Sally Marzouk calls herself a movie fan, but with ticket prices in her hometown of Great Neck averaging about $12, she couldn’t afford to go as often as she’d like. When friends talked about the latest films, the 59-year-old financial writer sometimes felt behind the curve. “I was always like, ‘Hey, has anyone seen ‘Rocky?’ ”
That changed last fall when Marzouk signed up for MoviePass, the increasingly popular subscription service that allows users to pay roughly $10 per month in exchange for nearly unlimited visits to select theaters, including about three dozen on Long Island. She now goes to 4 to 5 movies a month, and was among the first of her friends to see this year’s Academy Award winner for best picture, “The Shape of Water.”
Any moviegoer would have to admit that MoviePass is an exceptional deal, especially on Long Island, where ticket prices are much higher than the national average of $8.97. With its monthly fee of $9.95, the service pretty much pays for itself with just one ticket purchase a month. Every movie after that is essentially free.
“In a nutshell, MoviePass is the Netflix of the movie theaters,” says MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe, who happens to be a former vice president at Netflix. Lowe says MoviePass users, who have grown to more than 2 million since the company’s inception in 2011, tend to double their moviegoing rate and take risks on films they wouldn’t otherwise see. Lowe also touts MoviePass as a way to help keep theatergoing alive. “I get so tired of watching people on a plane watching a movie on a phone,” he says. “I just feel like you are really missing something.”
HOW IT WORKS
MoviePass combines smartphone technology with the familiarity of a credit card. There are restrictions: You can see a maximum of one movie per day. You can only purchase one same-day ticket (not in advance) and only for yourself. You must also be physically at the theater to make your purchase; the app tracks your location. Once you’ve chosen your film and show time, you can use your MoviePass card — it’s really a MasterCard — to buy your ticket. Much of this rigmarole is designed to ensure that tickets purchased are actually used by members.
It all takes a little doing, says Tom Ciorciari, a court officer who lives in Coram and uses MoviePass every Tuesday to catch a movie with his grown son. “I whip out my card and go through all my machinations, and he kind of rolls his eyes,” says Ciorciari. “But I figure, hey, I’m saving money.”
If this all-you-can-watch buffet sounds too good to last, well, maybe it is. Movie theaters don’t just let folks in for free, of course, so MoviePass must reimburse them for just about every ticket. That’s a lot of cash to shell out.
Lowe, however, says MoviePass is seeking other forms of revenue, including a share of ticket sales and even theater concessions. That has led to a feud with the theater chain AMC, which has refused to share its profits and recently saw several of its busiest locations — including the flagship venue in Times Square — dropped by the MoviePass service. AMC declined to comment.
SOME THEATERS PASSING
At the independent Malverne Cinema, which doesn’t accept MoviePass (or any credit cards) at its cash-only box-office, co-owner Anne Stampfel says the service wouldn’t be a good deal for her. Stampfel’s theater already shares sometimes half its ticket sales with the studios and doesn’t make much profit on concessions. “I just can’t keep cutting away my ticket,” Stampfel says. “If you cut too much of the pie up, you’ll have no pie left.”
Another chunk of MoviePass’ revenue comes from advertising and promotional tie-ins, such as a plug for a movie soundtrack or a discount at a favorite restaurant. The company is also dabbling in the actual movie business, having recently teamed up with distributor The Orchard to purchase the heist drama “American Animals” at the Sundance Film Festival. Whether all of this will be enough to sustain a service that consumers are just now starting to embrace remains to be seen.
“I think it’s a great service,” Marzouk says. “I just hope it lasts.”