Monday Editorial: Are Subscription-Services the Future of Theatrical Exhibition?

I usually ignore the sponsored posts and advertisements that show up in my Facebook feed, however there was one a little over a week ago that caught my attention. It was for an upcoming service named ShowGO Canada. The service claims that for a subscription of $12.95 a month, you can watch one (non-premium) movie a day at any theatre of your choosing. Obviously, this does sound a little too good to be true, but I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to pre-register and see what ShowGO is about once it launches.

ShowGO is similar to another subscription launching in the United States called MoviePass, which offers a $9.95 (US) a month subscription to see unlimited films theatrically. Not surprisingly, the theatres aren’t all that supportive of what appears to be a discount admission plan, with AMC Theatres even releasing a press release in August criticizing MoviePass’ “unsustainable” subscription business plan.

However, a subsequent interview by CNET with MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe revealed that there is much more to this service than meets the eye. Essentially what Lowe is doing is adapting the Netflix and Redbox model he helped create to the theatrical experience. He even states that cooperation from theatres aren’t even required for MoviePass to work, since subscribers get what is essentially a mock credit card to purchase tickets for movies, with the help of GPS-driven credit card authorization technology generated by an app on the user’s phone. A subscriber checks into a film screening on their phone and they have half an hour to use their MoviePass card to purchase a ticket, with MoviePass crediting the full cost of the ticket to theatres. Mitch Lowe explains that MoviePass is financially viable, since the average subscriber typically don’t go to the movies more than 12 times a year.

According to its FAQ page, ShowGO will follow a similar formula to MoviePass, in how subscribers will check into film screenings on an app before using their “ShowGO Movie Card” to purchase the ticket. I do have to admit, that while I began looking on ShowGO’s claims with a grain of salt, I am now quite excited to give this service a try. If this service does work out, I would probably save quite a bit of money from movie ticket sales, while also continuing my preference of seeing movies on the big screen.

Here’s hoping that services such as MoviePass and ShowGO are the shot in the arm that theatrical exhibition needs.

Update (Oct 2, 2:17 PM)

Since, I originally drafted this editorial, I had some heated debates about the validity of ShowGo and the questioning whether or not the service is a scam. Since I cannot ignore such allegations, I thought that I would summarize them here.
I suppose the biggest criticism is the sustainability of such a service, which claims that it will reimburse cinemas the full price of a ticket, even though the subscription fee is only equal to the price of a single ticket. If you read the above-linked interview with MoviePass’ Mitch Lowe, he states that this plan is financially feasible, since the average person only goes to the movies a few times a year, meaning that the subscription fees would still generate a profit from most subscribers.
However, there is a concern that people who subscribe to ShowGO won’t even be allowed to purchase a ticket with their card. This is because some theatres, particularly independent ones have already stated that they won’t be accepting ShowGo membership cards.
A case in point would be the Film.Ca Cinemas in Oakville, Ontario, which posted the following warning on their Facebook Page:

I do have to agree that this does make ShowGo seem a bit more on the shady side, with the lack of transparency to cinemas being of particular concern. However, I am still willing to give the benefit of a doubt, since these fears are towards a newly formed company that hasn’t even properly launched yet. ShowGo even addressed these fears and concerns in a recent Facebook post:

The sad truth is that most people are not really going to see films at the theatre anymore and ticket cost is a major factor of that. If ShowGo Canada is indeed a legit service, I’m more than willing to give it a shot, if it would save me $60 or more a month. I’m definitely going to keep a close eye on ShowGo over the next few weeks and see whether it truly is the future of theatrical exhibition.

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).