Theater Chief Questions Whether Subscription Plans Like MoviePass Are Sustainable

John Fithian_Cinemacon - Getty - H 2018
Ethan Miller/Getty Images for CinemaCon

The buzzy service has caused waves by deeply discounting ticket prices for its subscribers.

National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian on Tuesday broke his silence on the controversial subscription ticket service MoviePass, saying he questions whether any such service is sustainable.

Because of antitrust rules, Fithian couldn't talk about MoviePass directly. MoviePass offers subscribers the chance to see one movie a day for $9.95 per month, while some customers pay as low as $6.95. MoviePass pays theater owners the difference in price.

"NATO won't take a position on a model that involves pricing," Fithian said during a press briefing at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. "We do have three concerns about the concept of a subscription model. The first one is sustainability. If it's not sustainable and it goes under, then you have millions of disappointed customers that will come and complain to us."

NATO's second concern is accuracy in terms of how a subscription model really works.

"The third thing is, we also want respect for privacy," Fithian said.

MoviePass also has talked about selling data that the company pulls from its subscribers. "We watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch," MoviePass chief Mitch Lowe said during a panel in March.

Lowe later told The Hollywood Reporter that MoviePass will strive to ensure privacy and that the company's terms and conditions are clear and readable.

MPAA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin, who held the press briefing with Fithian, also said he couldn't talk about MoviePass because of antitrust issues.

An exclusive survey conducted by the National Research Group for THR found that 83 percent of MoviePass patrons — who can pay as little as $6.95 a month to see one film a day — are more satisfied with MoviePass than any other subscription service (think Netflix) and are seeing more movies than they did previously, as well as a more diverse offering.

On average, subscribers have taken six more trips to the cinema in the past six months than nonsubscribers, while they are twice as likely to go on opening weekend. And nearly half of MoviePass customers say they are now willing to take a trip to the theater alone, while a hefty number (42 percent) happily go midweek.

"Whether the economics of MoviePass are viable and whether the business part of it works is a huge question mark," noted NRG CEO Jon Penn.

Currently, the only plan available to new MoviePass patrons — a $9.95-per-month bundle package with iHeartRadio — limits the number of movies a person can see to one title per week, or roughly four per month, a radical change from recent promotions which grant access to one movie per day.