Why Is MoviePass Using Scare Tactics On Their Paying Customers?

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: MoviePass's latest terms of service updates are ridiculous.)

What is going on with MoviePass? Since the service dropped its price to $9.95 per month earlier this summer, subscriptions have skyrocketed. But the company didn't anticipate the level of demand they'd experience, and that's resulted in an inundation of requests – far more than they were prepared to process. In many cases, new subscribers have had to wait for long periods of times – sometimes months – to receive their cards in the mail. And now the service has updated their terms of service to reflect a few new changes that impact current subscribers.

Consider this a public service announcement: if you cancel your subscription, you now have to wait nine months before you'll be allowed to resubscribe again. And get this: if you walk out of more than one movie a month, your service could get suspended.

This Reddit post has gathered the biggest updates to the new terms of service, so let's address them one at a time. First up, let's talk about what happens if you cancel your subscription. According to the new terms of service:

If you cancel your MoviePass subscription, you may not subscribe to the Service again for a period of nine (9) months.

I reached out to MoviePass to ask why the company would institute a policy like this, but they didn't respond. To me, it sounds an awful lot like a scare tactic to make people think twice about cancelling. From a business perspective, why would they want to penalize their customers? Are they having problems with so many people cancelling after a month and then immediately resubscribing that they need to put up barriers to prevent that behavior? Who cares if people cancel and resubscribe, anyway?

I've seen some speculation online that maybe this is being done to stop people from only using the service during the summer blockbuster season and then cancelling it. Theoretically, I guess people could subscribe for summer, cancel, and then want to subscribe again for award season. But what happens if your credit card payment accidentally lapses? Are they really going to turn down money from someone who wants to pay them for a service? I can't quite wrap my head around that one.

Here's an even more baffling update. Your service can now be suspended if:

"On more than one occasion during any thirty (30) day period you do not view the movie for which you purchased a ticket with your MoviePass Card in its entirety."

So if you use your MoviePass card to see one movie per day in theaters over the course of a weekend, and you decide that both of them are terrible and not worth sticking around to finish and you walk out both times, your service can be suspended? That's insane.

How the hell could MoviePass even begin to enforce something like that? They have no idea if you stay for the whole movie or not – once the transaction purchase is complete, that's the end of their involvement. What are they going to do, hire people to stand guard at the door of every theater in the country that accepts MoviePass and cross your name off a list if you bail more than once a month?

Since the initial publication of this article, some readers have reached out to tell me that MoviePass might utilize the GPS on your phone to enforce this aspect of their new policy. I suppose this might be done to prevent people from selling tickets themselves: if you go to the theater, check in, buy a ticket, sell it, and then drive away, MoviePass could track your GPS and know that you left. MoviePass could have saved us a great deal of confusion and speculation by putting this in writing, but maybe they didn't want to give people ideas for how to abuse the service. But still: what if you leave two minutes before the final credits roll? Does that count? What if you have a family emergency during a movie? This whole thing is pretty ridiculous.

Finally, if you use your card "for any other purpose than to buy a 2D ticket at a theater kiosk," MoviePass will charge you a $25 fee. Are people trying to game the system by buying 3D movie tickets? I don't have a MoviePass subscription myself, so I'm not sure what that would look like in practice, but it must be happening often enough that the company is getting angry about it. /Film's Ethan Anderton tells me that the service has had trouble with people checking in to movies and then trying to use their cards to purchase concessions, so maybe this is being instituted as a deterrent to those attempts.

Many analysts believe MoviePass's business model is not sustainable. They're theoretically making money from selling subscriber information to third parties, but with boneheaded moves like these, they may end up causing more MoviePass cancellations than luring new subscribers.