film-reel.jpgAfter a furor of online activity and discussion, the much anticipated Bay Area trial of a service attempting to bring Netflix’s all-you-can-watch model to the cineplex has been sacrificed at the altar of bungled communication.

The service, called MoviePass, offered customers a $50/month pass to unlimited movie screenings at participating theaters with a smartphone app in place of the traditional paper ticket.

The app would also let patrons select movies, locate participating theaters and showtimes and go directly to the ticket-taker without ever having to stand in line.

“Even with online ticketing, this side of the business is still a 75-year-old business and there’s not a lot of innovation,” MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes told Wired. “Getting your tickets, how you do that, how you interact with the theater, how you interact with the studio, none of that has really changed. We’re giving the viewer a lot more power and also allowing [studios and moviegoers] to speak with each other.”

Since concessions are a major profit center for any given theater, it stands to reason anything that puts more butts in seats and fills more bellies full of popcorn could be an addition to a business increasingly fearful of competition from illegal piracy and/or companies like Netflix.

The National Association of Theatre Owners reports that the average price of a single movie ticket last year was $7.89, meaning that someone would have to watch at least seven films a month in order to make the service worthwhile–meaning MoviePass is probably only for the most hardcore movie buffs. However, pre-paying for tickets might encourage someone to take chances on films they might otherwise not see in the theaters.

In an article that appeared in yesterday’s SF Chronicle, MoviePass said that a beta test of the service launched in 21 Bay Area theaters Wednesday, with the Clay, the Bridge, the Lumiere, the Embarcadero, Opera Plaza Cinemas and AMC Van Ness 14 in San Francisco all participating.

But they weren’t.

Instead, the theater chains touted as participants in the service are refusing to honor MoviePass’s tickets.

Representatives from the theaters claim that MoviePass never actually informed them that the program was going to be instituted at their theaters and instead interacted solely with their ticketing partners.

Dominic Espinosa, the Director of Operations at Camera Cinemas, hadn’t even heard of MoviePass until reading about the pilot program in a news article.

Spikes told that this misunderstanding is largely due to the difficulties the company had in establishing consistent lines of communication with studios and representative from the large theater chains.

“Getting meetings has been challenging,” he admits, “and we haven’t really been taken seriously.”

Landmark Theatres CEO Ted Mundorff said he was “stunned” that MoviePass would launch without input from theaters and that Landmark, “[isn’t] interested in outside entities setting ticket prices for us.”

After the San Francisco beta test, the service was slated to move to other select cities across country before seeing a full release on approximately 40% of theaters nationally in the fall.

With this initial test having fallen though, those plans look to be on hold while the company works on lining up other theaters interested in trying out the service.

Spikes added, “we’re enthusiastic that once we can walk them through the service they’ll be excited, we just haven’t had that opportunity yet. “The silver lining of all of this is that this has created the ability to have that dialog now.”

In related news, Netflix’s stock price has more than doubled since this time last year.

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