MoviePass has pulled support from some AMC theaters, just one of many signs it's finally serious about making money. PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

MoviePass has pulled support from some AMC theaters, just one of many signs it's finally serious about making money.

PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

WHEN MOVIEPASS LAUNCHED last summer, it introduced a seemingly impossible offer: See a movie every single day in theaters, paying only a monthly fee that, in most markets, amounts to less than a single ticket. It worked. Earlier this month, MoviePass hit 1.5 million subscribers, growing much faster than anyone expected, including MoviePass.

But amassing customers was never going to be the hard part. MoviePass now has to show that it can actually, you know, make money. A little less than six months in, it looks as though it just might have an answer—although a fresh spat with AMC shows that not everyone will like it.

Giving It Away

To be absolutely clear: The more subscribers MoviePass signs up, the more money it loses. It pays theaters full price for each ticket, whether a member visits once or 31 times a month. It has to provide for customer service to support those 1.5 million people, many of whom have lobbed valid complaints—MoviePass issues debit cards to each of its members, and initially couldn't keep up with demand—as the service struggled with its rapid expansion. And that’s on top of the usual, unglamorous costs of running any business. (Backends don’t maintain themselves.) If it seems like MoviePass is too good to be true, that’s because right now, it is.

Which is also why its explosive growth hasn’t been an unvarnished good, at least in the short term. “It’s harder in some respects and easier in others,” says MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe, who cites the company’s customer service falterings as a primary drawback. There’s also the matter of all the cash the company must have run through by now; Helios and Matheson, an analytics company which has a majority stake in MoviePass, continues to put millions toward keeping the company afloat through the outflow. Analyst Brian Kintsligner of Maxim Group recently wrotethat the company had "an estimated seven months of cash" to cover losses incurred by heavy-usage members.

The question, then, might not be whether MoviePass has a long-term plan for success—it's if the company can stick around long enough to see it through.

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