MoviePass has a bit of a checkered history, but the theater subscription service relaunched last year and has continued to evolve, including the introduction of a virtual card earlier this month aimed at making buying movie tickets a smoother process. It has a long way to go if it wants to reach the heights of popularity it enjoyed when it was just giving away tickets. Unfortunately, this time around, the company needs to make a profit.
MoviePass is hoping to attract more customers by offering a free trial to people who sign up in December, or what’s left of the month, at least. This will give newcomers a chance to test out the app—and see whether they like using the company’s “credits” system, which assigns values to movies depending on showtimes. MoviePass monthly subscriptions start at $10, which includes 34 credits, a number that will get you into “up to two movies per month” depending on where you live in the U.S. But as part of this promotion, new subscribers will also get one free movie of their choice. (Check out the new launch page here.)
Gizmodo spoke to MoviePass CEO Stacy Spikes—who co-founded the company in 2011, left in 2018, returned in 2021, and relaunched it in 2022—to learn more. (What follows is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.)
Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: You’ve been with the company on and off for over 10 years. What is it about MoviePass that makes you such a believer in the business?
Stacy Spikes: No company really owns moviegoing. And the idea of that relationship—you’re either a studio or a theater in this ecosystem, and the relationship between them, and being able to create software that shortens the distance between content creators and their audiences, is the first layer. And then the second is really making—you know, if you have an independent film that’s $5 million and you have a blockbuster that’s $200 million, the world is very flat. There’s one price. It’s the same. But what we’re trying to do is allow variable pricing and capabilities in the marketplace that just have never existed to allow experimentation. We’re never going to move the needle on the tentpoles; we’re all about discovery on that below-$75 million and the ability to go to many more theaters to be able to get that variety. So we know our place in the market, and that’s where we thrive. Just having the passion, everybody that works here is a movie fan. So we’re long on the experience [of going to see movies in the theater]. We don’t think it’s going anywhere. But we want to be the company that enhances the union between creators and audiences.
Gizmodo: What’s been the biggest challenge over the past year that MoviePass has faced since the relaunch?
Spikes: I think it was kind of not an unknown, but it was getting the product from a pre-pandemic state to a [post-pandemic state], and these new upgrades were all on the roadmap, but they were, “let’s get it up and on its feet.” [MoviePass customers are] still using the card and going to the theater, but we knew large format, get your tickets in advance, the ability to refer to a friend—all of these features, they were part of the road maps from day one. It just takes the time to build it in a methodic way that you test and you retest, and you make sure you deploy something that’s stable, which is how we like to do it. And so, I don’t know that they were challenges, but that’s what we wanted: to build a leapfrog product that can be used anywhere and can also be used online and in the real world, if you want to walk up to a theater and use a physical card.
Gizmodo: Do you find that customers have been able to get past those negative headlines MoviePass got in the past, and focus on the present and future?
Spikes: Yeah. I have this saying—there’s some people, if you offer it for free, they can say it’s not cheap enough, and there’s just some people that you cannot get there. But what we have been amazed with is the loyal following and the people that came back and they’re giving us feedback on the product. There’s this really great feedback loop from—they call themselves OGs, like the original MoviePass people, who were kind of pre-2017, that were like 2013 to 2017 to early 2018. But the people that came on in, like, that last sprint when the ownership had changed, we don’t focus on trying to win them back. We really focus on trying to go for the diehards that understand what we’re trying to do in the marketplace.
Gizmodo: How have things been going with the virtual card that launched in November?
Spikes: It’s great. We’ve been using it internally for months, so I’ve been really, really happy with that, having the outside world get to play with it. But it’s very stable. There’s very little reports of crashes or anything like that. We had a unique piece where [some people had trouble with the card number showing up] and we fixed that. So it’s been it’s been great. Knock on wood. We went through Thanksgiving and all in all, were very happy with the performance.
Gizmodo: Do you find customers are taking advantage of now being able to see IMAX and premium format movies through MoviePass?
Spikes: Yeah, the [premium large format movies]—there’s people getting to know that it’s there, and getting to use it is all kind of, they’re discovering “Oh wait, now I can do this.” The next step that’s going to happen in the app, you’re going to see the PLF come alive—that’s, I think, next week. So you have the capability right now, but we just added the ability to buy more credits mid-month, if you really want to go see [a movie] on IMAX and you want [to be able to buy] additional credits. We had to bring those two pieces together so that you’re not impeded in any way if you really want that experience.
Gizmodo: So for two weeks you’ll have access to fiddle around with the site, and then you can pick one movie during those two weeks?
Spikes: It is a 2D—it’s not a PLF. [The free movie] is a regular movie and you’ll be able to test the service up to two weeks, and it’s either a two-week time period or one movie. It’s a free trial that you get to test the services and go from there. It’s a block of time or a title but it’s one movie—like, “Here, go to the movies on us, try the system out, [if you] don’t like it, cancel it, and there you go.”
Gizmodo: Are there more features you’re thinking about adding in 2024?
Spikes: Yeah, there’s some real exciting stuff. We are still looking at a freemium model that is coming. The timing around that, I’m not sure just yet. We, again, want to play with stuff, but an ad-supported layer is something that we are definitely looking at. And then some additional upgraded features like being able to bring a friend at the same time. So it’s been a single ticket, but if you wanted to bring somebody with you and go pick multiple seats—or let’s say you want to bring a family of four, we’re making that possibility that you can actually add more credits and do that if you suddenly have an outing. So those are two additional things. And the other [thing] is starting to open up social features, like reviews, and the ability for studios to start to promote with trailers and stuff inside of the app. Those are just some of the things, like in the next six months, that are all coming.
Gizmodo: What would an ad-supported version look like?
Spikes: There are two or three different in-points that we’re trying to figure out. And so without getting too far down the road, I don’t know enough yet to explain it, [but] the general approach we’re looking at—would it be, I earned some credits? Would it be, I might get a whole free movie? Would it be, I’m going to bank stuff? Would it be a form of free trial, like a freemium layer that you might be in for a period of time and go upstream? Those are the things that we’re still trying to figure out. But we know it’s a direction that we want to go.
Gizmodo: Since you are clearly a movie fan—what free movie would you recommend people choose in December?
Spikes: The one most recently that really is mind-blowing and very cool was seeing Saltburn. It’s just crazy. It’s like off-the-chain crazy. So if there’s one you want to get rocked by, I would definitely go check that out.