Will MoviePass’ subscription plan connect with moviegoers?

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Hollywood is facing a tough time, as a rise in ticket prices and lackluster movie choices — not to mention an explosion in other entertainment choices — is causing some film fans to stay at home. Now a new startup is looking to make moviegoing a more attractive proposition, with a flat subscription fee and mobile apps aimed at helping viewers find the right movie.

MoviePass, which is backed by AOL Ventures, True Ventures (see disclosure) and Lambert Media, will soon begin offering a $50 all-you-can-eat monthly subscription video plan that will let users watch any movie they want at any participating movie theater. It will also offer other plans as time goes on, including a $30 offering that lets users watch up to four movies a month.

While the subscription package is a big part of the service, MoviePass hopes to create interest in moviegoing through movie apps. The beta version of the service is only available through mobile web apps now, but the company soon expects to launch native apps for iOS and Android devices. Those apps will offer up trailers, reviews and recommendations for movies based on a user’s viewing history. It will also let users preorder DVDs and merchandise for movies they just watched.

MoviePass will officially launch its beta program with a group of theaters in San Francisco. The plan is to capture potential viewers ahead of the July 4 holiday, which traditionally is one of Hollywood’s biggest box office weekends. It has plans to roll out its beta program throughout the summer, with a national launch in the fall. Once launched broadly, it expects to be available in about 40 percent of theaters nationwide.

MoviePass launches while Hollywood appears to be in flux: While revenues have been only slightly down, due to higher-priced 3-D and Imax films, attendance has been off significantly since the beginning of the year. To a certain extent, that’s related to the successes of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland — two 3-D films that connected with audiences in a big way — in late 2009 and early 2010. With no comparable titles, the studios have had problems filling seats at local movie theaters. And it seems there’s been a bit of a 3-D backlash, as U.S. viewers increasingly are choosing lower-priced 2-D versions of films as opposed to those sold at a premium.

It remains to be seen if the service will connect with moviegoers. On the one hand, for some cinephiles, a $50 upfront price tag could actually help them save cash on frequent moviegoing. And it could get some more-casual viewers into the seats and spending money on concessions — where the real money is made for distributors. But $50 upfront could also be a barrier to entry for some users who don’t want to commit.

(Disclosure: MoviePass is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, the founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.)

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