Exploring Sinemia and Other Movie Subscription Service Alternatives to MoviePass

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2018/08/10/exploring-sinemia-and-other-movie-subscription-service-alternatives-to-moviepass/

With the financial troubles at MoviePass making headlines, Jeff Porten reviews the competing service Sinemia, and rounds up similar subscription services offered by two theater chains.

A year or two ago, Cinemark opened a brand-new multiplex a few miles from my home. All the auditoriums have reclining seats, all seating is reserved, etc. It’s a certainty that I’ll see at least one film a month at that theater, usually with a guest or two, so the Cinemark movie club made sense.

For $8.99 a month I get one free ticket and one discounted guest ticket. My teens and I prefer to see movies in the morning, so the free/discounted tickets we get are generally for shows that wouldn’t cost much more than $9 or $10 anyway. I steadfastly refuse to busy my brain with trying to game the system by reserving my discounts on the chance I might want to see higher-priced shows.

I believe (I don’t pay all that much attention) that other tickets I buy during the month also get a small discount.

There’s also a 20% discount on concessions, which shouldn’t amount to much: but even for 2-3 small popcorns 2-3x/month it adds up (perhaps more a comment on high concession prices). To claim the concession discount, I need only scan a QR code on my phone. It could be painless, but the scanners are annoyingly finicky. Next time, I’m going to try a smaller image of the code and see if it scans more reliably.

The ticket purchase process is exactly the same as if I were buying the tix on the Cinemark site, which I always did anyway, so there’s zero added hassle buying the tickets.

One easily overlooked benefit, however, is that there is no longer a “convenience fee” (my nominee for euphemism-of-the-decade) for buying the tickets on line. Since I typically buy 6-10 tickets per month, and I believe the for-our-convenience fee is $1.75 per ticket, that actually results in a substantial fraction of my total savings under the program.

It’s cheap, convenient, I don’t have to change my behavior at all to use it, and it ends up saving me a small but significant amount of money.


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I signed up for MoviePass at just the right time in April this year. They were offering one-a-day unlimited movies for $90 a year when I signed up. No 3D or Imax, but that’s OK with me. I’m pretty close to AMC 20 and Regal 18 multiplexes, and a smaller independent 4-screen theater that all accept MoviePass. MoviePass recently imposed limits on high-demand movies, such as popular new releases (you can see them later, just not on opening weekend.) Since April, I’m sure I’ve seen enough movies (3-4 per month) to cover my $90 initial investment. If they can stay in business until next April, I’ll be happy.

MoviePass is much easier to use than what you describe for Sinema. At the theater you check into movie you want to attend in the app. Then, you use the MoviePass MasterCard debit card to purchase your ticket. An annoyance that they recently started is “Ticket Verification” where they ask you to upload a photo of your ticket stub. You cannot see another movie until you submit this verification. I usually do this after I get home from the movie, which means that I must make sure that I retain the stub (it’s a little fiddly to have to photograph and upload the stub in the lobby!)

Having not regularly attended movies in theaters for a few years, the real sticker shock was concession prices! They’ve gotten stupid, crazy high! I understand the theater’s need to make concessions a profit center, but, I’m not sure that justifies their ginormous markups! I’m not going to pay $6-8 for a $1 box of Whoppers! We usually either just forgo snacks, or go on Tuesday nights when AMC Stubs Club offers a $5 Drink + Small Popcorn deal. (You can do both MoviePass and Stubs, but you can only use your Stubs card at the concessions stand… you don’t get points for the movie itself!)

So, I’m going to try to milk MoviePass for as long as it lasts. When my plan expires or MP goes belly up, whichever comes first, I’ll probably consider AMC’s offering… MoviePass did succeed in getting me back into theaters, and I’m enjoying that!


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Since we’re also talking about privacy, security and geolocation (and my thanks to Adam for posting the link to the excellent NYer article), MoviePass recently made a big change to its privacy policy. As it seems to be a rather desperate move during a barrage of awful news about the company, I think the PR people were able to slip this one in under the wire. Although MoviePass always claimed they would never sell the data they collect to third parties, they are now doing so, without notifying its consumer base:


I suspect this will also tick off movie theater owners who depend on on-screen advertising. It’s a very desperate move, I think.

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I’m hoping Sinemia will be a similarly easy experience after the card arrives. Now that I’ve figured out what’s where, it’s much easier. And I really do prefer to see 3D etc., so MoviePass would have always felt like second-class service to me.

Main reason I avoid concessions is that when I get popcorn, I get the bucket so I don’t run out in the first five minutes. And that’s pretty much one of the worst things you can put in your body: it’s upwards of 3,000 calories. So it’s a once in a while thing. I’ll typically buy a Diet Coke, though, I like having a drink. (My local Cinemark also doesn’t stop me from bringing in my coffee thermos, which I might sip from. That makes me more likely to buy their drinks, not less—I appreciate the courtesy.)

Had one more wrinkle yesterday: went to a 3D show where the closed-caption device was broken and I missed most of the dialog. (Not that it really mattered, it was all about the spectacle.) Came out and asked for a pass to see it again, and they wanted to give me a refund, which would have done me no good. I got the pass, but it took a bit of arguing.

IMHO, a rather creepy use of moviePass user data:

Customers to receive a free annual MoviePass subscription when they refinance student loans with Laurel Road


I wonder if MoviePass is refinancing some of their own mountainous debt from this company? Maybe Laurel Road knocks off $10 a month for them?

MoviePass is a train wreck:

Adam Engst
MoviePass is a train wreck:

MoviePass forces annual subscribers into monthly subscriptions

In an email to former annual members, the company says it’s cutting back their service options to “capture the needs of the community.”

There are also some really good memes here:


Annoyed enough at Sinemia that I feel the need to append to my story. Since it was published, the following has happened:

A $1.80 fee is imposed for every film reserved through the app. That effectively adds $65 to the cost of my annual plan, around 33%.

The card that was supposed to arrive never did, and now I can “order” one for an undisclosed fee.

As I mentioned in the story, I did not receive a notification as expected prior to the movie to check in. I’ve since missed two more: once when the app failed to provide a button, and once when my phone had no service. Both times I emailed them immediately after. When I went to reserve a ticket tonight, I found that my account is disabled until I pay $19.02 for missing a check-in.

That tears it. Add that I missed a month of movies when I was sick (a cough I couldn’t bring into a theater), and will miss two more if I don’t hear back from support quickly, and I intend to cancel for the remaining months’ refund if they don’t waive the $19. It’s the last straw.

And one more amendment, as Sinemia shut down without notice today, leaving annual subscribers high and dry (so far as we know). I was genuinely up in the air about renewing—on the one hand, nearly every interaction with the company was aggravating. On the other, I’m pretty darn sure that even after missing a bunch of monthly movies, I got my money’s worth out of the purchase. (Although going out of business on the opening day of Avengers: Endgame seems like a special way to kiss off your customers.)

I definitely saw more movies than I would have without the service, and i’ll be looking into the AMC club next—although I’ll miss being able to see shows at the arts house theaters.

That’s a bummer—thanks for the update, Jeff. I think these services were basically too good to be true, but their popularity may cause others to figure out how to make them successful.

I would sign up for AMC immediately if there were a convenient theater, especially if I were in a market where the AMC carried arts films like The Favourite. (Here there’s only one theater, and it’s far and small, so the only movies on offer are top box office.) My guess is, AMC has figured out that at $24/month, there are enough aspirational subscriptions to offset the one or two tickets they lose to more frequent guests. Anyone seeing all 12 movies a month is probably a student or retiree taking a seat during showings that are mostly empty anyway—even with a blockbuster like Avengers, my theater was wide open for the 10:30 PM show Sunday.

That said, whether theater-run subscriptions will continue to exist without third-party competition is anyone’s guess. I suspect MoviePass could have gotten it right with with better management, deeper VC, and a sane offer—the Amazon-style upside of dominance is worth billions—but that brand is too tainted now.

Talk about a dodgy industry! MoviePass was even worse than everyone thought.

Maybe Eddie Cue and Tim Cook are working on a series or movie for Apple TV+ about the MoviePass train wreck? If I were either of them I’d be on the phone with Adam Sandler, doing my best to lure him away from Netflix. Scorsese’s Netflix movie will be released soon; if he’s available he’d would be a good choice too. And Tarantino is reportedly thinking about a tenth and final film.

Cue Queen, because another one has bitten the dust:

And cue a raspberry on my clairvoyance powers, because I wrote that I wasn’t worried about Sinemia shutting down within a year (it lasted eight months), but MoviePass went for 13, provided you put up with the unethical shenanigans Adam described.

The million-kernel question now: how long will the theater subscription services survive without third-party competition spurring them on? I think there are two good reasons to keep them around: 1) getting people in the door is another chance to sell popcorn and $8 sodas; 2) rather a good idea to have something to get people in the theaters more often to replace all the folks with 65" televisions and Netflix. We’re well past the point where there’s anything particular about a movie experience that’s not replicable at home—the exception being the movies one has to see opening night to avoid being spoiled by Monday.

I would still do AMC if it were closer; for now, though, my subscription is nicely replaced by my local Cinemark’s half-price Tuesday.

The million-kernel question now: how long will the theater subscription services survive without third-party competition spurring them on?

Except for the services owned by the individual theater companies, I doubt there are any sequels in preproduction. The theater services will do fine on their own, they’ll just keep raising prices for movies and treats.

I think there are two good reasons to keep them around: 1) getting people in the door is another chance to sell popcorn and $8 sodas;

That’s why the cinema chains have their own services, and MoviePass and Sinema were paying for the theaters for tickets but not getting a cut on the treats. And I think one or more of the chains is offering a discount on treats to subscribers.

  1. rather a good idea to have something to get people in the theaters more often to replace all the folks with 65" televisions and Netflix. We’re well past the point where there’s anything particular about a movie experience that’s not replicable at home—the exception being the movies one has to see opening night to avoid being spoiled by Monday.

We’ve only been to see two movies in the theater this year, A Star Is Born and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and we only have a 36" TV. It’s not like in the past where you had to wait over two years for a film to be released. And for those of us who remember “The Million Dollar Movie,” at least two years and a black and white screen.

Old enough to remember that and young enough to confirm it was broadcast in color by the Bicentennial. :slight_smile:

To quote the late, great Jimmy Durante, to those of us old enough to remember his TV show and movies, “Everyone wants to get into the act:”

I give this one decent odds of surviving.