In-Home Screening Room Draws Support From Major Filmmakers

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Last week, we took note of a new business venture called Screening Room spearheaded by Napster founder Sean Parker. The proposed service would digitally stream the latest major-studio theatrical releases into the confines of private American homes for a hefty estimated fee of $50 on the same day as in-theater premieres, rendering a trip to the local cineplex less necessary than ever. Naturally, this radical new strategy would change the entire face of the industry, and has accordingly raised hackles on the production, distribution, and exhibition sides of Hollywood. As movie theaters struggle to stay relevant and profitable, Parker’s every press conference sounds like a death knell. And this weekend, both sides of this instantly contentious debate dug in their heels on their positions.

Variety reports that Parker has corralled an impressive stable of big-name investors to reassure the public of the good intentions of the Screening Room, including luminaries Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, the Ron Howard/Brian Grazer team, Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, Taylor Hackford, and Frank Marshall. These shareholders see Parker’s brave new living-room-sized world as the future of the industry, and have cast their lot with the new vanguard. Jackson, however, doesn’t approach this as a paradigmatic change as much as an accommodation to viewers who wouldn’t go to the theater in the first place anyway. “Screening Room will expand the audience for a movie,” he told Variety, “not shift it from cinema to living room.” Selling this concept won’t be easy — plenty of consumers will balk at the price tag, which encompasses a $150 fee to get the proper box to stream the $50 selections, which will then only be available for 48 hours — and exhibitors don’t plan on making it any easier.

Tim League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse chain of boutique movie theaters, expressed doubt of the project’s overall viability to the Hollywood Reporter. “I think this is not a good idea, and I sincerely doubt the studios will go for it at that price point. It feels like a half-baked plan to me,” League said. He went on to explain that it’s highly unlikely that major theater chains of AMC, Regal, and Cinemark would go for such a potentially hazardous plan, and could threaten not to carry the films of studios cooperating with Screening Room, leading to some sort of Mexican standoff between the people who buy the movies, the people who show the movies, and Sean Parker.

The endorsement of major filmmakers, along with reports from THR of Sony, Fox, Paramount and other major studio executives taking meetings with Parker, have given this game-changing idea some gas in its tank. The weeks to come will undoubtedly see this chasm between exhibitors and studios widen, but whether a workable compromise can be devised has yet to be seen.

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