A “Really Like” Redux in Three Parts

According to Dictionary.com, a redux is something that has been brought back. Today I’m bringing back three posts for updates based on recent news.

According to Dictionary.com, a redux is something that has been brought back. Today I’m bringing back three posts for updates based on recent news.

In August 2016, I published a data-based study of the careers of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. So far, it is the most reviewed post I’ve written. At the time I was unaware that Streep and Hanks would be co-starring for the first time in The Post which was widely released in January. Since my 2016 article Meryl Streep has received two more Best Actress nominations for The Post and last year’s Florence Foster Jenkins. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, was unable to convert two award worthy performances (The Post and Sully) into a single nomination. Hanks hasn’t been nominated in seventeen years. During that period Streep has been nominated nine times. Why has Hanks lost his Oscar “mojo”? I don’t have an answer. Well-reviewed performances in Oscar-worthy roles have clearly not been enough to get him over the top.

In August of 2017 I wrote about MoviePass and its viability for the average moviegoer. Well, MoviePass, which recently hit two million subscribers, is in the news again. It has announced another new pricing plan that slashes the average monthly price to $7.95 from $9.95 for new subscribers and they will throw in a year’s subscription to the streaming service Fandor. There is a catch, though. MoviePass wants you to pay a year’s worth of monthly fees up front. And, they are adding on a processing fee of $19.95. This processing fee almost wipes out the $2 a month savings from the reduced price. MoviePass wants its money upfront because they are cash poor. According to this recent article in Yahoo News the parent company of MoviePass is desperate for cash and has recently put out a sizable stock offering to raise it. So, my previous analysis doesn’t change much. If you are honest with yourself and you are sure you will go to the movies more than a dozen times a year, this can be a good deal. If you are a fan of independent movies, Fandor will be a plus. Just be aware that, while MoviePass is doing a great job attracting new subscribers, its business viability is not a sure thing.

In my 100th post this past July, I mentioned that for Dunkirk to be considered great it would need to compare favorably to Saving Private Ryan. We are a couple of weeks away from the Academy Award presentations and Dunkirk is a viable Best Picture possibility. Let’s revisit how it is doing with its other benchmarks. While Dunkirk has turned in a solid 8.1 on IMDB, it significantly lags the 8.6 average rating of Saving Private Ryan. Dunkirk also lags on Cinemascore by an A- to A score for Saving Private Ryan. The critics have a more favorable view of Dunkirk. Rotten Tomatoes gives both movies a Certified Fresh 92%. Metacritic gives Dunkirk the slight edge 94 to 90. Finally, Saving Private Ryan has a slight edge so far in the Oscar race with 11 nominations to 8. All in all, Dunkirk holds its own with Saving Private Ryan. I might give the technical edge slightly to Dunkirk. In terms of audience appeal, though, Saving Private Ryan has a solid advantage.

I hope you enjoyed my little Redux. Adieu.

Is MoviePass the Next Big Thing? Or Just One More Thing.

Netflix put DVD rental stores out of business. Amazon changed how we buy books (and almost everything else). Uber has placed taxi companies on a path to obsolescence. On August 15th, MoviePass, a fledgling movie theater subscription service with 20,000 subscribers, lowered their monthly subscription price from $14.95 to $9.95. Two days later they had 150,000 subscribers and had drawn a panicked response from AMC, the top theater chain in America. Is a seismic shift occurring in the first run movie delivery system as well?

Netflix put DVD rental stores out of business. Amazon changed how we buy books (and almost everything else). Uber has placed taxi companies on a path to obsolescence. On August 15th, MoviePass, a fledgling movie theater subscription service with 20,000 subscribers, lowered their monthly subscription price from $14.95 to $9.95. Two days later they had 150,000 subscribers and had drawn a panicked response from AMC, the top theater chain in America. Is a seismic shift occurring in the first run movie delivery system as well?

Rather than go into a long explanation of what MoviePass is, I’ll link you to its Wikipedia page to fill you in. I’m more interested in whether it makes sense for the movie consumer to subscribe to MoviePass. Here’s the economics of it. At $9.95 a month, the annual cost of a MoviePass card is $119.40. According to AMC, their average ticket cost for the first quarter of 2017 was $9.33. If you see 13 movies annually it would cost you $121.19. So to save money with a MoviePass you would have to typically go to the movies more than 12 times a year. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it actually is. I would consider myself an above average consumer of movies. But when I went back and tallied how often I actually go to the movie theater, here’s what I discovered:

Year # Seen in Theater Avg Cost Total Cost
2017 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2016 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2015 6  $       9.33  $    55.98
2014 3  $       9.33  $    27.99
2013 5  $       9.33  $    46.65
2012 11  $       9.33  $  102.63

In the five years before 2017, I would have lost money using MoviePass. I would have to go to the movies more than twice as often as I normally do to make it financially viable.

This is the “gym membership” pricing model. You enthusiastically use your gym membership in the beginning. Over time, though, life gets in the way and you use it less and less even though you continue to pay the same monthly membership fee. In one of the articles I read to prepare for this post, Stacy Spikes, the CEO and co-founder of MoviePass, indicated that 10% of moviegoers buy 50% of the movie tickets sold. According to Spikes, it was those movie theater patrons that they were targeting with this price decrease. I don’t buy it. They wouldn’t have to reduce the price to get those consumers. It is more likely they are targeting the movie fan that thinks that they go to close to a movie a month when actually they don’t.

As consumers of movie and television programming, we are witnessing the splintering of our venues to watch this programming. One other big piece of news that came out over the summer was Disney’s announcement that they will end their arrangement to provide content to Netflix in 2019. Disney intends to launch its own streaming service. Remember that Disney includes the Marvel and Star Wars franchises as well as their stable of Disney classics. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Starz and soon Disney have exclusive entertainment that we probably want to see. MoviePass should be viewed as one more subscription service to fit into our entertainment budget if we so choose. But, can we afford it all?

There could be a place for MoviePass in this equation. Here are the totals of all of the movies released in the last 5+ years that I’ve seen:

Year Total # Seen # Seen in Theater % Seen in Theater
2017 9 6 67%
2016 35 6 17%
2015 51 6 12%
2014 44 3 7%
2013 41 5 12%
2012 59 11 19%
Total 239 37 15%

I eventually watch many more of the movies released in a given year on the platforms I subscribe to, whether it be cable, Netflix DVD, or a streaming service. Currently, I subscribe to all of the streaming options, either directly or through cable, mentioned above except for Hulu. I do this to give me enough good movie options to access each week. What if I watched more of the movies I end up watching with subscription services in theaters using MoviePass instead. I might then think of my subscription services as primarily for television entertainment. Since I can only binge watch a show or two at a time, why not limit my cost to the venues I’m watching at the time. If I just finished watching Game of Thrones until the next season in 2019 and now I want to watch Ozark, I can suspend my HBO subscription and reopen my Netflix streaming account. At the same time I could suspend my Showtime and Starz subscriptions too until I get around to watching Billions or Outlander. This would free up the cash for MoviePass and save me a little more as well. My wife Pam thinks that this sounds like a lot of work. The subscription services are banking on you feeling that way as well.

A few years ago, I remember listening to people complain about their cable bills. The common complaint was that we couldn’t pay for just the channels we wanted to watch and not pay for the others. Well, that day gets closer and closer every day as subscription services replace cable. If we don’t carefully manage our options, though, we may end up paying more for the things we “want” to watch then we ever paid for cable. We might think about paying only for what we “want” to watch right now. I think MoviePass could be part of the strategy, or not.