A saga of cinema, 2018 style: MoviePass, Sinemia, and beyond

 

Because 2018 has to be #extra in every way, today’s post centers on the rise and fall of the cinema discount services….as experienced by me. 😉

A Saga of Cinema,
OR How I Wish MoviePass Had Actually Worked because Sinemia is Trash

donewiththis

ACT I: MoviePass, Enter Stage Left

Oh, MoviePass! How you stole our hearts a year ago with your discounted dreams and your completely unrealistic, unsustainable business model!

netflix-for-movie-theaters-f8018310f6279e8dThe wonder of an idea truly too good to be true: $9.99 a month for all the movies you could see (1 per day, with no repeats). The promise held for the first half of 2018. We saw 10 movies in January alone, most of them Oscar contenders. It was a new age of cinema in our little corner of South Carolina!  We saw art films, indie films, action movies, cheap thrillers, and stupid comedies I would have never set foot in a theater to see.

Vice ran a really neat farewell piece a few months ago, offering anecdotes from MoviePass subscribers who detailed how they’d used the service to fill lonely times in their lives or escape the crushing poverty of urban life in an expensive city.  The stories resonated with me as I scrolled down the page on my iPhone during a late evening media binge.

Vice: MoviePass is dead but not forgotten

I remember the thrill of seeing that red, shiny card when it appeared in my mailbox after an excruciatingly long wait. (Seriously, it took like 2 weeks to get the thing.)  The app was a bit fiddly, but when it was ON, it was great.

Our local Regal regarded us with suspicion, demanding a driver’s license for any ticket purchase. Why? We were handing the theater $16-20 in ticket sales every time we went to see a movie, and that money was 90% coming from MoviePass rather than my pocket. In fact, we bought more beer and popcorn at that Regal in 6 months than I’ve ever bought (or ever will) because we weren’t dropping $20 just to walk in the door of a theater.

If American cinema chains die off in the next 10 years, it won’t be due solely to Netflix and home theater installations. Chains will die because they refuse to lower the costs of entry.  MoviePass proved that people will come see movies in droves if you make the ticket affordable. The profit margin on popcorn and soda is IMMENSE compared to the profit on an individual movie ticket.

A few theater chains realized they could adapt this model for themselves, but one of the joys of MoviePass was its agnosticism. It didn’t matter if the movie I wanted to see was playing at Regal or AMC or the oddball local chain with three theaters in North Georgia. As long as it was on the app, I had only one thing to manage. And for the most part, MovePass’s app and card worked well.  Until….

Act II: Exit MoviePass, carried on a stretcher

Nothing gold can stay, as Emily Dickinson wisely observed.

MoviePass’s demise this summer was one of my favorite social media disasters.

Perhaps the only good entertainment given to us in 2018 comes from watching angry Twitter users light companies on fire for poor customer service. And so it was with MoviePass, when the pile of cash finally burned down (seriously, I didn’t know there was so much money to burn, and I don’t know why I can’t get access to it for my own business ventures, you know?) and they had to cut people’s options.

This went about as well as you’d expect, and at least we all got to laugh about it…..while crying a bit, because the days of “all you can eat movies for $10/mo” was coming to the exact conclusion we all foretold.

Our movie binge slowed down in July, which was ok since honestly, nearly everything playing in the theaters was crap. And we had lots of Netflix to catch up with…..

Act III: Sinemia, maybe to the rescue?

So what is a MoviePass lover to do after the breakup? How do we assuage the sadness of bleeding $9 a ticket for any local movie showing, unless you happen to be free at 2pm on a Tuesday?

There aren’t many other subscription options out there, but after doing some research, we decided to try Sinemia.  The Family Plan offered 12 months of service, 3 pairs of tickets to any movie at nearly any theater (2D), for about $22 a month. That’s $3.67 a ticket plus surcharges (which, turns out, are $2-3 per ticket every time). Still a bit cheaper than our local theater for evening showings, and definitely cheaper than big-city prices when we roll up to Greenville for movies that don’t open near us.

Cool.

Except…..

My Sinemia Experience: A Side Story

Round 1: September Signup

Basically simple. Downloaded the app. Bought a subscription plan. Logged in, set up account, checked theater listing.

Can’t use the service till I’m set up for Sinemia “Cardless,” so we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

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It took like TWO WEEKS for Sinemia to set up our account for careless use, which is the only option provided for subscribers these days. (I think. It’s pretty hard to get real information from Sinemia due to general disorganization in the app and a shocking lack of detail on their website.)

Round 2: Let’s try it out!

Early October.  Movie #1 of three goes down just fine, and we watched something….can’t remember what….hadn’t been to the theater since mid-August.

The user experience was clunky, but it worked. You buy a ticket in advance using one of the other ticket services (atom, Fandango) and Sinemia generates a one-time-use credit card number for the transaction, then bills your card on file for the “convenience fees” and “service charges.”

I’m beginning to realize the pain of advance ticketing. Is it really worth $2-5 just to buy a ticket on my phone instead of with cold, hard cash at the theater? Why is convenience so damn expensive? Get with it, America!

Round 3: I knew that was going too well …

And then it all went to hell. lol

IMG_0145In late October, I tried to buy tickets for movie #2 of the month (we had to use our 3 pairs of tickets by 11/2 or they’d expire). No ticket service would accept my Sinemia number, and my own credit card company panicked when a bank in Turkey tried to charge $3 (for the convenience fees).

Wait. Why is Sinemia using a bank in Turkey?

Um, no. International charges are death. My bank and credit card companies would rather lower my interest rate than ever let me buy something with an international origin. You should see the gymnastics I go through if I back a non-US project on Kickstarter.

Email #1: late October

There’s no Sinemia support. It’s laughable, really. If you click the “Premium Support” button in the app, a pop up tells you to email their support account. It’s not even a live email ink!  Hilarious AND infuriating AND incompetent -all at once!

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So I emailed them and asked for a refund. I’m not paying for a service I can’t use, and their app is a literal mess.

Crickets.

Email #2: The Saga Continues

A month later (last week), I emailed again with a firm “refund the rest of my annual subscription because your service and app are crap.”  THAT got a response. (I was nicer in the actual email, but my patience is wearing thin.)

The CSR explained a couple things to try and I decided to give it another whirl for some movies last weekend. (I gotta see Ralph Wrecks the Internet!)

Round 4: A continued failure

We tried twice last weekend to use the Sinemia Cardless option to buy tickets in advance (because that’s really our only option, since I don’t have a physical Sinemia card).  In both cases, we got a payment-not-accepted error at the vendor sites.

This was happening to a bunch of people this weekend – Twitter was full of folks trying to reach out to Sinemia for support.  Sinemia emailed back to me (and said on Twitter), “wait 20 minutes before using your virtual card number.”

What? 

I’m in another round of emails with support….because this just isn’t working.

Update, 12/5: Sinemia just announced the return of their physical debit card, thanks to subscriber outrage over the failures of their careless system.  Downside, it costs $15 to order one of those cards, so it’ll take about 5 movies before subscribers see the savings (from convenience fees at atom or Fandango). Also, given the snail-pace that Sinemia support seems to follow, I can’t imagine having this card in my hand anytime before January. :/

Still, if their card will work like the MoviePass card did, this might make Sinemia a valid option for us – though I’m not sure the savings are worth the hassle.

Epilogue: After Sinemia & MoviePass

With MoviePass dead and Sinemia a hateful mess with poor customer support, what’s an aspiring moviegoer to do as we head into a new year? What lessons can we learn?

  1. I wish MoviePass and Sinemia would merge. Sinemia should run the subscription models – because they’re not bad – and broker contracts with theaters.   MoviePass should take over the app and card/payment management.  I know MoviePass had some outages, but overall their app and user experience were 10,000x better than the Sinemia app.
  2. App designers and UI/UX professionals should study the Sinemia app as an example of horrific user interface design.  It’s some of the worst I’ve dealt with.
  3. The market is ripe for discounted theater ticket subscriptions. If anything, the MoviePass social experiment proved that we common folk are tired of shelling out $10-$16 PER TICKET to see a film at the box office.  I would love to sit in a theater full of people, sharing an experience and laughing (or cringing) together. But I’m not going to sacrifice the grocery budget (or future vacation funds) to do so.   Takeaway:  MoviePass put a lot more butts in seats at the theater in the first half of 2018, and theaters should take note and lower prices
  4. The TomatoMeter — which distributors hate — is more important than ever. Under MoviePass, I saw all kinds of films that I wouldn’t have paid full price for.  I didn’t care if the Rotten Tomatoes score was meh, because I wasn’t out a wad of cash. Theaters should learn from this – maybe offer bigger discounts on movies entering their last release days.  Seriously, the theater industry deserves whatever pummeling they get.  MoviePass was a gift and they reacted with acrimony.  And film production companies should note that RT isn’t responsible if their movie is too crappy to earn my dollars. *coughs* Robin Hood *coughs*

 

As for us, we’ve pared back our theater expenditures again and I’m likely going to fight Sinemia for a refund unless their service improves.

And sigh a sad sigh about the one good thing that happened in the first half of 2018 that we lost anyway.