MoviePass is dying. Is it worth switching to its biggest rival?

Subscriptions services still have a ways to go.
Subscriptions services still have a ways to go.
Image: AP Photo/Steve Helber
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It’s now easier to pony up money to see a movie than it is to use the movie-ticket subscriptions on the market.

On the days MoviePass is actually working, it now shuts members out of widely released movies and charges them fees to see popular films that once would have been included in their subscriptions. AMC Theatres’ and Cinemark’s subscription plans only work at the theaters they each own. And then there’s Sinemia, the MoviePass rival that makes the process of buying movie tickets more complicated than it needs to be.

Sinemia is a Turkish-born startup that moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California a year ago to be closer to Hollywood, the movie mecca of the world. It sought to change the business of selling movie tickets by offering theatergoers one, two, or three tickets per month for flat fees that are lower than what most theaters charge. Founded by Rifat Oguz, an engineer with experience in the banking and telecom industries, Sinemia’s service shows promise—and unlike MoviePass, its business model doesn’t constantly throw its future into question. But right now, the app is clunky and confusing, and the fees it saddles subscribers with quickly add up. (Sinemia operates in five countries and the service varies in each.)

Quartz spent more than a month testing out the US version of the service, and here’s what we found.

The good

A lot of options. Sinemia has a lot of plans to meet your moviegoing needs and budget. It sells packages of one, two, or three tickets per month— as well as those that include one showing in a premium format like IMAX or 3D—ranging from $3.99 to $14.99 per month. (The average movie ticket in the US costs $9.16, by comparison.) Sinemia offers both yearly and monthly subscriptions. And it has family plans for up to six people, a feature rival MoviePass hasn’t implemented yet.

Planning ahead. You can buy tickets for showings up to 30 days in advance, which is great if you want to see a movie on opening night, or for parents who need to hire a sitter before heading to the cinemas. And members get perks like $25 a month off orders as part of a new partnership.

More than just tickets. You don’t need to be a paying member to use the app. It has movie times, reviews from users, entertainment news, discounts from local restaurants, and an app integration with Uber to help you get a ride to the theater.

The bad

An all-out logistical nightmare. Unlike MoviePass, where members check in for showtimes on their phones and use a preloaded debit card to buy tickets at the box office, Sinemia sends subscribers outside of its app, to apps like Fandango and Atom Tickets, to claim their tickets. It also makes customers foot the bill for any fees those sites charge for booking. This isn’t clear from the marketing materials prior to or during sign up. (Sinemia told Quartz that it states during sign up, after users enter their name and email but before the pay for the plan, that their subscription only covers the cost of a movie ticket. The notice Quartz saw did not expressly say there may be other fees from third-party sellers.)Subscribers are informed of the fees as they’re purchasing their tickets. Members who sign up for a single month, rather than commit to a full year, also have to pay a $19.99 initiation fee. So the $3.99 you pay for one ticket per month, actually clocks in at around $24 at sign-up, plus the fee to get your pass.

Subscribers used to receive debit cards to buy tickets at the box office without a fee, as members do with MoviePass. But physical cards are now only being sent upon request, and usually take 30 days to ship. Members are encouraged to use the cardless feature instead. Sinemia told Quartz that it’s rolling out a feature within the app next month that will make it easier to request physical cards.

If you don’t have a card, here are all the steps you need to go through to get into a movie with Sinemia:

  • Tap the Planning tab at the bottom of the app
  • Select Advance Ticket
  • Follow the instructions to choose a movie theater and ticket seller, like Atom, for example
  • Go to Atom’s site or app to find your movie and showtime
  • Return to Sinemia to input the date, time, screen format, and number of tickets. Confirm the details and that you will pay the convenience fee charged by the ticket seller. (This is when Sinemia tells you you’re on the hook for the cost.)
  • Grab the one-time payment card number, security code, expiration date and zip code Sinemia displays to buy the ticket
  • Return to Atom and enter all that in to buy your movie pass
  • Use the ticket from Atom to get into the movie
  • On the day of the movie, Sinemia prompts you to check into the movie under the Watch tab of the app, so it knows you saw the right film at the right time. You have 30 minutes before and after the showtime to check in. It’s the only point at which you’re asked to give the name of the film.

Movie theater loyalty programs like AMC Stubs usually waive online ticket fees, and the fees are discounted if you buy through Facebook Movies on mobile in the US and check out with Fandango or Atom, as Sinemia suggests to users. But that means you’d need either join another program to avoid additional charges, or visit three different sites or apps buy a single movie ticket. Neither is ideal.

Nor was the experience of buying a ticket for me. I got tickets for Mission: Impossible—Fallout using Sinemia with Fandango, which gives seven minutes from selecting a showtime to check out. I entered the pertinent details into Sinemia and hit Reserve Ticket. It asked me to confirm the details and said doing so would activate my virtual card. I would be given one-time payment information, it said. I was not. After fumbling around with the app for some time, I rebooted and updated it, which I’d done last about a month prior. Magically, the payment details appeared under Advance Ticket. However, all of this took longer than seven minutes and I lost my reservation on Fandango. I reselected my date, movie, showtime, tickets, and seats—careful to chose exactly what I had entered into Sinemia—and used Sinemia’s payment information to check out.

It was a messy process I’m not eager to revisit, but I did get two tickets to a blockbuster movie in Regal’s premium theater format on a Sunday for less than the price I’d pay for one at my local theater in New York City.

“Sinemia is constantly working to improve the quality of the Sinemia app and overall user experience,” the company said.

It affects what you choose to see. Apart from the technical difficulties, there’s a strange psychological thing that happens when you know there’s a cap on the number of movies you can see each month. I tried the two ticket per month plan, which seemed adequate because I typically watch one to three movies per month using MoviePass. Rather than pop into a theater when I had time to kill like I did with MoviePass, though, I found myself second-guessing whether each film I wanted to watch was worth one of my passes for the month. Should I see The First Purge on opening day when The Incredibles 2 was still out? Do I use my one monthly IMAX ticket for Ant-Man and The Wasp, or save it for Mission:Impossible—Fallout when it comes out? The result was many visits to the app without using all of my tickets for the month, and the passes didn’t roll over. Next time, I’d plan my movies in advance to avoid leave tickets on the table.

The bottom line

I’m ending my subscription with Sinemia for now. The fees add up and buying tickets is a pain. But I’m leaving the app on my phone. I would return if it works out the kinks. Really, returning to a physical card or integrating the third-party ticket sellers into the app, would solve most of my problems. I would just have to pay more for movies, then.