We may not get a Hollywood ending for MoviePass parent Helios and Matheson Analytics (NASDAQ:HMNY). The stock tumbled 31% on Tuesday after an SEC filing confirmed the cash crunch facing the seemingly unsustainable business model. 

Helios and Matheson had just $15.5 million in available cash at the end of April. There's another $27.9 million on deposit with merchant processors from the sale of annual and quarterly payment plans that will be available to Helios and Matheson as the year plays out. There doesn't seem to be a lot of dry powder left for a company that admits it's losing more than $20 million a month. MoviePass is on the brink of buckling absent a cash infusion or an outright buyout, but multiplex operators that are talking down MoviePass may regret getting what they want if the movie subscription service goes belly up.

AMC 14 in Saratoga.

Image source: AMC Entertainment.

The silver screen goes for the bronze

MoviePass in its current form is built to scale quickly at the expense of burning through a ton of dough in the process. For $9.95 a month, a person can catch a standard movie screening every single day at most local movie theaters. Entertainment smorgasbord subscriptions are exploding in popularity, but it's typically through digital platforms where costs can be reasonably controlled. 

MoviePass is bananas. It has to pay retail prices at most chains, and even AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC) is trolling the platform these days. MoviePass came up during AMC's earnings call earlier this week. AMC CEO Adam Aron points out that "hundreds of thousands" of MoviePass subscribers come to AMC Theatres, doing so at a frequency of 2.62 times in March and 2.75 in April. MoviePass is paying AMC $12.02 per movie, far more than the $9.78 average price per ticket at AMC during the quarter. MoviePass members tend to see more expensive screenings. Why go see a cheaper matinee when it's on someone else's dime? 

AMC has been openly critical of MoviePass, arguing that it devalues the theatergoing experience. There's some truth to that opinion, and Aron took a swing at the sustainability of its model during Monday's earnings call. 

"I took a calculator out, and I multiplied 2.75 times 12.02," Aron said. "I got to a number that was considerably larger than $9.95."

AMC has been dissing MoviePass since last summer, when Helios and Matheson acquired a controlling stake in the service, slashing its price to $9.95 a month. The problem with movie theater chains trying to work against MoviePass than finding a way to make it work is that if MoviePass goes under, most of those subscribers aren't coming back. MoviePass may very well go under this year, but so will the hundreds of thousands of members seeing nearly three movies a month at AMC. Those who do stick around will naturally be buying cheaper tickets on average. 

Tickets, please

The cash crunch is real. Helios and Matheson stock took a hit in mid-April when it raised $30 million through a dilutive stock offering. Now we learn that MoviePass had just $15.5 million in available cash less than two weeks later. 

It's going to be easy for MoviePass to raise money through another stock offering, and it's a bad credit risk now that even its auditors have voiced their doubts about the business. MoviePass has been able to improve its cash flow by selling discounted annual passes in the past, but would you pay up front for a service that may not be around during the term of the offer? 

A silver lining here is that MoviePass did say that it's been able to reduce its cash deficit during the first week of May by more than 35% after rolling out initiatives that curb the use and more importantly misuse of its product. MoviePass accounts are now tethered to a single smartphone, preventing the widespread sharing in the past of subscriber accounts with friends and family. MoviePass is also now enforcing its rule that limits the ability to see the same movie twice, a move that curbs usage with some of its more active users. 

The model needs mending. MoviePass mentioned in an interview last week that it would be rolling out new plans for families, groups, and even the premium screenings that it doesn't presently offer. It also has ambitious plans to subsidize some of its losses through advertising, selling user data, sponsorships, and marketing merchandise. It will need time to see any of these incremental revenue streams through, but now time is not on its side. 

The same company that was saying that it's running at a cash-deficit average of $20 million a month through the six months ending in March is now saying it lost an average of $21.7 million through the seven months ending in April. In other words, it lost more than $30 million last month. 

MoviePass may go down if it doesn't find a fat-cat suitor interested in reaching its nearly 3 million members, but if it does go down, it will probably take a few cocky multiplex operators down in the process.  

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.