Business

A Timeline of MoviePass’s Bumpy History

Posted July 31, 2018 7:07 p.m. EDT

The credits are not quite yet rolling on MoviePass, but barring a major twist, the end feels near. Last week, the subscription-based movie ticket service was forced to borrow $5 million to pay its bills and briefly experienced a “service interruption.” On Tuesday, with its stock price tumbling, the company announced it would raise its subscription price from $10 to $14.95 a month and limit the viewing availability of blockbuster releases.

Like many film plots, the story of MoviePass has been filled with monumental peaks, contentious rivalries and plenty of confusion. Here’s a timeline of events to keep track of it all.

July 2011: Led by entrepreneurs Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt, MoviePass starts its service in beta in San Francisco, with the hopes of letting people see a movie a day for a monthly fee. The company hopes to outlast its other fledgling competitors to become the “Netflix of movie theaters.” But when 19,000 people sign up for the service in a single day, they find theaters resistant to letting them in. The test run never gets off the ground.

October 2012: A new beta version is rolled out, with monthly prices ranging between $29 and $34 a month. “I found it to be a wonderful service for this time of the year, when the temperature is in the 30s and I have to get ready for the Oscars,” Joshua Brustein wrote in The New York Times after testing out MoviePass in January 2013.

December 2014: After a worrisome year in movie attendance, AMC grudgingly enters into a partnership with MoviePass, which until then had been swatted away by major theater chains. “It frankly wouldn’t be smart to ignore the success of subscription in other areas of media,” Christina Sternberg, senior vice president for corporate strategy at AMC, said in a Times interview.

August 2017: The alliance breaks when MoviePass drops its price to $9.95 a month. More than 150,000 new users sign up in just two days following the announcement — crashing the service’s website and app — and AMC responds by saying MoviePass users are “not welcome here.” “In AMC’s view, that price level is unsustainable and only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment down the road,” the company writes in a statement. MoviePass also catches the eye of the data firm Helios and Matheson Analytics, which buys a controlling stake in the company for $27 million.

December 2017: The price drop pays off in the short term, as 1 million new subscribers sign up within just four months. Mitch Lowe, the company’s CEO, tells The Times that the venture will succeed by collecting and selling data about the tastes and habits of consumers, particularly millennials, who make up 75 percent of subscribers.

April 2018: The subscriber base approaches 3 million people. But cracks begin to emerge, as customers complain about glitches, shifts in service and extensive delays in membership card arrivals. An auditor even expresses “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern,” while Helios, at this point, has lost $20 million a month since September. But if company leaders are fazed, they aren’t showing it: “I’m not worried about the viability of MoviePass at all,” Ted Farnsworth, chief executive of Helios and Matheson, told The Times. “We have plenty of money to get through the next year.”

June 2018: “Gotti,” a film about mobster John Gotti starring John Travolta, is released by MoviePass Ventures, the company’s film-financing arm, and Vertical Entertainment to a zero percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The same week, MoviePass’ partner-turned-rival AMC jumps into the game with its own subscription service. It costs $20 a month, which AMC says is the price point for profitability; the company not-so-subtly adds that “other discounters by contrast will continue to be hemorrhaging cash.”

July 2018: MoviePass suffers a service outage and borrows $5 million after admitting it cannot pay its bills. Michael Pachter, a research analyst at Wedbush Securities, predicts that the outage signifies the “end of the end.”