MoviePass is a cheaper way to go to the theater, but there is another cost

The movie theater is far and away my preferred way to watch a movie, but at $11 to $13 a ticket, it can be a bit of a pricey habit.

In the past I typically only saw a handful of movies in the theater per year. I’d go to see the films I know I’d really enjoy (or really hate: I got more than my money’s worth making fun of “Batman v Superman” with my friends). This meant I didn’t take many risks, missing out on movies that might really surprise — or disappoint — me. I’d have to wait until the movie is available for streaming or, as is often the case, never see it.

I realize this isn’t exactly what you would call “a problem.” I’m not expecting anyone to shed a tear because I haven’t seen “Pitch Perfect 2.” But MoviePass and its $9.95-a-month service has significantly increased the frequency of which I go to the theater and in just a few months has already paid for itself.

In the roughly five months I’ve had the service, I’ve seen 15 movies in the theater. Assuming an average price of $12, I would have paid $180 without MoviePass. With it I’ve paid about $50.

Here’s how it works: You sign up for the service on the MoviePass website (or the smartphone app) and wait for what is essentially a debit card to arrive in the mail. Once it arrives, you can use the app to “check in” to a movie. You need to be at least 100 yards away from the theater for the check-in to work. After checking in, you go up to the box office and ask for a ticket the way you normally would (it has to match up with the movie and time you check-in for). When they ring you up, you swipe the MoviePass card that is preloaded with the amount of money it costs for the ticket.

Let’s say you ticket costs $12. Even though you’re only paying $9.95 a month for the service, MoviePass is still covering the full cost of the ticket. This means the theater isn’t losing any money on the ticket sales. While I don’t personally care about the bottom line of, say, Regal Cinemas, it’s nice to know that the area’s indie theaters like the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights and Capitol Theater in Cleveland aren’t getting short-changed.

MoviePass works in just about any area theater from the Atlas Cinemas in Mentor to the aforementioned Cedar Lee and Capitol to the AMC in Rocky River.

There are a few caveats with the service. You can only see one movie a day and 3-D movies are exempt. Checking in with app doesn’t guarantee you a seat. If the movie is sold out, you have to pick another time or another movie.

The biggest point of contention is data collection: MoviePass has existed for several years and used to cost much per more month — as much as $50. That price was slashed after MoviePass was acquired by data analytics firm Helios and Matheson. The issue of what information tech companies are collecting about us and how they use it has come into the forefront, crescendoing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally appearing before Congress April 10 and 11.

MoviePass too collects data from its users.

“We know all about you, CEO Mitch Lowe said in March during a keynote address titled, “Data is the New Oil: How Will MoviePass Monetize It?”

“We get an enormous amount of information,” Lowe said according to Media Play News. “Since we mail you the card, we know your home address, of course, we know the makeup of that household, the kids, the age groups, the income. It’s all based on where you live. It’s not that we ask that. You can extrapolate that. Then because you are being tracked in your GPS by the phone, our patent basically turns on and off our payment system by hooking that card to the device ID on your phone, so we watch how you drive from home to the movies. We watch where you go afterwards, and so we know the movies you watch. We know all about you. We don’t sell that data. What we do is we use that data to market film.”

Lowe apologized for those comments later in the month following a public outcry. In the open letter posted on the company’s website, he said they take customer privacy “extremely seriously.”

The CEO attempted to clarify what he called “misconceptions.” He said the app uses standard location services on an opt-in basis, stating there are only two events that would prompt MoviePass to identify members’ locations: when a member requests to search for nearby theaters and when a member requests a check-in to a theater.

“MoviePass does not track and has never tracked or collected data on the location of our members at any point when the app is not active,” Lowe said. “In our recent update with Apple, we removed the background tracking capabilities. MoviePass does not use and has never used this feature.”

But while the company said it does not currently sell third-party data to third parties, it said in an FAQ on its website that it isn’t ruling out that possibility in the future.

“If, in the future, MoviePass desires to expand our offering, we will amend our Privacy Policy and notify our members so that they will be afforded the opportunity to opt- in or opt- out of the MoviePass service,” the company stated.

Tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon collect a lot of data on its users. Facebook allows you to download the data it has on you — the results aren’t pretty. Downloading the MoviePass adds to the list of companies with your data. MoviePass is a cheaper way to watch movies, but this is an important cost to consider.

Follow Andrew Cass on Twitter @AndrewCassNH. Image credit: The Associated Press

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