Movie fans complain a lot about the cost of watching films, either in theaters or online. Ticket prices now average about $8 nationwide, and waiting a couple months until they're available on Netflix now costs about twice what it used to, thanks to that service's recent rate hike.
But there are some new alternatives to paying face value for movie tickets or online rentals. In some cases, they involve leveraging the power of social media to get group discounts. Read on to see how some services are offering ways to save money on movies.
Online group-purchase coupon services like Groupon, Living Social, and Daily Candy have all tried, with varying success, to offer discounted movie tickets this year. Theater owners still get full price, with third parties paying the difference. (This spring's opening-weekend Groupon discount of 'The Lincoln Lawyer' was such an effort, with studio Lionsgate paying the difference as a promotional cost.) According to the Los Angeles Times, however, theater owners are leery of letting moviegoers become accustomed to having someone else set ticket prices, especially discounted ticket prices.
Nonetheless, MoviePass is moving forward with a new partner, Hollywood Movie Money, a company whose vouchers have long been accepted by major theater chains. Subscribers will be able to print out their own Hollywood Movie Money vouchers off their computers. (The business model depends, as Netflix does, on a large percentage of subscribers paying cash up front for more services than they end up using.) Variety says theater owners may still bristle at the MoviePass initiative, but the company says it hopes they'll change their mind if they see that MoviePass increases theater attendance -- and snack-counter sales, which is where theaters make most of their money anyway.
Group discounts are available as well for the still-new medium of online movie rentals, where prices are much more in flux than they are under the long-established system of theatrical exhibition. The startup site flickme.com has added a social-media component to its rental library, the Associated Press reports. Standard movie rentals there cost $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older films, but you can rent for as little as $1.49 if you pick a movie recommended by a friend. (This price break is available on only about a third of flickme's library, which consists of about 1,000 films so far.) If you recommend a movie, you can provide such a discount to up to 10 of your friends, though you'll have to pay full price.
The AP sees the flickme deal as part of a larger trend of social-media rentals, noting that studios are starting to make streaming rentals available directly through Facebook for as little as $3 apiece.
You can effectively download a movie for as little as $1.99 on mSpot, a cloud library for mobile devices and PCs. The company's new service allows you to watch movies DVR-style -- that is, you can start watching while the movie is still downloading or buffering, and you can finish watching offline. This is especially handy for people who watch movies on cell phones or tablets; in fact, according to a company press release, mSpot's new app comes pre-loaded on some new Lenovo tablets.
Whether these initiatives will change the way we watch movies remains to be seen. But they may be the first step in changing the way we pay for them.
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.