has done the math. Some other foolish company paid tens of millions of dollars to prove the concept.
  2. Customer Lock In - With MoviePass, you can use it (almost) everywhere. If AMC noted an increase in attendance, it would follow that this increase wasn’t limited to any one theater or chain. I’m sure someone inside AMC corporate just sees that as potential lost sales. It's just a matter of convincing consumers that A-List is a better deal than MoviePass.
  3. The Middle Man - MoviePass is little more than a middle man. MoviePass pays the full price of the ticket, and they hope that in the future their losses will be offset, either through advertising partnerships with the studios or by receiving a cut of the ticket and concessions sales from the theater. In the already thin margin business of film exhibition, giving another vendor a cut of the sales isn’t appealing. This is greatest weakness of MoviePass's business plan—without these partnerships, they have no hope for profitability. And if you are AMC, why would you cut a deal with the middle man? You could launch your own program, and any (potential) increase in revenue would be yours to keep. 

The TL;DR — While MoviePass is doomed to fail, there is a chance that AMC’s program will actually succeed.