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MoviePass is opting some users into its new plan even after they cancel

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The company now claims it was a bug

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

MoviePass, the struggling theater subscription service, is rolling out a new plan on Wednesday, August 15th, that will limit users to three movies per month, in addition to existing restrictions on popular first-run films. It’s yet another cost-cutting measure in an attempt to combat severe revenue shortfalls to save the company. But ahead of this new plan, some fed-up users who decided to cancel their MoviePass subscriptions are receiving confusing emails that suggest the company has enrolled them in its new, modified plan without their consent.

“Please note: if you had previously requested cancellation prior to opting-in, your opt-in to the new plan will take priority and your account will not be cancelled,” reads an email sent from MoviePass yesterday to user Cristen Brinkerhoff, who shared the automated message with The Verge. Brinkerhoff, who’s been a MoviePass subscriber since November 2017, canceled her plan on July 31st after MoviePass revealed its plan to raise prices and limit access to popular new movies.

Six days after her initial cancellation, Brinkerhoff received a new email from MoviePass indicating she was somehow still subscribed and outlining the benefits of the company’s modified plan, which dropped the planned price increase in favor of the monthly three-movie limit. Yesterday, MoviePass sent her another email reading, “We received your confirmation for your new MoviePass plan,” mentioning the opt-in clause as the reason her cancellation never took effect. But Brinkerhoff says she was never given the option to opt in to the new plan.

Numerous other users have described similar situations to The Verge, saying they canceled their service between July 31st and mid-August, and the cancellation did not take effect — despite a clear confirmation from MoviePass.

“I had cancelled my subscription last week, and made zero changes to my account since then,” wrote user Abdullah Kareem, who’s been a subscriber for the past two months, in an email to The Verge. “So this email came because MoviePass made those changes to my account on my behalf and without consulting me. My billing date is on the 20th, so I haven’t been charged yet, but they just emailed me letting me know that they plan to bill me on the 20th, even though I explicitly cancelled my membership.”

One explanation is that MoviePass did not process anyone’s cancellations until the end of their billing periods. When its leadership decided to modify its plan and walk back its price increase, the company may have negated any cancellations as a way to retain its subscribers.

But it’s unclear why MoviePass is using language like “opt-in” without actually giving users a choice to continue using its service. It’s also unclear if this is more of a logistical mistake on the company’s end or a deliberate move to retain unwilling customers.

In a statement, MoviePass says the cancellation issues some users have experienced were caused by “bugs” that have since been fixed. The company also says that “no members were being blocked from canceling their accounts.” Here’s the full statement:

We are in the process of transitioning our members to the new $9.95 plan, which launches officially on August 15th. Those who have not already done so will continue to have the choice of either opting in or canceling their membership over the course of the coming weeks. Monthly subscriptions will automatically expire for members that do not respond by the end of their billing cycle.

On Monday, August 13th, we learned that some members encountered difficulty with the cancellation process. We have fixed the bugs that were causing the issue and we have confirmed that none of our members have been opted-in or converted to the new plan without their express permission. In addition, all cancellation requests are being correctly processed and no members were being blocked from canceling their accounts. We apologize for the inconvenience and ask that any impacted members contact customer support via the MoviePass app.

Complicating the situation is that some users are now reporting issues now when they try to re-cancel MoviePass once it became clear the company never processed their cancellation in the first place:

Given how frequently MoviePass has changed its product in the year since its acquisition by analytics firm Helios and Matheson and its subsequent steep price drop — and how awful and inconsistent its customer support has been over that period — it’s easy to see how this could be an automated error on the company’s part as it deals with mass cancelations. In the past, MoviePass customers have reported cancellation issues and hurdles to receiving any kind of technical help or answers to obvious questions. It’s been impossible to tell whether these issues were due to staffing issues, mechanical issues, or a growth-at-all-costs mindset.

The company has also played hardball with theater chains like AMC, using strategic public statements, misleading data, and its growing subscriber base to force businesses to the negotiating table. It’s also been in hot water over a location-tracking controversy, and it’s angered customers with nebulous, opaque “surge pricing” methods borrowed from Uber.

So there is always the possibility that MoviePass knows exactly what it’s doing, and it’s feigning just enough ignorance — or, in this case, shoddy product infrastructure — to keep people signed up for its service just a little longer, in the hopes that it’ll still find a way to monetize them and their data. The initial price drop was designed to build a huge customer base that could be leveraged into profits and used to force cooperation out of theater chains and other promotional partners. While MoviePass is having demonstrable trouble finding the money to support its user base, it can’t afford to lose them either.

Update 7/14, 5:30PM ET: Added statement from MoviePass.