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The Subscription Model Takeover Is Nearly Complete

With AMC introducing a MoviePass competitor, the monthly-fee approach has conquered all corners of the content world

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On Wednesday, AMC announced it is launching a new subscription movie service called Stubs A-List on June 26. It will cost $19.95 a month and allow users to watch as many as three movies per week, including 3D and IMAX movies. The subscription also offers discounts on snacks and dining, it nixes online ticketing fees, and users can make multiple reservations at once or see the same movie more than once. Yes, this sounds an awful lot like MoviePass.

AMC is throwing its hat in the subscription ring with a service that costs far more than MoviePass does, but it will likely be easier to use and already sounds more sustainable for AMC. $19.95 a month is a difficult number to swallow for customers who are accustomed to something closer to $10 a month for TV or music streaming plans, or who use MoviePass, which is a staggeringly low $7.95 a month.

The financial specifics of Stubs A-List versus MoviePass don’t matter as much as AMC’s move into the market. Pandora and Spotify disrupted the music industry, and Netflix and Hulu disrupted the traditional television model. How people consume both of those things changed drastically over the past decade or so, but the theater experience remained something of a content relic. The only thing that seemed to change was the ever-inflating price of a ticket. MoviePass upended what was one of the last content industries that the digital subscription model hadn’t subverted. The service has been a hit, despite its app outages and customer complaints. It’s defined itself as something of a risk-taking, even logic-defying company, while remaining popular with movie lovers who are sick of paying nearly $20 for just one film at theater prices. Until now, though, MoviePass didn’t have any competitors, and so its unconventional model worked.

The technology industry has long been using subscriptions to deliver content, and it’s a model that consumers are now used to. Essentially, users rent almost all content instead of buying a record, a DVD, or an experience at the movies. People rent access to movies and TV shows; people even rent access to clothing. Actual ownership, of both physical and digital items, is decreasing. As renting has become the norm, subscriptions have become a stable investment choice with rising stock. Jim Cramer declared it the “best secular” market trend.

The change coming for the movie industry parallels the transformation of the television industry. Services like Netflix and Hulu entered the market, suddenly, and behemoths like Comcast (now Xfinity) and Time Warner were slow to catch up. The subscription services forced the legacy companies to alter how cable TV was sold to customers, further disrupting their own market. The results have been mixed; cord-cutters’ dreams have yet to be truly realized, and between streaming platforms, cable companies, and even hardware makers launching subscription products, the options can be dizzying.

Users like subscription models—or at least are used to them by now—and most business sectors have received the message. For movie theaters, the competition between companies and the resulting inconveniences for customers is just beginning. For a period of time, MoviePass pulled access from a handful of AMC locations (it later restored them). Surely new businesses will enter the market and new rivalry tactics will be used. If there’s anything to be learned from the tech market that spawned the subscription model, it’s that this moment of affordably priced tickets won’t last. Enjoy easy-to-choose-from movie subscriptions while you can.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that AMC blocked MoviePass at a handful of its theaters. Rather, MoviePass pulled access to its services from the locations.