MoviePass & the Rise of Subscription Culture

Today’s blog post is written by Allison Klein, Senior Platform Specialist, PatronManager. 

In the past, I’ve written for this blog about my experiences as a theater subscriber and museum member, but over the last few years, I’ve realized how much the subscription model has taken over the way I (and many others!) consume media and participate in consumer culture. I subscribe to multiple media streaming services, a book of the month club, a meal kit delivery service, and have tried several different beauty box subscriptions. I’ve also given ‘snack of the month’ and ‘craft of the month’ subscriptions to my friends as gifts.

One of the reasons I tend to favor these subscription services over (or in supplement to) their more a la carte alternatives is that it takes some of the pressure off of the decision-making process, in an over-saturated world. There’s a certain amount of guesswork that gets removed from my daily routine because I don’t have to make a choice about what to make for dinner or what new product to try. There’s also a freedom that comes from subscribing — paying a flat rate for a product means that the stakes are lowered. If I don’t like one item, it doesn’t feel like a waste of time or money, and it’s easier to try something else without incurring an additional cost.

So it might not come as a surprise to learn that a few months ago I succumbed to the peer pressure that my more movie-obsessed friends had been exerting, and signed up for MoviePass. In addition to appealing to my subscription-loving self, I also saw it as an opportunity to explore a new idea being implemented in the ticketing industry.

MoviePass was founded in 2011, but most people I know who are customers joined in the last year or so (once MoviePass lowered their fee to $9.95 a month). That fee gives subscribers the ability to go to one movie each and every day! MoviePass reports that they have over 3 million subscribers today, which makes up about 6% of movie ticket purchases in the U.S.

My experiences using MoviePass to purchase tickets have been varied — each time I’ve used it over the past few months at different movie theaters, the circumstances have been slightly different. Some theaters require you to go to the physical box office and talk to a person in order to redeem a MoviePass reserved ticket, while other theaters let you reserve your seat directly from the MoviePass app. There’s also a bit of jockeying involved if you want to go to the movies with others — whether or not they are also MoviePass subscribers — because you can only get one ticket per transaction. This makes it slightly more awkward than it ought to be, especially if you’re trying to see a popular movie and competing with other moviegoers for a limited number of assigned seats.

Of course, I understand why there are redemption differences between theater chains, and I fully expect the way I reserve tickets with MoviePass will continue to evolve. Several competitors have now entered the market, and movie theater chains themselves are trying to entice customers to buy directly from them instead, by offering loyalty perks and plans of their own, and MoviePass will need to keep up. In fact, just last week, MoviePass announced some new policies and paid upgrades to their basic plan, as a direct result of pressures from movie theater chains who are understandably cautious about working with this self-described industry disruptor.

Whether or not MoviePass will be a sustainable business model remains to be seen, but one thing that it has been successful at is encouraging me to go to the movies a lot more often. Rather than only going to see movies that I already know I’ll enjoy based on past experiences with big franchises, MoviePass allows me to explore more varied types of films. I see more things that I wouldn’t otherwise have gone out of my way to see if I was paying out of pocket. This was one of the things that attracted me about theater subscriptions early on. They helped me branch out from just going to see big musicals and revivals, to also seeing more straight plays and new works. My MoviePass subscription (and my other non-entertainment subscriptions) help break me out of ruts and expose me to new things.

As an industry observer and enthusiastic subscription participant across many different kinds of markets, I see this increased popularity of subscriptions as an opportunity for arts organizations to learn how to keep their own subscribers coming back for more. While MoviePass might have borrowed some of its DNA from an arts membership, I encourage organizations to look to the successes (and shortcomings) of MoviePass and other newer types of subscriptions. What new ideas can be borrowed back, to keep your subscription and membership programs fresh and exciting?

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