The skies parted. The sun was a little brighter. The air, a little clearer. And there were unlimited movies in sight for a paltry monthly fee.
This was the result of MoviePass, the dynamic paid membership that gave cinephiles the right to see a Marvel movie 110 times before it got old for only the price of seeing one. Amazing, right? Miraculous, even?
You know what they say, “If it’s too good to be true, then you probably got screwed with your pants on.” (Well, it’s something like that.)
If you were one of those heavy users in the MoviePass family, you may have noticed being inexorably locked-out of your account. Of course, you emailed customer service and they sent a form email in return stressing they are getting to the bottom of this cinematic conundrum, but it never changed.
There’s a reason for that: They did it on purpose!
Business Insider released a four-month investigation of MoviePass delving into its spike of popularity for offering unlimited movies for $9.95 each month and its cataclysmic drop into failure only a couple of years later.
So, what happened?
According to the report, CEO Mitch Lowe ordered his employees to change the passwords of heavy MoviePass users so they would not be able to log on and use the service.
You see, this was a laughable attempt at free enterprise not realizing that some nerd could see Mission Impossible: Fallout twice in one day and render the MoviePass in the red. Well, many nerds did that rendering the company penniless if something didn’t change. Ergo, Mitch Lowe’s move to lock paying customers out of their accounts.
This was followed by the company having no money in July 2018, so they borrowed $5 million to keep it going. That didn’t work out too well. MI: Fallout was mentioned because that’s when the equine feces was thrust into the reverse air oscillator and it was the first big movie rendered “unavailable” to its users.
The report reads:
Per Lowe’s orders, big blockbusters would no longer be available on the app. MoviePass also enforced what it called a “trip wire,” an automatic shutdown mechanism for all users that would be activated if MoviePass went past a certain amount balance. If money ever ran out, subscribers would see the following message on the app: “There are no more screenings at this theater today.”
(You ever get that message? Ah yes. Well, that’s why.)
Turns out the trip wire kicked off at a “few million dollars” but later would find itself stumbling users to a “few hundred thousand.”
Circling the Drain
IGN outlines MoviePass’ trajectory rather well.
Early on in MoviePass’ life, around 2014, regional test phases of the service charged $35 to $45 a month. By 2016, with Lowe (a former Netflix executive) coming into the company, MoviePass featured a $50 plan that allowed for six movies a month, or a $99 plan for unlimited movies.
Those prices quickly plummeted as MoviePass attempted to secure more subscribers, going from $21 a month, to $10, then $8, then $7.
By February 2018, MoviePass claimed it had hit the two million subscriber mark, but the company was struggling to keep up with demand and find a way to actually profit off of its own subscription model when even suburban theaters would generally charge $10 for a single movie.
Of course, they hit the 2 million subscriber mark. All those geeks living at their parents’ house only have so much residual income. At its climatic peak, MoviePass claimed 3 million
suckers… eh, customers. Today, the hemorrhaging online-only company has less than 200,000 (and most of them are people who don’t even realize they are still considered customers).
A compliance counsel expert at the Department of Justice spoke with Business Insider sharing the business practices uncovered in this report are “certainly unethical and could be illegal.”
ICYMI: MoviePass announced in July (yes, this past July) it was suspending service, supposedly due to technical problems, but it’s unclear when–or if–it will return.
So, if that’s you still getting junk mail from the beleaguered subscription Ponzi scheme, go check out your inbox and cancel because basically you are just ensuring Lowe still has enough money to fuel up his Bentley while you dine out of a Bento Box.