Why I can’t recommend MoviePass (and why I won’t be renewing my subscription anytime soon)

If you’ve read my other posts on MoviePass, it’s clear that overall I was happy with the service and how it was implemented for the first 11 months of my membership. Even with the Countdown Clock, many of you may find that MoviePass is indeed a great value that would suit your needs. The way the Countdown Clock was implemented and announced is only the latest in a string of ethically questionable practices that I have issue with.

Right off the bat, it was pretty impossible to recommend the service to anyone, despite how much value I was getting from it. Whenever I would tell anyone about MoviePass, they would ask, “What’s the catch?” at which point, I would rattle off a list. “So, the very thing MoviePass advertises as their service is pretty much bullshit,” is how people would basically respond to the list of restrictions on the “unlimited” service. I would contend that I didn’t believe it to be an intentional deception; the service was in still in “beta,” and I believed they were working towards offering what they were advertising.

Get back to me when they’re out of beta.

Well, MoviePass ended their beta test earlier this year and opened their service to members from the general public. At that point, there’s no longer a place for half-truths or equivocation; you have to advertise what you’re actually selling and not what you hope to sell because it sounds nice. When I joined, I knew I most likely would not cancel early and planned on staying on for the whole year. Mathematically, I knew that I would see enough movies in the first few weeks of my membership to cover the cost of the entire year, even if I wound up not using the service in the long haul. Though I continued to use the service, I stopped recommending it to people. I was planning on doing a piece on the service for a while; the video used in the demonstration was shot in February, 2013 and I started writing a few times.

The reason why I never posted anything is that I really would like a service like this to be viable and succeed, and I wanted to be able to recommend MoviePass wholeheartedly. I kept holding off because I was hoping that MoviePass would change their marketing to more accurately reflect their product and its limitations. Instead, they’ve continued to use the same misleading wording while imposing additional restrictions on the service. On top of the list I started with, here are some other places where MoviePass falls short on what they promise, either due to their inability to deliver or because of outright duplicity.

MoviePass promises no blackout dates on the movies and theaters you can attend but individual show times or movies are often not included in the app. I discovered this early on, pretty much by accident. I took my Mom to see Cloud Atlas (I made two transactions at the kiosk, using my MoviePass to buy my ticket, then my debit card for hers) and while I was buying the tickets, she asked, “What’s Hitchcock? Is that a documentary?” “No,” I replied, “That’s Anthony Hopkins playing him making Psycho. Why?” “It’s on the board, just asking.” Sure enough, it was on the board, and listed in the kiosk, but not in the MoviePass app.

I don’t know how MoviePass‘ backend operates so I don’t know where they get the data that populates the app, or who decides what movies are available. About a week and a half later, the app had the info and I saw Hitchcock at that theater using my MoviePass. It made me wonder if that restriction the prior week was a decision by the studio, the theater or if it was just inadvertently left out. Some recent examples include a Thursday night showing of Last Vegas; I saw it two days later, at that same theater.

I also recently posted a video illustrating this happening with an independent movie called Approved for Adoption. MoviePass suggested (“it may be“) that this was an inadvertent omission and in the future to call customer service if this happens again. This is something that happens with regularity and if not deliberate, should have been resolved during the beta testing period. Providing timely and accurate information is a key component of MoviePass‘ operation, and if they couldn’t reliably and consistently do that during testing, they should not have moved out of the beta phase. Irregardless of the possible technical issues, the Countdown Clock recently imposed by MoviePass does eventually lead to a blackout date, making their “go to a movie each day” claim false as well.

If the embedded video doesn’t load, click to watch
MoviePass Countdown Clock Creates Blackout Dates at YouTube.

The subject line of the e-mail announcing the Countdown Clock was “New Features.” If you’ve read the e-mail, does that honestly sound like a feature to you? It sounds more like an insult to my intelligence. Not only was the language used condescending and the tone arrogant, but the timing of the announcement was also handled incredibly poorly. Though MoviePass, like many other subscription based or service oriented businesses, has a provision in their terms of service allowing them to change those terms at any point, it’s considered good form to announce said changes to your customers in advance, especially if those changes materially impact the use of the service they are paying for. MoviePass implemented the Countdown Clock then notified their subscribers via e-mail after it was done.

That e-mail was the only announcement of the Countdown Clock; there’s nothing on MoviePass’ blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed about it. If you check the company’s Facebook page, a lot of MoviePass users didn’t even get the e-mail and had no idea the restriction was implemented until it had already ruined their weekend. This must have impacted customer service severely, because I never had any problems when I had to contact them prior to October 31, 2013 (the day the Countdown Clock was implemented then announced) but I did go over to MoviePass’ office in person that afternoon and they were clearly getting slammed. It was a scene of chaos right out of The Last Boy Scout in New York when the dispatch lady yells, “The whole city just dialed 911!

Since then there have been myriad angry complaints about the Countdown Clock and the company’s poor response to it on MoviePass’ Facebook Page. Adding insult to injury, in reaction to the backlash from their members on Facebook, MoviePass simply ignored them. Instead of an actual apology, they did offer up one of the weakest excuses for an excuse I’ve seen in a while on Twitter:

This reads like something that was cut and pasted from a textbook without any consideration whatsoever, as it has no real bearing on what MoviePass did here. If they had raised the price of the service, this would be a plausible explanation for the price increase. However, when faced with the choice of raising the price or reducing the quality of their offering, they chose the latter, and then attempted to convince anyone reading that they are maintaining the high quality of the service by lowering the quality of the service. After a few days of inactivity on their various social media outlets, they went back to shilling Hollywood blockbusters as usual. The whole situation has seriously tarnished MoviePass’ reputation in certain media outlets and with actual users of the service.

Despite the generally positive experience I’ve had with MoviePass in the last year, for the reasons outlined here, I will not renew my subscription, and I cannot in good conscience recommend it to others. MoviePass seems less interested in providing me with unlimited theatrical movie viewing for one low monthly price than they are in charging me $29.99 a month for whatever then can get away with giving me, while harvesting my demographic data and personal information for sale to the highest bidder. If you look at MoviePass’ Terms and Conditions, you’ll see that the bulk of it discusses the collection, retention and distribution of said demographic data and personal information by MoviePass to various third parties. Who’s to say that MoviePass won’t change those terms on a whim and notify me about it later? The way the Countdown Clock was introduced sets a bad precedent and undermined my trust in the company.

MoviePass’ failure to fix longstanding issues with their system while diversifying into other areas such as home video retail and advertising further underlines this migration from their core service. MoviePass’ contempt for their customers is evident in the opaque manner in which they conduct their business and their blatant refusal to even acknowledge their customers’ concerns, let alone give them any consideration. Perhaps this hubris stems from the fact that they seem to be the only company in America providing such a service. I know if some other entity were offering this service, I’d definitely give them a try over MoviePass at this point, because for everything MoviePass got right, the things they got wrong are staggering; it seems to me as if whoever is running the business is either incompetent or unethical, neither or which makes me want to give them money every month.

Also be sure to check out the other articles in my series on MoviePass:

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