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Some good news for once: After a two-week hiatus, the MoviePass unlimited subscription—the one that lets you see a movie a day, every day, in theaters, for $10 a month—is back. And MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe says the company is “absolutely committed” to keeping it around.
That wasn’t always a given. Just last week at industry conference CinemaCon, Lowe said “I don’t know” in response to a question about the unlimited plan’s return. And given some of MoviePass’ previous experimentation with its offerings—be it temporarily removing subscriber access to select AMC theaters in major cities, or to specific movies—it perhaps wouldn’t have been surprising if the offer that attracted millions of subscribers in a few short months really was too good to be true.
As of today, though, you can get back on the unlimited plan that MoviePass launched last August. You can also go with a variation on the plan the company temporarily replaced unlimited with: three movies a month, plus three free months of iHeartRadio All-Access music streaming, for eight bucks. One of the best deals around has returned—along with a seemingly renewed commitment from MoviePass not to keep its subscribers’ heads spinning.
After all, even that unlimited plan has changed its stripes a few times since launch. In addition to the aforementioned blackouts, MoviePass began limiting certain films to one viewing only. Those regularly introduced limits to unlimited—along with shaky customer service—have stretched subscriber patience thin.
“It’s fine-tuning this model,” says Lowe. “Everybody wants a consistent offer. Believe me, I want a consistent offer.”
To that end, Lowe says MoviePass is at least through experimenting with AMC theaters. “I can assure you that we are not contemplating or even thinking about removing any AMC theaters,” he says. “We found out what we needed to find out, and decided that we want to be good partners and provide a good service to our subscribers, and our subscribers love AMC theaters.”
Other recently introduced annoyances may remain, though, as MoviePass combats what Lowe says are the “hundreds of thousands” of subscribers who misuse their membership, using their MoviePass-issued debit cards to make purchases outside the scope of their arrangement. That can range from purchasing a more expensive 3-D ticket—MoviePass draws the line at 2-D screenings—to purchasing multiple tickets for a single viewing, so that, say, a small group can all attend the same Avengers: Infinity War showtime at MoviePass prices. Lowe says some people even accumulate multiple MoviePass cards, and resell the tickets for popular screenings for a profit.
That explains why repeat viewings for popular flicks have become verboten, as well as a so-called beta program that asks certain members to upload a photo of tickets purchased with their MoviePass card, to confirm that they’re using their subscription as intended. Fail to do so more than once? The account gets cancelled.
A cynic might say that the system seems like a pretty good way to discourage high-volume users, the kind that cost MoviePass the most money each month. But Lowe says that frequency of use isn’t one of its triggers; the company looks instead for a “pattern of behavior,” primarily focusing on accounts that frequently switch devices. That helps limit fraud, but also creates collateral headaches.
But MoviePass has given itself no margin for error. It needs to bring in enough subscribers, quickly enough, that movie theaters and studios will have no choice but to cut revenue-sharing and marketing deals with it. And it needs those deals to be large enough to keep it from hemorrhaging cash. It literally can’t afford fraud, even if culling it dings honest subscribers in the process.
“Our goal is to be sustainable and offer the service to subscribers,” says Lowe. “In order to do that, we have to have a business model that works. You cannot have a small percentage of people eating up a big percentage of your usage, and therefore no one gets the service.”
That MoviePass puts the onus on subscribers, rather than building more protections into its app and card to prevent fraud in the first place, may rankle some users. But with any luck, the return of the unlimited plan—along with the commitment to its future, and the détente with AMC—shows that the company has moved past the rockiest stage of experimentation. And in fact, it’s about to make some positive moves; Lowe says that by the end of May MoviePass will introduce plans that include more expensive screenings, like 3-D and IMAX, as well as plans to accommodate families and friends.
In the meantime, while a MoviePass subscription may yet come with unexpected hassles—especially if you’re falsely flagged for fraud—at least its core premise remains intact: a movie a day, every day, for $10 a month. It might not be perfect, but for most people it’s still worth the price of admission.