It may be prestige films season at movie theaters near and far, but it’s an increasingly popular subscription service that is lately drumming up suspense.
MoviePass, a New York-based service, has shaken the industry in recent months by offering movie tickets at dramatically slashed prices. While big chains have voiced concern, Clark County’s independent theaters say attendance is up for niche or second-run films.
“It’s a bit like the wild, wild West right now,” said Dan Wyatt Jr., owner of the Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver. “Right now, I’m riding the wave and seeing an uptick” in ticket sales, he said.
Larger chains and some film studios have not been as excited, fearing the service is not viable and could destabilize a generation of moviegoers who are already more inclined to stream movies at home.
For $9.95 a month, subscribers can go see one movie every day. MoviePass still pays for every ticket, meaning it fronts the cost for most of its subscribers. The company says it can recoup the loss by selling consumer data to marketers and promoting films on behalf of film studios.
Collectively, sales are up at Vancouver’s four cinemas, according to the state Department of Revenue — but just barely. The first six months of 2017 netted $4.6 million, compared with $4.3 million in 2016 and 4.4 million in 2015.
Still, MoviePass has only recently burst onto the scene. It began offering its current price in August and announced that in four months it netted more than 1 million subscribers, as reported by the New York Times.
The starkest change for the Kiggins Theatre is that it has relaxed moviegoers, Wyatt said. The 80-year-old theater has one screen and often runs more obscure films with lean budgets. More popular movies only arrive well after their release date.
Now, recent screenings of “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” are better attended than award-winning movies.
“It’s lowered the risk that people are taking when they see a movie they don’t know much about,” said Wyatt. “Occasionally I’ll get approached by someone that says, ‘You’re doing a lot of good movies lately,’ and I’ll say ‘We always have.’ ”
It may help with marketing, as well. Since buying the Kiggins Theatre in 2012, Wyatt said growing the business has relied on events and marketing. More attendance might help him ease up a little.
Neither the Kiggins Theatre nor the Liberty Theatre in Camas have kept close track of MoviePass sales, but eyeball the increase at about 5 to 10 percent. Cinetopia Theaters could not be reached for comment on this article.
While both theaters are happy for the bump in attendance, it’s unclear where this story will go. The service could raise prices, like Netflix has recently done. Wyatt said he would entertain the idea of sharing some income from concessions, if it came to that. Or it could simply fold.
“If you look at the financial viability of it, it just doesn’t come close to penciling out. It (depends on) how much money they can get from the data that they’re mining,” said Rand Thornsley, managing director of the Liberty Theatre. “We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees forever.”