From left, Keith Walker and Matt Sconce, founders of Movie Heroes, added Hanford's Metro 4 theater to their subscription movie service network in 2017. It closed Saturday Photo contributed.
Written by Edward Smith
The Central Valley’s home-grown movie subscription service, Movie Heroes, finally got a chance this past weekend to test its product in a more competitive market in Hanford.
While the Metro 4 theater officially changed hands on Oct. 1, it wasn’t until Oct. 6 that the theater held showings for new movies, heralding it as their “big launch,” according to CCO Matt Sconce.
This will be the first time, in Sconce’s opinion, that the company will really get to see how a relatively untested service like a movie subscription fares against the bigger competition.
Though the location at Hanford still sells tickets to movie showings, the biggest news about the theater is its innovative subscription service, where customers pay a monthly fee of $19.95 to be able to see unlimited movies at any one of the three theaters in the Valley under the Movie Heroes umbrella.
The subscription was a way to save the Hanford Metro 4, which was slated to close back in July. Though, when Sconce was informed of the theater’s pending closing, the team over at Movie Heroes moved and mobilized the public, petitioning the theater’s owners to keep doors open so Movie Heroes could purchase the theater.
Competition was the biggest threat to the theater, according to Mai Xiong, general manager of the Metro 4, who has been with the company for over four years and oversaw the transition from its previous owners to Movie Heroes.
Unlike the theaters in Coalinga and Oakhurst, the Metro 4 has Cinemark 8 just down the road, owned by Cinemark Holdings, Inc., a nation-wide theater chain.
The kind of support theaters get from corporate ownership can sustain them through dry times, much like what the movie theater industry has been facing as of late.
But Movie Heroes is no stranger to saving theaters from dwindling sales.
With some startup money—aided by the sale of co-founder Keith Walker’s car—the duo of Walker and Sconce was able to purchase the Met Theater and implement the subscription software Walker designed that became Movie Heroes.
Excitement quickly faded as the team found out that, at that time, movie studios did not give movies to membership theaters.
They had to negotiate with each studio individually and after three weeks of negotiations, the company was granted trial runs with Paramount, Universal and Disney.
It took almost an entire year for them to get the rest of the studios on board with the budding company.
“When they realized that we were trustworthy people and we were delivering on what we promised—that’s how we moved forward with movie heroes,” Sconce said. “That’s how we also moved forward with Hanford. We have this track record now with Coalinga and with Oakhurst and people can now see that we have history and we’ve done it successfully.”
For the theaters in Oakhurst, Coalinga and now Hanford, they hope that a dedicated public and an innovative product will be enough to bring the network of theaters into the future.
While other movie subscription services are busting at the seams with low price-points and exhaustive subscription numbers, Movie Heroes is hoping that four years of data and experience will provide them with the guidance to make it through their next challenge.
“We realized that the price point is correct,” Sconce said. “People watch 2-3 movies a month. Some watch 10 and some watch one.”
They began with trying different approaches, like limiting the ability to watch a movie more than once, but time demonstrated that their $19.95 subscription service could sustain them and allow for growth, and they were able to provide unlimited viewings.
The company was able to synchronize the cost of seeing a movie with the cost of subscription, and, according to Sconce, it only took a year to triple attendance and double revenue.
Reel Time in Coalinga experienced similar trouble and Movie Heroes worked with owner Scott Netherton to coordinate the theaters, implementing the subscription service there, too.
Now, for Hanford, the challenge will be competing with established members of the industry.
“This is an interesting test,” Sconce said. “Metro 4 is a new situation because it’s very close to competition. We wouldn’t have moved into it if we didn’t think it would be successful.”
What the theater hopes will work is the freedom of being an independent theater.
According to Xiong, attendance at the theater is largely the older populations, and that calls for a different selection to accommodate a certain taste in movies.
Films like “The Glass Castle” and “Maudie” sold well, while “The Mountain Between Us” did the best.
Moving forward, the company hopes that the smaller, more catered touch of an independent theater will bring viewers back into their seats.