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MoviePass' eye-tracking software pauses ads if you look away

MoviePass, a once-popular movie ticketing service, announced its return this summer with an unsettling twist – the new mobile app will track whether you're actually watching its ads.


MoviePass is re-launching, but this time as a web3-style phone app incorporating eye-tracking software that'll compel you to keep your eyes glued to the screen for the duration of ads. If you look away, the ads will stop, and you won't get your points (or a movie ticket, for that matter).

moviepass website announcement

Don't Look Away!

In brief, MoviePass used to be a service where users earned credits for free cinema tickets by watching ads. The "problem" was people used to play those ads in the background while doing something else. This kind of defeated the entire purpose of the system, and eventually left the company with insufficient funds from its investors and clients. The new MoviePass management, however, is determined to keep the company profitable by making sure that users are actually watching the ads this time. The new system will function with the aid of the facial recognition and eye-tracking tech in our phones.

It's a way to close that loop and make it far more efficient of a system... not unlike what you'd normally see when you go to a movie theater, but this is customized for you.

Stacy Spikes, co-founder of MoviePass

So, if you want to earn some movie tickets, or better yet, buy them with digital currency, you'll have that option with MoviePass's second incarnation, however, you'll need to watch the adverts for real – no more playing ads while making dinner. The new app utilizes eye-tracking software to ensure that your eyes are on the screen for the duration of the commercial. Much like the short horror movie called Don't Look Away – all is well as long as you don't avert your gaze from the monster.

MoviePass launched in 2011, but it only took off in 2016 when it launched a program that enabled users to see unlimited movies in the cinema for a flat fee. Eventually, lots of people watching lots of movies for very little money turned out to be unsustainable, and MoviePass died in 2019, with the company declaring bankruptcy the next year (after staying on life support for a while).

Fifteen Million Merits

MoviePass openly states its resolution to make sure that advertising content no longer goes unseen. At the same time, they want to provide users the opportunity to develop their online wallets. Users will be able to purchase movies and other MoviePass products, or even invest in company shares in the future.

We had an early version of this where you know what happened. People put the phone down and left and didn't pay any attention to it. Right now 70 percent of video advertising is unseen. This is a way that advertisers get the impact they're looking for but you're also getting the impact yourself.

Stacy Spikes, co-founder of MoviePass

This doesn't sound like such a bad idea until you realize that it's a Black Mirror episode happening in real time. The episode, called Fifteen Million Merits, depicts a world where members of society must cycle on exercise bikes, while watching endless commercials, to earn a currency called "merits", which they can use in their everyday life. The concept is reduced to absurdity when the main protagonist Bing can't even spare the merits to skip an ad featuring his girlfriend, Abi, on a fictional pornography channel called WraithBabes. Since he's out of merits, a high-pitched noise screeches whenever he looks away from the screen – so he's forced to watch.

Fifteen Million Merits is a bleak dystopian fiction that's difficult to watch, and offers clear commentary on modern society, capitalism, and digital privacy abuse. Although containing elements of science fiction and set in the distant future, more often than not, that "future" is eerily reminiscent of our present. But are people ready to sell their attention, emotions, and cognition to allow apps to track their eyes while watching ads, just so they can see a movie "for less"? Whether the MoviePass relaunch ultimately turns into a parody of Black Mirror, only time (and the success of MoviePass) will tell. As we see it, this is a glaring reminder that businesses keep using dystopian fiction as a blueprint, rather than heeding its warnings.

Written by: Danka Delić

With her BA in English Language and Literature, Private Pilot Licence, and passion for researching and writing, Danka brings further diversity to the team. As a former world traveler, she learned to appreciate cyber security and the necessity for digital privacy. Danka is a nature, animal, and written-word lover. She enjoys staying on the go, both mentally and physically, and spends most of her free time either reading or hiking with her dog.

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on October 20, 2023

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