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The man who put MoviePass in spotlight just made a bid to take it private — and revive it

Helios and Matheson CEO Ted Farnsworth. Helios is the parent company of MoviePass.
Helios and Matheson CEO Ted Farnsworth. Helios is the parent company of MoviePass.

Ted Farnsworth is a survivor.

The sometime South Florida resident — and, until Tuesday, head of MoviePass’ parent company — has stared down lawsuits, busted businesses, tech industry scrutiny, and Hollywood skepticism.

Farnsworth remains standing — and is now ready for his next act.

On Tuesday, Farnsworth announced he would be stepping down as chairman and CEO of Helios and Matheson to make a bid for MoviePass, the movie-going subscription service that set the film industry ablaze — only to seemingly flame out as technical glitches and mutinous subscribers reduced usage to a fraction. Terms of his bid were not disclosed.

Though Farnsworth did not create MoviePass, he is credited with setting up the $9.95 model that saw the company scale overnight from a small startup to a business with more than several million subscribers.

Calling from his New York office — he now splits his time and staff between Manhattan and Miami — Farnsworth said he had few regrets, only lessons learned.

“Are there a million things we would have done differently? Absolutely,” he said. “But we’re going to take what we did right and move forward.”

Farnsworth has his work ahead of him. Earlier this month, Helios announced it would be suspending MoviePass services, citing insufficient funding. Farnsworth also acknowledged that the MoviePass brand had been damaged — the service has suffered through a customer-information breach and app outages, as well as reports it worked to limit some users’ access.

Chief among Farnsworth’s new vision for the service: movies.

MoviePass Films has produced, or has in production, more than a dozen films, including ones lauded at Cannes and nominated for an Oscar (though others have been raked by critics).

Either way, Farnsworth says, the company’s new revenue model would revolve around encouraging subscribers to check out MoviePass-produced flicks — with perks included.

“We’d have red carpet events, exclusive access, the whole thing,” he said.

Farnsworth said that if his bid goes through, there’d be a “top-to-bottom” re-evaluation of the product, but that Mitch Lowe, MoviePass’ current CEO, is still on the job.

A representative for Helios did not respond to a request for comment.

Industry analysts say that no matter the outcome, MoviePass has left an indelible mark on the industry. One need only witness the rise of copycat subscription services rolled out by large theater chains, including AMC and Regal. As Steven Zeitchik, entertainment business reporter at The Washington Post, tweeted recently, “The company may be gone, but its legacy will live on.”

Farnsworth, too, still takes pride in what MoviePass has been able to accomplish.

We obviously broke the old system,” he said.

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