Sunday, July 3, 2011

Give MoviePass A Chance

It's not an overstatement to say that movie theaters have taken a big hit from video on demand(VOD) services. With wireless internet becoming more accessible, VOD(online and cable) services more affordable and ticket prices more expensive, film exhibitors have reason to worry. Suing and preventing movie pirates, along with attaching 3D surcharges to assembly line schlock, hasn't been enough to open the wallets of or endear themselves to the frustrated and disillusioned moviegoers that NATO(National Association Of Theatre Owners) wants back. So, how can the movie industry as a whole get people to come and come again to the theater? Chris Dorr has a proposal, a company has a plan and I have a city to test it on.
NetflixImage via Wikipedia

Former film producer Chris Dorr recently wrote up an exciting article about how instead of fighting Netflix and other VOD, theaters should embrace the technology. What Mr. Dorr proposes is a more social network friendly variation to what UGC and CineWorld have done in Europe - an unlimited movie pass to any movie at any subscribed theater for a monthly fee.

The idea is truly exciting(much like the idea for Solar Roadways), and the details more so. It's a lot like being a member of a local film society; getting special screening preferences, discount prices, free passes, etc. And when a startup project called MoviePass announced a test run in San Francisco, I was ecstatic. The idea was looking to become reality; $50 a month for unlimited viewings(one movie a day), $30 limited, all from a mobile phone. Positive support for this was all over facebook and twitter, clearly showing an enthusiasm from the demographic this kind of program is aimed at.

But, faster than Marlon Brando asks for the butter(Last Tango in Paris (Uncut Version) [Blu-ray]), chain theaters like AMC refused to participate. It's been suggested that this happened due to the chains being unaware, or that the program might affect their own membership programs. I'm not sure if notification would've been all that necessary(maybe as a formality), since they were already affiliated with, and it's certainly possible for a program like MoviePass to sync up with a theater chain's membership program(much like twitter/facebook, or bank accounts/direct deposit), so I'm not really sure why the theaters in San Francisco were so apprehensive. In fact, filmmaker and Camera 7 exhibitor Alejandro Adams expressed his interest on Twitter:

"To those of you who asked me privately about MoviePass: first of all, congratulations on being smart enough to ask an exhibitor about it. And thanks for your patience. My marketing/promotions director has done all necessary research. It turns out the service operates through, so any theater affiliated with is automatically affiliated with MoviePass. The exhibitor is not directly offering a discount of any kind or endorsing the service in any way. MoviePass is creating a fund via which they broker ticket purchases on a member's behalf. The only way this impacts exhibitor revenue is if more people for to the movies. Let's hope so. #MoviePass"

Whatever the reason, MoviePass was denied an opportunity to prove itself, and moviegoers were denied a chance to help. The project is said to be on hiatus, until they get their bearings together and find a new place to beta test. Maybe a city with some independent cinemas. Maybe a city with a large group of bohemians and film majors. Maybe a city that has attracted many Hollywood productions in recent years. Maybe a New Orleans.

 Prytania Fascade Dec08Image by Infrogmation via Flickr

Why New Orleans? Why not? New Orleans and it's metro area has about 9 theaters, 5 of which are partnered with 3 of those are AMC's). The independent theaters include The Prytania, Chalmette Movies, The Zeitgeist, and special events hosted by NOLA Drive-In and New Orleans Film Society. And, while not necessarily independently owned, Canal Place is an equally popular venue. I can't speak for any of these theaters/organizations personally, but if MoviePass were to, at least temporarily, partner with them for a trial run, I guarantee you that film buffs, UNO film majors, film crews from Hollywood South, and even families hungry for an outing will come, armed with their smart phones, from all over the area.

No doubt, innovation is sorely needed at the ticket window. But with short mindedness running rampant, how can a program like MoviePass thrive? New Orleans, a city that has helped produce some amazing films recently through it's tax breaks, could become the example that an unlimited movie pass program would need. If Netflix, Gamefly and Hulu can do it...

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