Controversial-but-popular cinema subscription service MoviePass did a belly flop on Wall Street this week, as investors feared for the survival of the New York-based company that lets users see multiple movies for less than $10 a month.
Shares of MoviePass’ parent company Helios & Matheson Analytics Inc. tumbled nearly 70 percent Monday through today to about 65 cents a share, after the company disclosed that it was running low on cash. That represents a stunning decline for a stock that peaked at nearly $33 a share in October.
In a recent regulatory filing, Helios said it had $15.5 million in cash available as of April 30, with an additional $27.9 million coming in. The company also said it has been burning $21.7 million a month in cash since September.
MoviePass has become the most closely watched new player in the exhibition business since Helios & Matheson bought the startup in August and slashed its price for moviegoers. MoviePass soared from 20,000 users to more than 2 million after it dropped its monthly fee to $9.95 from its previous price of $30 to $50. The fast-growing service has drawn the ire of major cinema chains such a AMC Theatres, which say the low price will devalue the moviegoing experience.
The company pays theaters the full price of every ticket subscribers buy with its red debit card and smartphone app. Because the average ticket price is more than $9 (much more in some places), the company loses money on every user who goes to the movies more than once a month.
That has prompted some analysts to say that the bargain is too good to survive. Helios’ auditors in April expressed doubt that it could continue as a “going concern” at MoviePass’ current money-losing pace.
“Unless they demonstrate a path to break even, it’s hard to imagine anyone investing in the company,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, in an email Friday. “The ‘right’ model might be a subscription at $25 a month or so, but if subscribers pay only $10 and go to more than one movie a month, it’s impossible for me to see a path to profitability.”
Helios & Matheson Chief Executive Ted Farnsworth dismissed the concerns, saying the company has recently slashed its burn rate by 35 percent thanks to measures meant to prevent abuse of the app. MoviePass recently blocked users from seeing the same movie multiple times, and began testing a verification system that requires some users to upload photos of their tickets.
The company briefly stopped offering its one-movie-a-day deal to new subscribers, in favor of a new program that allowed four movies a month, bundled with a free trial of iHeart Radio’s online music service. However, MoviePass recently brought back the movie-a-day model.
Farnsworth said he still expects MoviePass to grow to 5 million subscribers and become cash-flow positive by the end of this year.
“We have always known, from when MoviePass took off in August, that it was going to be a high cash-burn business model,” Farnsworth said in a statement. “We have access in capital markets to over $300 million. So there is plenty of cash available to sustain the subscriber growth and movie-going habits of our users.”
Helios shares crashed 45 percent on Wednesday, after the company disclosed its cash situation to investors. The stock fell another 23 percent on Thursday, but recovered 4 cents, or about 6 percent, in regular trading today.