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CENT MoviePass confusion isn't new: 10 times the service changed the deal - CNET


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Before and after.Screenshots by Sean Hollister/CNET

The MoviePass subscription service has one constant: change. Most people know it as the service that charges you $10 a month for unlimited movie tickets. But the fee will soon jump to $15 a month. Too rich for your blood? Then be thankful you didn't sign up when the subscription service first launched. Back in 2011, a MoviePass subscription would have set you back $50.

Let's take a look back at how significantly its pricing model has changed since MoviePass emerged 7 years ago.

2011: MoviePass debuts at $50 a month

In 2011, MoviePass launched a limited test in the San Francisco area, promising unlimited movie vouchers eligible at participating theaters, for $50 a month. It failed immediately, but not because it was too expensive. It failed because the company didn't run the idea by local theaters before launching a beta program. Customers trying to use MoviePass vouchers at AMC theaters were turned away, and other theaters in the area were frustrated they hadn't been told about the program before MoviePass launched. The beta shut down after just a few days.

Eventually, MoviePass found a workaround by forging a partnership with a company called Hollywood Movie Money. This brought MoviePass' print-at-home vouchers into an established system that was already accepted at 36,000 cinemas nationwide, including AMC theaters. Moviegoers could print the vouchers and exchange them for tickets, and nobody could complain. Problem solved.

2012: MoviePass launches cards, prices drop as low as $24.99

It didn't take long for MoviePass to change. In 2012, the company retired the voucher-based ticketing system in favor of plastic: every subscriber was issued their very own MoviePass credit card that automatically filled with the exact amount needed to buy a movie ticket after they checked in to a specific film using the MoviePass app. Now, users could go to the theater of their choice, select a showtime, and pay for it with their MoviePass card.

That's the ticketing system MoviePass still uses today. It's infinitely easier, and in 2012, it even came with a lower MoviePass subscription fee. But the pricing structure was a little complicated. Instead of charging all customers a flat $50 fee, MoviePass adjusted prices by location. If your local theater charged more per ticket than the cinemas in the suburbs, you'd pay more for MoviePass, too. Prices fluctuated between $24.99 and $39.99, depending on where you lived.

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2016: New management, numerous new prices

When former Redbox executive and Netflix co-founder Mitch Lowe took over as CEO, things changed again. In 2016, Lowe's MoviePass tested a series of higher price, lower value plans -- moving a select group of customers to $40 and $50 subscription plans, but drastically reducing the amount of movies they could see a month from unlimited to six.

Customers in this test group could hang on to their unlimited movie plan, but it would cost them $99 a month for the privilege.

Subscribers were understandably annoyed and the test prices didn't stick. Before the end of the summer, MoviePass shut down its trial and switched to two different tiers: an unlimited plan for $40, $45 or $50 (depending on location), or a two-film-a-month plan for $15, $18 or $21, again, depending on where the customer lived.

2017: $10 a month and mainstream adoption

In 2017, everything changed again. The convoluted, location-based pricing structure vanished. So did the different tiers. Overnight, MoviePass became simple: subscribe and watch one movie every calendar day for just $10 a month.

AMC Theaters lashed back at the popularity, threatening to "opt-out" of what it considered a "shaky and unsustainable program." Ultimately, however, it never blocked MoviePass. For customers, it was a deal so good, it felt almost like stealing. But if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

2018: Surge pricing, free trials and blocked showtimes

For awhile, MoviePass delivered -- but in spring 2018, the service seemed to be buckling under its own popularity. Early in the year, a handful of AMC theaters disappeared from MoviePass. The service's unlimited deal was quietly replaced with a $9.95-a-month subscription that included four movies a month and a three-month trial of iHeartRadio All Access.

Like most of MoviePass' pricing plans, that plan turned out to be temporary. The unlimited tier returned, but the theme of change continued. In April, MoviePass limited its "unlimited" service by barring subscribers from seeing the same film twice. In May, it started requiring subscribers to take photos of their ticket stub to make sure they were actually seeing the movie they had checked in to with the app.

June brought the biggest change of all: surge pricing for popular movies that tacked on an extra $2-to-$6 depending on the film and time. In late July, MoviePass also started blocking weekend showtimes for certain films -- making Mission Impossible: Fallout ironically impossible to see for many subscribers. The two policies culminated in a bizarre, perfect storm that saw MoviePass subscribers charged $8 surcharges on films that -- in some theaters -- only cost $6.75 at the box office.

Where MoviePass stands today

From $50 to $24, back up to $45, down to $15 and then $10 -- with a half a dozen location-based price adjustments along the way -- MoviePass' subscription fees have been consistently inconsistent. Now, they're about to change once more.

After running out of funds in July and scoring a temporary funding boost to cover operating costs, the company is on a mission to reduce costs by 60-percent. The new plan, CNET is told, will cost $15 a month, but it won't include every movie. New, big-name releases will unavailable for a set period of time after release, and films subscribers have already seen once will be off-limits.It also promised to expand its peak pricing offerings, which won't exactly make seeing movies more affordable.

The Future for MoviePass

In the midst of a funding crisis, it's almost impossible to predict the company's next move. The restructured price plan could revitalize the company, or it could be nothing more than a last-ditch effort to fend off filing for bankruptcy. Either way, the incoming $15 subscription fee probably likely won't last long. The company has never been shy about shaking up its pricing structure, and isn't afraid to sunset a subscription model if it isn't working for them.

For those of us still sticking with MoviePass, let's just hope that approach doesn't kill the company, too.

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