Got MoviePass?

If you’re a movie lover, you’ve probably already seen 15 movies with it.

If not, you might be scratching your head about what it is.

MoviePass is a movie subscription service where users pay $9.95 per month and can see one movie per day in nearly any movie theater.

It’s sort of like Netflix, but for theatrical releases, which makes sense considering that MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe was a Netflix co-founding executive and former president of Redbox. The company has been around since 2011, but its monthly subscription used to have a tiered-cost model, and users paid up to $50 a month in some cities to see unlimited movies. When MoviePass dropped its monthly subscription rate to $9.95 over the summer, subscriptions surged.

This month, the company reported that it has acquired 1.5 million subscribers, 500,000 of whom joined since December 2017.

“I’m a movie addict,” said Elizabeth Brady, 50, of Chesterfield County. “I received the MoviePass for my birthday. I’ve used it 18 times since the end of October.”

Sylvia Rosa-Casanova, 64, of Williamsburg, received a MoviePass subscription from her son as a Christmas gift.

Since then, she’s seen eight movies, which averages to roughly two movies per week. Before she got MoviePass, she would go to the movies only once a month.

In the past few weeks, she’s seen “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Post” and “The Greatest Showman,” among others.

Most movie theaters in the Richmond area, including Regal Short Pump, Bow Tie-Movieland and AMC’s Dine-In Midlothian 10 now accept MoviePass.

Here’s how it works:

Users sign up for an account on the MoviePass website and then download the MoviePass app on their phone. Users receive a MoviePass card, which is an actual MasterCard. To see a movie, subscribers go to the movie theater, open the app and click “Check In” for their movie choice, desired showtime and theater. The app then adds the correct amount of money to cover the cost of the ticket to the MoviePass MasterCard. Users pay for the movie ticket using the card as they would with any other debit or credit card. The theater gets paid full price, as it would with any other card.

The subscription is month-to-month. However, if you cancel your subscription, you can’t sign up again for nine months.

Even the local independent Byrd Theatre is now accepting MoviePass, although not by choice.

The historic movie house, like many other movie theaters across the country, was added to the MoviePass app without its consultation.

“They didn’t ask for our permission,” said Todd Schall-Vess, the Byrd’s manager. “We don’t have an agreement with MoviePass. But the card is basically a MasterCard debit card. If our credit card validating system accepts, I’m not in a position where I can legally say no to it.”

One of his biggest complaints is that he can’t offer customer-service support if a user encounters a problem using MoviePass at the Byrd’s ticket booth.

“We run the MoviePass card, and it’s either accepted or it isn’t. If it isn’t, the person will say, ‘But I activated it.’ But I have no control over that. And I can’t help them,” he said.

And its Facebook page is filled with complaints about membership cards that were never received.

The Byrd manager’s other complaint, echoed by other movie theaters, is that he thinks the service devalues the price of movies.

“If people get used to this, they won’t want to pay full price,” he said.

AMC Theatres, with one location in the area at AMC Dine-In Midlothian 10 at 1100 Alverser Drive, threatened legal action against MoviePass in August.

“In AMC’s view, that price level is unsustainable and only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment down the road if or when the product can no longer be fulfilled,” the release said. But, as of this writing, AMC has yet to file a lawsuit.

The average movie-ticket price in the U.S. was $8.65 in 2016, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. In large cities, the price can reach $15, and in Richmond, evening movie tickets can run more than $10.

MoviePass does not cover 3-D movie tickets or special events, such as the French Film Festival held at the Byrd Theatre.

But MoviePass is so popular because of its price. For about the cost of one movie ticket, MoviePass subscribers can see as many as 30 films per month.

Joe Masher, chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas, parent company of Bow Tie-Movieland at Boulevard Square, said he’s all for MoviePass.

“It seems to be bringing a new audience to the theater, particularly millennials who are used to subscribing to services, such as Sirius Radio, Hulu, etc.,” he wrote in an email.

MoviePass plans to earn money by collecting data on its users, advertising and merchandising sold through its platform, according to Bloomberg.

That raises questions for some movie theater managers, including Schall-Vess. He wonders how MoviePass is going to use that data. But others, like Masher, don’t see a problem with it.

“We are hoping it leads to a significantly increased attendance over time,” he added.

MoviePass users like Rosa-Casanova and Brady said that the service has helped take the pressure off going to the movies. And because of that, they’re seeing more of them.

“I’m being more adventurous with my movie choices,” Rosa-Casanova said. “Before, I used to read all the reviews and look for feedback. I’d only see movies with good reviews. Normally, I wouldn’t have gone to see ‘The Greatest Showman,” she said of the P.T. Barnum-based musical starring Hugh Jackman. “But I really liked it.”

Another benefit of MoviePass, Rosa-Casanova said, is that she can use it anywhere. When she was traveling in Florida for work and had a free evening to herself, she fired up her MoviePass app and treated herself to the movies.

The only drawback?

“Since I don’t have to worry about price, I’ve definitely been ordering more popcorn,” Rosa-Casanova added.

Roanoke Times staff writer Tiffany Holland contributed to this report. (804) 649-6151 Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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