The question implicit in the recent buzz around movie theater discounter MoviePass has always been “How long can they keep this up?” There is, after all, a reason that more companies don’t try to draw in customers by selling them things for significantly less than the company pays for them itself, and the reason is that that isn’t really how numbers are supposed to work.
Now, we’re starting to see the first signs of what may turn out to be the wheels coming off the MoviePass bus, as reports crop up today of New York theaters turning away the service’s customers, who pay $10 a month for a pass that promises to let them watch a movie every single day at most major theater chains. This is per Polygon, which reports that customers at New York’s AMC Empire 25 theater were unable to secure their tickets today, and were told by MoviePass that that specific location was no longer participating in the program.
MoviePass confirmed to its customers that that particular location was now outside its network, stating in a tweet that “we no longer work with this theater. We hope to partner with them again.” AMC, meanwhile, basically said, “This is MoviePass’ problem, go yell at them, not us.”
MoviePass’ CEO, Mitch Lowe, later issued a more comprehensive press release about the changes to the company’s list of partners:
As of today, you’ll find a small handful of theaters are no longer available on our platform. Our number one goal as a company is to provide an accessible price-point for people to enjoy films the way they’re meant to be seen: on the big screen. Many exhibitors have been receptive to this mission, and we’re excited to keep working with theater chains that are closely aligned with our customer service values.
As we continue to strive for mutually-beneficial relationships with theaters, the list of theaters we work with is subject to change. We advise customers to always double check the MoviePass app for the most up-to-date list of participating theaters.
We’re reading between the lines here, but it feels plausible from Lowe’s words that MoviePass is telling chains that they’d better pony up some “accessible price points,” pronto, or the company will pull support for them, leaving them with a bunch of angry customers in their lobbies, demanding to know where their free movie tickets are. (MoviePass operates by buying tickets through MasterCard, then distributing them to its users at a reduced price.) This is, presumably, exactly the sort of thing AMC was afraid of when MoviePass first debuted its reduced pricing, which led the chain to threaten legal action against the service at the time. It’s not clear yet what today’s scuffle means for either company going forward.
In the meantime, though, MoviePass users should be aware that the company’s availability is likely to fluctuate as this all shakes out. Be sure to check your list of participating locations before you head out to the theater, or you might be in for some box office disappointment of your own.