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Sinemia Causes More Trouble Than It’s Worth for SoCal Movielovers

Storytelling has been a critical component in the social evolution of our species for thousands of years. Back in the early 1900s, little movie houses called nickelodeons opened up all over the country offering people the latest and greatest way to experience the evolution of the storytelling tradition for only five cents. Over the years, of course, prices have gone up a bit. According to Box Office Mojo, average ticket prices have basically climbed a whole two dollars in the last 10 years, from $7.18 in 2008 to $9.14 in 2018. That’s just averages; for instance, if you want to see the latest and greatest blockbuster extravaganza at Irvine Spectrum’s Imax 3D theater, you’re going to be shelling out $22.20 (not to mention the price of snacks). The increases are a result of a number of considerations, including inflation, competing entertainment markets and other economic factors. That said, there have always been a few ways for moviegoers to avoid paying premium prices; usually, they seek out the cheapie theaters or go to early shows at matinee prices. Still, going to see first-run movies on opening night is a social institution that even the poor can appreciate.

Enter subscription-based, movie ticketing services such as MoviePass and Sinemia. When these seemingly too-good-to-be-true concepts first appeared, in the early-mid 2010s, they appealed instantly to movie buffs and students on a budget. But as subscription members such as this reporter gradually discovered, the experience of being a subscriber has been fraught with downward-spiraling growing pains.

In August of 2017, MoviePass was at the top of the subscription-based movie ticket game. Their deal offered to provide subscribers with the luxury of seeing one movie a day for a monthly rate of $9.95. They were instantly flooded with subscription requests, and within a month they had gone from 400,000 to 600,000 subscribers; plus their website had crashed as a result of all the traffic. By March of 2018, the company had around 2 million subscribers and began to restructure its plan — including lowering its monthly rate to $6.95 for annual subscribers.

By this time, however, the buzz was out, and the competitors began muscling in on the action. Most notably AMC Stubs A-List (three movies a week for $19.95 / mo) and Sinemia (various packages). Very soon after, MoviePass was in dire financial straits, as reported in the New York Times, and has since significantly restructured its model and lost over a million subscribers. As of this month, MoviePass offers three plans. The “Select” plan offers only three movies a month for $10, with exclusions like 3D films and opening weekend movies. The “All Access” plan allows those opening weekend films for five extra bucks, and for $20 a month, subscribers to the “Red Carpet” program can see IMAX and 3D films as well. However, in some areas, the prices for these plans vary.

Going back to March 2018, this reporter was in the market for a subscription service. I asked around, and the word on the street from SoCal students was that MoviePass – which had been the subject of headlines dealing with AMC’s resistance to being included in MoviePass’s subscription service – was on a downward trajectory, and my best bet was to check out Sinemia. So, I went to their website and purchased an annual subscription for $6.99 / mo for two movies a month, at any theater, with no blackout days. That’s when the fun began.

Graphic by Scott Feinblatt

The way the system was established, I was to receive a membership card, in the mail, which I could use like a credit card to purchase my tickets. After a month, I followed up with Sinemia’s customer service to see where my card was. Almost immediately, I received an automated response informing me to look for answers to common questions on their website and that a personal response was forthcoming. Nearly a week later, I followed up again and received another formal response. The contract stated that the period of my paid membership would begin the first time I used my card, so I was not concerned about the time I’d lost out on. Finally, I attempted to contact one of their customer service people by responding to their solicitation for me to buy additional memberships for my friends.

A customer service rep called Marty informed me that my card would be sent to me ASAP, and I could download their app for use in lieu of the card. I then downloaded the app and tried to figure out how to use it, briefly, before becoming distracted. By the time September came around, I remembered that I was still waiting for my Sinemia card, and thought I’d try to use the app to see a movie. Unfortunately, Marty had not informed me that the period of my paid membership would start the second I downloaded the app.

To make a longer and very annoying story short, it’s been nearly a year, and the company is no longer issuing membership cards. I tried to see a movie once and was bombarded by service fees. I said, “The hell with it!” and tried to book the ticket at an AMC theater while paying the extra fee. The theater did not recognize the approval code that the app had provided for purchasing the ticket, and I paid full price for my ticket. I then learned that Sinemia has recently been ruffling feathers all throughout SoCal, with many people complaining about service fees and non-functionality. Furthermore, the company does not even send me formal responses anymore; their customer service has dried up.

The takeaway from all of this is that Sinemia, like MoviePass, was a nice dream, and it may yet provide some satisfaction to movie lovers and students who do not thrive in this economy; but Sinemia’s service, combined with its service providers, appears to be a lumbering trainwreck, which may, yet, be of some value … in the event that there’s a class action settlement in the future. In the meantime, you can either wager on the future and reliability of the AMC Stubs A-List or just keep your eyes on those matinee showings and cheapie theaters to get your optimal experience of our shared storytelling tradition.