“It’s not been a fun morning,” Stacy Spikes told me today from New York, where he’s been prepping the new and (hopefully!) improved MoviePass. The waitlist for the subscription ticket service relaunch received 30,000 sign-ups in its first five minutes, causing a crash that lasted two and a half hours. Not ideal for a company that became a punchline after signing up millions of movie fans in 2017 and 2018—and then swiftly going bankrupt. “But you know what, that just shows people are really interested,” continued Spikes, the company’s co-founder and recently returned C.E.O.
He’s right. MoviePass may have become an avatar of failed tech interlopers in Hollywood, and it allowed many traditionalists who predicted its demise to feel good about themselves, but it also encompassed the great narratives of the past few years. A nimble start-up vs. entrenched players that were forced to innovate. Subscription vs. one-off sales. A customer-first strategy vs. a proven yet declining business model. Moviegoing as a service.
Spikes, unfortunately, sat on the sideline for most of that rise and fall. A former music and film marketing executive, he launched MoviePass with Hamet Watt in 2011, initially charging about $30 a month, and later experimenting with various models. But when the platform was bought in 2017 by Helios and Matheson, a data analytics company, Spikes was fired via email as its new leaders, Ted Farnsworth and Mitch Lowe, launched an insane gambit: Charge just $10 a month for a movie ticket every day, pay the theaters full price for those tickets (with the studios taking their usual 50 percent or so cut), and figure out the business model later. It was a dollars-for-dimes strategy, a money-incinerating suicide mission for scale that only the most risk-tolerant Silicon Valley investor could love.