When I was in high school in the early 1990s, the local theater had student discounts for $4.95 movie tickets. It was a good deal saving a dollar and getting to see the latest blockbuster on the big screen. Today, ticket prices have soared to $15 at my favorite Regal Cinema and in New York City a standard 2D movie costs $17 and 3D is $21. Those prices are steep especially if you are taking the whole family. It is no wonder that people are forgoing theaters and often choosing streaming over the big screen. However, technology companies are trying to disrupt the space and get people back to the theaters.
Moviepass made headlines in recent months for offering subscribers unlimited movies (one per day) for just $9.95/month. They have surpassed 2 million subscribers but there is already a question about their solvency as the company lost over $100 million last quarter. The parent company Helios and Matheson (ticker HMNY) trades at just $0.45. I looked into their service and didn't like that you can only book tickets on the day of the show and you have to be at the theater to purchase tickets with a physical Moviepass card. This was a major flaw for me as I live 20 minutes away from my favorite theater and I like to book the day before to reserve a good seat.
That brings me to Sinemia. I was thrilled last week to learn of their service as the company launched a cardless feature that allows for advanced purchases through Fandango or Movietickets.com. This solved the issues I had with Moviepass. It isn't an unlimited plan but I don't watch that many movies in the theater anymore so that wasn't a deal breaker for me. Not to mention very few Americans watch more than 2 movies per month anyway. They have two classic plans which allow for purchasing tickets to 2D movies with no blackout dates - for one movie ticket per month, it is just $4.99/month and for 2 tickets per month, it is $6.99/month. If you want to watch 3D/IMAX films, then you have to go for their Elite plans - for 2 movie tickets per month, it is $9.99/month or 3 tickets for $14.99/month. They also offer plans for couples to make it easier to book 2 tickets at a time - obviously the plans are double the price.
My first experience with Sinemia
I wanted to see Solo: A Star Wars Movie over Memorial Day weekend with my wife and daughter, so I decided to test drive the service for myself. I went with the classic plan for 1 movie ticket per month. Keep in mind that the billing is annual so you prepay for the year. I decided to try one person first so I signed up and paid my $59.88 for my annual subscription. Next I downloaded the app on my iPhone and signed in. There is "planning" tab that allows for advance ticketing. It tells you to check Fandango (or any movie ticket selling website) for movie times and to ensure there is seating for your preferred time.
I found my favorite theater and the showtime I wanted for Memorial Day and there were plenty of seats available. Then I went back to the Sinemia app and chose the corresponding theater, date and time that I wanted to purchase. After I hit reserve ticket, Sinemia gave me a card number to make the purchase on Fandango. So back I went to the Fandango app and used the Sinemia card to make the purchase. Success! You do have to pay an extra $1.50 convenience fee but still a huge savings. It could be a better, more seamless purchase experience but it is well worth the little bit of work to get roughly 67 percent off the ticket price.
Happy with the experience, I signed up a second account with Sinemia for two plan. Then went through the same purchase path again and had three tickets through Fandango.
Once at the theater, I had to check in using the Sinemia app so they confirm I actually went. If you don't do this, they will charge you the full ticket price for the movie - they don't want people charging tickets that they aren't showing up for.
I'm happy with my first Sinemia experience even though the buying process is a bit cumbersome especially if you have to buy more than 2 tickets. However, given the tremendous opportunity to save money, I recommend giving the service a try. The risk is that the company doesn't survive but given that it just entered the US market this year, I think you can breakeven on the deal very quickly with low risk. For me, I have to watch 4 movies to come out slightly ahead. Anything more than that, I come out saving and if I watch 12 movies, I would save about $120 therefore a family of four can save $480. If you did the 2 movie plan and watched the maximum 24 movies, an individual could save over $500.
Sinemia is more established in the UK and originally launched in Turkey in 2014. The CEO Rifat Oguz has grand ambitions and in the UK partners with all the major theater operators for concession sales sharing, advertising and more. It is a private company but Oguz claims that the company is sustainable this year and is EBITDA positive as well. He doesn't plan to offer an unlimited plan in the US, but he does in Europe and it is priced at 3.5x movies in a month, far more than Moviepass' current pricing model.
It will be an interesting battle to watch and to see which companies can survive. There is no way Moviepass can sustain itself in its current model but I have more hope for Sinemia. Cinemark Theaters runs a Movie Club of its own and charges $8.99/month for 1 ticket which can be rolled over if unused. This seems to give credence to Sinemia's pricing model but only time will tell. They likely need to get buy-in from theaters and studios to thrive in the US.
Do you use Moviepass, Sinemia or any other movie ticket subscription service?