On July 26, 2018 MoviePass literally ran out of money. Literally, meaning, they had no money in their bank account to pay for the movie tickets that customers were trying to buy using their MoviePass debit card. That was the beginning of the end. For those who don’t know / didn’t understand how MoviePass worked, here’s the payment flow:
- Customer joins MoviePass.
- MoviePass sends customer a debit card, which the customer connects to the MoviePass mobile app.
- Customer ‘checks into a movie’ on the app while in line at a local theater.
- MoviePass, using the GPS location, knows what the cost of a standard movie ticket is at that theatre (NOT an upgraded seat, i.e. 3D, XD, IMAX, etc.), and transfers that exact dollar amount onto the customer’s MoviePass debit card, within 30 seconds.
- Customer pays for the ticket at the box office, using the MoviePass debit card, and gets their ticket.
When MoviePass ran out of money in July 2018, they didn’t actually tell anyone. Customers didn’t really understand how MoviePass worked. Instead, all of those customers who were standing in line to buy tickets, who opened the MoviePass app and tried to check into the theatre, were returned a generic error – which meant they couldn’t use the service they were paying for. But hey, glitches happen, and in today’s world of technology, people can be understanding.
Until it happened again, just a week or two later. The jig was up. MoviePass tried to cover, but a HUGE number of customers clicked the ‘cancel my subscription’ link in the app, so they would stop getting charged the $10 per month. That was a massive blow to the business. But, as technologists do, they came up with a fix. They would limit the movies that customers could see, and what days they could seem them. Along with that, they started requiring ‘ticket verification’, which meant customers would have to prove that they purchased a ticket for the movie they had checked into, by snapping a photo of the ticket stub right after purchase, or the customer could be blocked from using the service. The screen in the app clearly stated NOT to take a photo of the receipt that is often connected to the ticket – they only wanted a photo of the ticket stub.
By then, I had figured out how the system worked, and I took advantage of that knowledge. I was VERY confident that the tens-of-thousands (or HUNDREDS-of-thousands) of photos of ticket stubs might be machine-read and added to a database, which could be automatically cross-referenced to the customer and what movie they checked into… buuuut… as I said, I was confident that MoviePass was so freaking out, that they likely had not written the code to do those checks. So, with that belief, I could go see any (standard) movie I wanted, by simply checking into ANY movie at the theater! Why? Because when you run your credit card at the tire shop or grocery store… or Starbucks… no purchase information is transmitted to the card-holding bank. All the bank gets is the merchant ID, dollar amount, and some extraneous information for security. THAT is why MoviePass wanted the snapshots of the ticket.
Well… for several months, I enjoyed seeing a few movies a month, anytime I wanted, because most MoviePass customers didn’t understand how the system worked. It worked great for me though. And honestly, I hoped that MoviePass WOULD recover and fix the issues. Specifically, I hoped they would limit people to 3 or 4 movies in a month – which would reduce/remove the strain of hundreds or thousands of users who were only paying $10 per month, but were seeing 8, 10, 15 movies in a month. That didn’t happen until much later.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been pretty busy, but on three occasions, I had time to go see a movie. But, MoviePass changed up the system again. This time, rather than limiting which movies or what times you could see them, they decided they would only allow a certain number of tickets to be purchased in a region. Logically, that works, as they could then control their spend, and NOT run out of money again. However, in a market like Southern California, which has A LOT of customers using MoviePass, that just doesn’t work. What happened instead, was that every when you opened up a theater to check into, you saw this message: “There are no more screenings at this theater” Huh?! What does THAT mean? There are MANY more showtimes at this theater today… What MoviePass did NOT say on that screen of the app is “We have already given out all the available tickets in Southern California today, so too bad for you.”
That happened to me three times. And I was… okay… with it. But last week it happened again, and that was the end. I couldn’t see a movie at my closest theater. In fact, only ONE of the *39* movie theaters within 17.97 miles of me had tickets available… and I didn’t want to drive 12.4 miles to Brea.
“To say goodbye is to die a little.” Goodbye MoviePass.