Premium home movie screening service gets backing from major Hollywood players like Spielberg, Abrams and more

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I go to the cinema a lot. And I love it. It’s just a part of who I am. However, I know that there are people who don’t like the experience at all whether its due to the overpriced confectionery, the sometimes poorly setup cinema, or maybe they just hate people in general like Trevor. Whatever the reason, these folks would much rather prefer to watch movies in the comforts of their own home, now being able to replicate or sometimes even surpass that cinematic experience thanks to high-end audiovisual setups.

The problem with this approach though has always been time. Movies only ever hit home release way after they’ve had their theatrical run (even if you’re a slimy pirate, it’s very rare that you’ll be able to find a current box office release on your favourite torrent site). Netflix has tried to buck the trend lately with some same day and date theatrical/streaming releases for their movies, but that ruffled a whole lot of feathers in an industry that is seemingly stuck on the traditional 90-day delayed home release model. Sean Parker wants to change that.

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You may remember Parker as the guy who already changed an entertainment industry once before when he created Napster. He then sort of helped to do it again, when he got involved with making Facebook a reality. He was also played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, but that’s not really pertinent to this conversation. The point is that Parker and his partners are busy hitting every major studio in America, pitching a brand new premium service called Screening Room that could just upset the status quo.

According to Variety, how it would work is that subscribers would pay a once-off $150 for a set-top box, after which they would pay $50 to have a movie securely streamed to this set-top box, which would give them 48 hours to view it once. On top of that, included in the $50 price are also two tickets to see the movie at the cinema of their choice whenever they want. The point of this latter addition is to get cinema chains to buy in to the idea, as traditionally they really only make money off the concessions – which will now still happen when those tickets get used – instead of the ticket fees themselves.

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Additionally, exhibitors and movie distributors would also stand to take about $20 of that $50 fee, with Screening Room itself only taking 10% as well as the money it makes from the set-top boxes. That’s actually a fairly good looking deal for distributors and studios, and not surprisingly there has been a fair bit of interest. Parker told possible investors that they are already close to signing to a deal with US cinema chain AMC, which just became the biggest cinema chain in the world as it acquired Carmike Cinemas. Insiders are also reporting that there is serious interest from several major Hollywood studios like Universal, Fox and Sony, although Disney doesn’t appear to be interested in the deal at all. Clearly, they don’t need any help at all making that Scrooge McDuck money.

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And now some more big name support has shown up in the forms of heavyweight Hollywood directors Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Peter Jackson and Ron Howard as well as famous producer Brian Grazer. According to Variety‘s sources, all the men are currently shareholders’ in Parker’s Screening Room, although not everybody has invested money at this stage yet. They join powerhouse Hollywood attorney Skip Brittenham and former Sony Pictures vice chairman Jeff Blake, with the latter acting as the main studio consultant for Screening Room for the last few months now.

Those are some massive names to have behind you, so I’m sure that Parker and co must feel good about this. But they’re going to need all the help they can get as studios and cinema chains have never been that welcoming of drastic change. But there’s no denying the fact thought that despite box office earnings hitting the highest it’s ever been in history last year, cinema attendance has actually not increased with it, and has in fact dropped off in some cases (the numbers are getting buoyed by increased IMAX and 3D ticket prices). So something needs to be done.

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We can’t ignore the fact though $50 is a hell of a lot of cash for one movie (the average movie ticket price in US is about $9), especially for you average teenage moviegoer, but Screening Room is looking “to capture an audience older than teens and young adults, who might have responsibilities such as children that prevent them from going to the theater”. They’re also pitching at families with physically challenged members who are unable to leave the house, giving them a way to watch massive event movies at the same time as everybody else.

Now clearly this wouldn’t be a proper solution down here in South Africa (thanks horrible exchange rate and laughable internet speeds!), but in a country with proper broadband coverage this could just become a viable alternative. There are still a lot of kinks that need to worked out – for example, Screening Room want partnership exclusivity, which will definitely step on the toes of some other studio partners – and that price may need to come down a bit to become more lucrative, but with the amount of backing it’s receiving Screening Room could become a major player in the Hollywood ecosystem.

What do you guys think? Is something like this actually viable?

Last Updated: March 14, 2016

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions – but very little sleep – I’ve been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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