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Could Moviepass Get Us Back In Movie Theaters?

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 29, 2011 6:20PM

2011_06_Moviepass.jpg MoviePass, the experimental $50-per-month subscription to unlimited movies in theaters which uses your phone as a ticket, goes live in a very limited beta for the San Francisco area today. Hoping that movie buffs will jump at the chance to save cash at the box office (where tickets climbed to a record $7.89 this year) and seek the convenience of bypassing the torture of waiting in a line and the "hassle" of printing your own ticket.

The Netflix-like service subscription will let subscribers search for a film, select a local show time, check in to the theater and then head straight to the ticket-taker. At $50 per month, users only get one admission per day and can expect a $3 surcharge for 3D or IMAX screenings. With a goal of reaching 40 percent of theaters when it launches nationally, the program will try and reach the hardcore movie fans which make up the roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population which attends movie screenings at least weekly.

The big question is whether there are enough good movies over the course of the month to even get you out to take advantage of this service. In the mid-1940s, when cinema attendance was at its peak (and around 60 percent of the U.S. population went to the movies every week), the studios were putting out over 280 movies per year. Today it is about half that. The good news is that in addition to the AMC multiplexes, the San Francisco trial also has the local Landmark theaters' more arthouse fare as well, so that Trollhunter, 13 Assassins and Bill Cunningham New York are on tap for today's beta subscribers in addition to your Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises.

While this bodes well for offering a decent selection of eligible titles, we're not convinced its going to lure the masses already paying for cable and potentially a DVD/streaming subscription service like Netflix to plunk down an additional chunk of change every month. In Chicago, we would also want the flexibility to diversify our cinematic diet with the offerings of local independent and academic institutions, from the Gene Siskel Film Center to the Portage Theater, which are unlikely to be included in this sort of scheme. We also predict convenience of skipping lines and ticket-printing will be substantially mitigated if we want to bring someone along who isn't a subscriber. This service looks good for the studios (who rake in up to a 90% share of the ticket prices on new releases), the theaters who will still be pushing the concessions, and movie junkies like us, who spend so much time in dark theaters that we look like medical textbook illustrations for vitamin D deficiency, but we seriously doubt it will do anything to reverse the long, slowly downward-inching flat-line of movie attendance.

The company is planning to launch nationwide in the fall, and we predict that by then they will offer some of the tiered plans at lower prices which they currently allude to rather vaguely.