The Netflix model may be coming to a theater near you. MoviePass, a new $50-per-month service for film fans, will let subscribers watch unlimited movies in theaters using their smartphones as tickets.
Using an HTML5 application (native smartphone apps coming soon), MoviePass will let users search for a film, find a local show time, check in to the theater and go straight to the ticket-taker.
The all-you-can-watch service, announced Monday with a private beta starting in the San Francisco Bay Area just in time for the Fourth of July blockbuster weekend, is looking to shake up the theater business in much the same way Netflix has changed the DVD-rental game.
“Even with online ticketing, this side of the business is still a 75-year-old business and there’s not a lot of innovation,” MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes said in an interview with Wired.com. “Getting your tickets, how you do that, how you interact with the theater, how you interact with the studio, none of that has really changed. We’re giving the viewer a lot more power and also allowing [studios and moviegoers] to speak with each other.”
MoviePass will launch with an “unlimited pass” service allowing subscribers to go to as many films as they can stand for $50 a month. If they want to see a 3-D or Imax film, they will pay a $3 surcharge. A “limited pass” offering four movies a month for $30 is in the works.
“MoviePass makes spur-of-the-moment movie-going as simple as choosing a film on the phone and checking in at the theater,” Spikes said in a press release. “No more waiting in line.”
The private beta will launch with 21 theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend (see list below), then roll out to other U.S. cities throughout the summer. MoviePass plans to offer access to about 40 percent of the nation’s screens when the service launches nationally in the fall.
The flat-rate service, which will presumably work best for city-dwellers with access to multiple theaters and show times, will give hard-core movie buffs early looks at new trailers, plus invites to promotional screenings based on their movie picks. It will also give studios opportunities to target movies and promotions directly to fans interested in particular film genres.
MoviePass’ model could be highly beneficial for theater chains, which make great profit margins on concession sales, simply by getting people to go to more movies. Studios could also benefit from an all-you-can-watch model by encouraging people to take a chance on films they otherwise might not see, and ultimately leading to DVD sales. However, the number of people who can go to enough films in a given month to get a good return on their $50 investment is a niche audience, said Wade Holden, a motion picture and home entertainment analyst for SNL Kagan.
“At first glance I don’t think it’s going to be something that’s going to be sweeping in every moviegoer into its wake,” Holden said Monday in a phone interview with Wired.com.
But avid moviegoers who routinely hit the theater on opening night and are likely to buy DVDs are the kind of fans MoviePass is hoping to attract — and deliver to studios.
“We enable our members to extend their connection to the movie they just saw by pre-ordering the DVD, digital download or other merchandise as soon as they walk out of the theater,” said MoviePass co-founder Hamet Watt in a press release. “MoviePass also enables studios and producers to engage with avid movie buffs based on their film-attendance history.”
San Francisco Bay Area Theaters in MoviePass Beta
These San Francisco Bay Area Theaters will participate in the MoviePass beta, which launches Wednesday: The Clay, Bridge, Lumiere, Embarcadero, Opera Plaza Cinemas and AMC Van Ness 14 in San Francisco; AMC Bay Street 16 in Emeryville; California Theatres and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley; Piedmont Theatre in Oakland; Albany Twin in Albany; Big Cinemas Towne 3, Camera 3, Camera 12, AMC Eastridge 15 and AMC Saratoga 14 in San Jose; Camera 7 in Campbell; AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara; AMC Cupertino Square 16 in Cupertino; Camera Cinemas Los Gatos in Los Gatos; and Aquarius in Palo Alto.