Most confirmation emails are boring. But the MoviePass one excited me.
“Thank you for subscribing to MoviePass! Your personalized card has been ordered and should arrive in about two weeks.”
The message hit my inbox seconds after I signed up for the movie theater subscription service on Jan. 25. If the card arrived as scheduled, I’d have the card by mid-February—the perfect time to catch most of the Academy Award nominees before the Oscars aired in early March.
“It’s going to take longer than that,” a coworker told me. “It took a friend of mine more than a month to get theirs.”
It took them a month and a half to get it, actually. I’d heard many similar stories. MoviePass has been synonymous with slow deliveries and crappy customer service since its founding in 2011. But complaints from frustrated customers have surged along with the company’s recent boom in popularity and could threaten to stall its rapid growth.
Before last summer, MoviePass was essentially a voucher service that would allow users to see two, three or four movies per month for a fee. In August, 2017, analytics firm Helios and Matheson bought a majority stake in the company. MoviePass made its monthly subscription unlimited and lowered the price to just $9.95 to appeal to moviegoers. It worked. Subscriptions jumped from 20,000 before the price change to several hundred thousand within a few months.
As CEO Mitch Lowe outlined in interviews, MoviePass is rushing to grow in hopes of collecting money and subscribers.
“With the monthly prices, they lose money on every ticket they pay for their subscribers,” said Jeremy Fuster, reporter for the entertainment industry news website TheWrap. “Their goal is to get as many subscribers as they possibly can before they lose too much money.”
Ultimately, Fuster says, MoviePass will use its large data pool as its main selling point. Customer data and movie trends will allow the company to entice studios and exhibitors into priority distribution and advertising deals. It’s an ambitious plan, and one that’s boosted the MoviePass’ subscriber base to more than two million users.
But as the company’s grown, customer service complaints have gotten worse. Angry customers have flocked to social media to report problems and commiserate over bad MoviePass experiences.
“I bought MoviePass as a gift for Christmas,” says Staten Island resident John Hood. “I clicked on the purchase button and it sent through my transaction twice, charging me $60 instead of $30.”
Hood sent emails, direct messages and tweeted at MoviePass without any response. Months later, he still hasn’t received one.
“No one responds, that’s the issue,” says Erik Fine of Brooklyn, N.Y. “No one ever responds.”
Fine signed up for MoviePass in October 2017 after hearing friends rave about it. Their cards took a few weeks to arrive in the mail, so Fine expected a wait. After a month, he tried getting in touch with customer service through MoviePass’ website. They never responded.
“Eventually, I started spamming their Facebook with comments,” Fine says. “I commented the same thing on a bunch of their posts.”
Shortly after, he received an apologetic Facebook message from MoviePass asking for his address and account email. Fine suspects it may have been an automated bot, but the message insisted they would mail his card right away.
And then another month passed.
“I went back to Facebook and did the same thing, but I started leaving longer comments,” he says. “I wrote things like ‘this isn’t okay, you’re taking money and not giving things back in return.’”
After scores of comments and weeks of waiting, MoviePass finally put him in contact with a live customer service rep. Fine received his card in January, more than three months after ordering it.
“I was going crazy,” he says. “I was ready to pull my hair out.”
By the time I’d interviewed him, Fine’s story was all too familiar.
After two weeks without receiving my card, I sent an email and a customer service inquiry through the MoviePass ZenDesk portal. No response. A couple weeks later, I tweeted at both MoviePass Twitter accounts explaining my issue. Like Fine, I received what appeared to be an automated message requesting my address. After sending it along, I waited dutifully for my card to arrive. It never did. Then I remembered what Fine told me.
“The only way you can get a hold of them is through Facebook,” he said.
It was my only hope. I copied and pasted comments on MoviePass’ five most recent Facebook posts explaining my dilemma as succinctly as possible.
It turns out someone noticed them. Within an hour, I received a message—but not from MoviePass.
It was from a man named Jose Roldan.
“I have the largest MoviePass Facebook group called MoviePass Chatter,” his message read. “We are MoviePass fans helping each other out when we have issues with MoviePass. We also have fun chatting with each other.”
Roldan has been a MoviePass subscriber since last summer and loves the service. But he’d heard people lament over lackluster response times and slow deliveries (Roldan’s card took about six weeks to arrive). After visiting MoviePass’ Zendesk page, he noticed users complaining about the same problems over and over. Soon after, he created the group.
“I wanted a place where people could help each other out, figure out the best courses of action,” Roldan says. “I never thought it would get past 50 members.”
He soon found out demand was high. People came to him with questions about card activation, delivery times, app crashes and more. Now, the group boasts more than 4,200 members. A group member told Roldan that MoviePass customer service actually referred him to MoviePass Chatter outright.
Roldan’s group isn’t just fielding complaints. He and a group of trusted moderators foster discussion about movies and offer free digital movie codes to members. But he does find people turning to MoviePass Chatter instead of MoviePass itself.
“I mean, they have 2.5 million-plus members,” he says. “We don’t have nearly that many, but I’m sure it helps.”
Lately MoviePass’ issues have extended beyond customer service. During an industry conference in March, Lowe said the app tracked users’ locations, raising privacy concerns. Lowe walked back the comments, but MoviePass introduced a limited $89 yearly subscription plan to offset the bad press.
Problems have arisen with major exhibitors as well. AMC announced that it will not make any kind of priority ticketing deals with MoviePass as smaller theater chains have.
“Right now, the AMCs of the world are treating them like the annoying fly buzzing around the cow,” Fuster says.
And though MoviePass’ popularity has boomed in cities, the company has shifted its focus toward the Midwest. It hopes to grow a subscriber base where movie prices are low enough to offset some of the losses MoviePass takes with every ticket sale.
But MoviePass’ affordability is what’s endeared it to customers. Roldan says he’s seen more than 50 movies in six months using the service. Fine’s wait was excruciating, but he’s loved MoviePass since he’s actually had it. In cities like New York, where movie tickets cost anywhere between $12 and $20, the subscription pays for itself right away.
“I used to see like two movies a year before MoviePass,” Roldan says. “I hope it stays around for a long time.”
As MoviePass’ subscriber base continues to grow, it seems likely to. Earlier this month, it acquired the parent company of movie information service Moviefone, doubling down on its digital corner. The coming weeks should create another increase in growth as summer blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War and Solo loom on the horizon.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the MoviePass subscriber numbers change over the next month,” Fuster says. “It’s something I’m keeping an eye on.”
And with more people paying attention, the light on MoviePass’ shoddy customer service will only shine brighter. A company spokesperson told BTRtoday that it has greatly increased its resources, adding phone support and partnering with customer service outsourcing firm TaskUs to meet demand.
Still, customer service complaints on social media remain the company’s biggest blind spot. No matter how quickly MoviePass grows or what kind of deals it offers, it needs to address them to continue attracting new customers.
“It can seem too good to be true, like there has to be a catch,” Fuster says. “And those people complaining on Twitter and Facebook might say yeah, the catch is if you try to reach out for help, you might not get a reply.”
Or you might wait three months for your card. I did.