Back in August, as the wheels were coming off the MoviePass wagon — well, to be precise, it was more a case of wheels coming off the wagon, rolling down the street, and splashing mud on a sidewalk crowded with nuns — your film editor contemplated the future of subscription movie services. “This can be done,” I wrote. “The moviegoing subscription model can succeed, increasing theater attendance, expanding the audiences for small but worthy films, and, ultimately, hopefully, showing a profit. But accomplishing those goals will require a company with a sound strategy.” And so, with my MoviePass membership long cancelled (if I wanted to play Russian roulette, I’d just play it), I tried out Sinemia, the chief independent competitor for your MoviePass dollar. And after a three-week test drive, I honestly can’t tell you if they’re that “company with a sound strategy” I was pining for. Do they fix the problems with MoviePass? Many of them, yes. But Sinemia’s got problems of its own.
It begins with the enrollment process, which is kind of like the “Tootsie Fruitsie Ice Cream” scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races — a single, seemingly simple purchase that keeps leading to more purchases. Sinemia offers up several tiered pricing plans, starting with one movie ticket per month at $4.99/month, but the marquee value, the MoviePass disrupter, is the “A Movie Every Day” plan, which offers “30 movie tickets per month” (screw you, January and March and May, etc.) for $29.99/month, and without the restrictions on 3D and advance tickets that so annoyed MoviePass users. It’s three times the cost of that service, but we can all agree that MoviePass was wildly underpriced and entirely unsustainable; this is still a hell of a deal, about the cost of two movie tickets here in New York City, so yeah, sign me up!
Well, hang on. That $29.99/month is an average price for an annual plan; signing up for that will set you back about $360. Not to worry, though! There is a monthly option for the “Movie Every Day” plan, albeit one with a catch — if you go that route, you have to pay a one-time “club membership initiation” fee of another $29.99. So that means the first month will cost you $59.96. But hey, that’s still a pretty good deal, four movie tickets and I’ll certainly use it more than four times in a month (big Buster Keaton retrospective at Quad Cinema and all), so yeah, sign me up!
Well, hang on. Though Sinemia works as a cardless app, you have to wait for the physical card to arrive before you can use the app. (Sound familiar, MoviePassers?) But hey, as noted in Section 27.19 of the terms and conditions, “Sinemia Cardless Activation can take up to 1-2 weeks and the subscriber can speed up the process by purchasing Accelerated Cardless Activation after purchasing a subscription.” That “Accelerated Cardless Activation” costs another $10, so you either have to up your initial expenditure to $69.96, or wait out that 1-2 weeks, even though (in my case, at least), you’re charged for that first month and the one-time “initiation” fee when you sign up, not when it’s “activated.”
So you’re basically either paying the extra $10 up front, or wasting half of that $60 for a service you can’t use yet. I’m pretty sure they figure you’ll do the math. Of course, it’s possible your card won’t come in that two-week window (I heard from people on Twitter who haven’t received theirs months after sign-up), at which point I’m told they waive the $10 fee, so it really is just asking for more money from people wanting to go ahead and use the service they’ve already paid $60 for. (I was unable to get confirmation on this from anyone at Sinemia; they stopped responding to my DMs when I indicated I was attempting to clarify the fine print of their service for this article, and did not respond to email requests from comment.)
But then, at long last, finally you can use Sinemia, and get your 30 movie tickets for $30 a month, right? Uh, sorta. The relatively simple MoviePass process — show up at the theatre, check in, get your ticket, and see a movie — doesn’t work with Sinemia until you activate the physical card, which you may have to wait for. Instead, with the cardless set-up, you have to get all of your tickets using advance ticketing services, a complicated process involving both the app and a web browser or ticketing app, which I’ll lay out in list form so as not to drown you in text:
- In the Sinemia app, search for the theater where you’re seeing the movie.
- Choose the ticketing service that theater uses: either Atom, Movietickets (which Sinemia don’t seem to realize has been purchased by Fandango), or “other ticket selling website.”
- The app then directs you to go to the ticketing service to make sure seats are available for that theater and show time.
- On the ticketing site, find the movie, theater, and showtime you want.
- Select your ticket and begin the ticket purchase process.
- When you get to the payment information, go back to the app, and enter the date and time (but not the movie!) you’re going to.
- Indicate if it’s a 2D or 3D movie, and then reserve (and confirm) the ticket.
- Confirm that you’re going to pay the $1.50-$2.00 convenience fee incurred by online ticketing. (More on this later.)
- The app then generates a one-time-use credit card number for the purchase, which you then go back to the ticketing site/app and enter as your payment method to complete the ticket purchase.
- Upon arrival at the theatre, you use the ticketing service’s confirmation number to pick up your ticket.
- You still have to check in! And not by just opening up the app and selecting the ticket you already went through all those steps to purchase; you have to search for the movie title in the app and confirm the whole thing all over again.
- Also, side note: You can only have one outstanding advance purchase at a time, so until you check in for Wednesday’s movie, you can’t use the service to get a ticket to a screening on Thursday.
KINDA COMPLICATED, HUH?
And yes, you read step eight right. In addition to all the money you’ve spent on your membership and the various fees therein, any time you purchase an advance ticket — which you have to do if you’re not using the card, which, as we’ve covered, can take a long while to arrive — you have to shell out the $1.50 or $2.00 (depending on the service you use) online ticketing service charge yourself. Sinemia will cover the $16 ticket, but not the other two bucks. There are workarounds here; I always try to go through Facebook’s “Movie Ticketing” portal, which waives the fee, but it’s not available for all movies and showtimes. Point is, if you’re one of those “power users” who really goes to a movie every day, your use of the advance ticketing option (which, again, is not an option if you’re cardless) could add another $45-$60 a month to your credit card bill. That’s more than the cost of the membership. Unsurprisingly, these fees aren’t mentioned anywhere in their main page sales pitch.
UPDATE [12/10/18]: Shortly after the publication of this piece, I was contacted by a Sinemia representative. I was told that Sinema is “entirely cardless now,” but a physical card option was “coming soon”; I was also told that “the wait time for activation does not count toward subscribers’ monthly or yearly cycle,” which was contrary to my own subscriber experience.
Shortly thereafter, Sinemia added another per-use fee: a $1.80 “processing fee,” which you’re charged each time you use the service to purchase an advance ticket, in addition to covering the (usually $1.50-$2.00) online ticketing surcharge. And, again, you have to pay these fees if you use Sinemia, since they don’t have the option of a MoviePass-style physical card.
But wait, they do! And it will cost you between $15-$30 to get one, depending on your Sinemia plan. I asked the company’s rep why they were charging for a card when their competitors offer it for free. Their response: “Only one other competitor offers physical cards, and with them, customers do not have the option to buy their ticket in advance online. Sinemia is offering Sinemia Cardless system as the default, allowing customers to get their tickets in advance, with physical cards as an extra feature offered by Sinemia to customers upon request.”
So your options are either going cardless and spending north of $3 per advance ticket purchase in various fees, or putting out another flat fee to get a physical card. They’re not my options, not anymore; around the same time I was contemplating this choice, the app straight-up didn’t work when I was attempting to purchase an advance ticket, so I had to buy it myself. When I requested a reimbursement, since this was an app failure, I was flatly refused by their customer service (“Unfortunately, Sinemia is not responsible for out of pocket purchases”); they offered to “add an additional movie day” to my billing cycle.
So, yeah, I’m not a member anymore. Your mileage may vary. But in my experience, it’s kind of a terrible service.