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Perhaps the most fascinating saga of 2018 wasn’t some story that played out on the silver screen, but was within the industry itself with the rise and fall of MoviePass. The theatergoing subscription service shot off like a rocket before suffering some very costly and very public setbacks. Now with the benefit of hindsight, MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe is able to admit that the company made some mistakes along the way. In his words:
We made a ton of mistakes. The hard part for me is how much we’ve had to learn from our own mistakes last year. The primary one: growing too [fast]. You would never think that growing too fast is a thing, but it really is.
It is interesting to hear Mitch Lowe be so humble here, admitting to the company’s mistakes when just last year, while everyone was calling the service ‘too good to be true’ and heralding its demise, MoviePass adopted an extremely defiant and somewhat cocky posture. The MoviePass of 2018 might as well have said ‘haters gonna hate’ and boasted of its invincibility, but the lessons were hard-learned and now Mitch Lowe is willing to admit that MoviePass’s errors were many.
In his sober analysis of the company’s mistakes, Mitch Lowe honed in on one in particular which might not be what you would think. Many might say charging $10 for unlimited movies was the biggest miscalculation, but speaking to The Ringer’s Andrew Gruttardo, Mitch Lowe actually sighted MoviePass’s rapid growth as part of what got them off track.
He believes that MoviePass grew too fast; 50,000 subscriptions were sold on the first day of the cheap unlimited model, and that number was tripled in three to four days. MoviePass didn’t build up steam at a measured pace like a locomotive; it was a rocket ship launching into the stratosphere. But it turns out the ship wasn’t built for those kinds of speeds.
Speaking about the logistical challenges of that rapid growth, Mitch Lowe highlighted the issue of people getting their MoviePass cards in a timely fashion, saying:
I was talking to our CTO and he said, ‘By the way, you know we can only ship about 35,000 to 50,000 cards a week, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know that, but shouldn’t we be able to call MasterCard and increase that?’ The answer was no.
The delay in MoviePass subscribers getting their cards was one of the earliest issues to plague MoviePass under the new model. Supply simply couldn’t keep up with demand. Mitch Lowe, perhaps naively, just assumed that they could make a call and fix that issue, but that was not the case.
This isn’t the only mistake MoviePass made, and Mitch Lowe would admit that there were many, but you can see why he sights this one. It provided logistical challenges that undermined the business and shook consumers’ faith in this as something that felt scam-ish from the very beginning. The company were flying by the seat of their pants the service's wild popularity allowed little time to step back and develop things at a measured pace.
At different points MoviePass was hoping to make revenue-sharing deals with theaters to get a portion of the ticket sales or concessions because of the increase in attendance that the service spurred (admission was up 4% and presumably at least some of that was due to MoviePass and services like it). No matter how unlikely that hope was, the rapid growth had the company burning through capital like the Joker torching mob money. So the exhibitors could basically stand their ground and wait MoviePass out.
Whether you use MoviePass, one of its competitors, cash or just sneak in, there are plenty of reasons to go to the movies in 2019. Check them out in our release schedule.