Imax CEO Says MoviePass "Going Downhill"

Richard Gelfond  - Getty - h 2018
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"Someone told me they consider MoviePass to be a bad car accident that needs to be towed off the road. And I agree with that," Richard Gelfond said at an investors conference.

Imax CEO Richard Gelfond on Thursday dismissed the ever morphing MoviePass cinema subscription ticket service.

"Someone told me they consider MoviePass to be a bad car accident that needs to be towed off the road. And I agree with that," Richard Gelfond told the Gabelli Annual Movie and Entertainment Conference during a session that was webcast. MoviePass has tinkered with offering subscribers the chance to see one movie a day for $9.95 per month. Some customers pay as low as $6.95 for a subscription, and MoviePass pays theater owners the difference in price.

"I don't think that model works," Gelfond said of MoviePass making a business of discounting movie tickets while selling data. "Yes, they have a bigger market share, but their financial viability seems to be going downhill," he added.

MoviePass is owned by Helios and Matheson Analytics, which specializes in selling consumer data. Gelfond said the data-selling business had been hobbled by the "Facebook scandal," and he didn't see big studios like Disney wanting to hand over profitability in a low-margin movie exhibition business to a third party.

The good news about MoviePass, Gelfond said, is its presence has global exhibitors launching their own subscription ticket offerings. The Imax chief also talked about Netflix after the giant-screen exhibitor in 2014 angered cinema owners by teaming up with the video streaming giant to make Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny available on Netflix and in Imax theaters simultaneously.

Gelfond said Imax wasn't getting into the streaming business, but he could see a time when Netflix and other streamers premiered their movies on his big screens to help launch them to fans. "Streaming services will decide that having Imax as part of their release will make some sense," he told the Gabelli conference.

Gelfond also predicted that Imax will be a winner from current industry consolidation as Disney takes a run at most of the 21st Century Fox assets while a possible rival bid from Comcast looms. He said Imax has a long relationship with Disney, having shown virtually all of its big titles on its giant screens.

"One of the reasons for the sale of Fox to Disney — and we will see what happens with Comcast — is [Fox] concluded that they needed more scope and to be in the blockbuster business," Gelfond argued.

"Whichever company ends up buying Fox will increase the concentration of their slate in the blockbuster space, and that will be very good for Imax," he added.