Well this is interesting. Last week, Napster founder Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju ruffled feathers by announcing plans for a new venture called Screening Room, which aims to provide first-run movies straight into the homes of viewers for a premium price—$50 to be exact. This isn’t the first time such a service has been considered, but in the past these ventures have failed due to pressure from theater chains, which are none too pleased about seeing potential revenue drops when folks can watch the same movies at home. However, Screening Room just got a massiveboost in the form of a “thumbs up” from a triumvirate of Hollywood filmmaking titans.
Per Variety, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and J.J. Abrams are backing the company, as are Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer. That is some serious clout for such a controversial venture, and seems to ensure that this thing might actually take off. Sony Pictures vice chairman Jeff Blake is also a shareholder, and while only some of these filmmakers have actually invested money, all of them hold shares in the start-up.
So what’s the rub? How does Screening Room work and what makes it different from previous premium home entertainment services? Users will be charged $150 for access to the anti-piracy equipped set-top box, which provides a safeguard from studios worried that Star Wars: The Force Awakens or what have you is going to leak onto the internet in pristine quality. Moreover, at $50 a movie, Screening Room is offering to cut theater owners in on some of the revenue, as much as $20 per film, while also offering two free tickets to each customer to see the movie at a theater, where the hope is that concessions will be purchased. And we all know overpriced popcorn and child-sized sodas are where theaters really make their money.
This is an attempt to assuage fears from theater chains that their revenue will shrink should premium services such as Screening Room take off, and it’s rather smart. Giving them a cut of the deal, and enticing customers to actually go out to the theater later and buy snacks, is an olive branch of sorts.
Customers will have 48 hours to watch the movie, with the idea “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.” That makes sense. While $50 is mighty expensive per movie, this service won’t only cater to those with plenty of disposable income. For parents or handicapped people that have trouble leaving the house, Screening Room offers the opportunity to see these big event films at the same time as everyone else rather than having to hope that Netflix somehow lands the streaming rights in a year’s time.
The endorsement of these filmmakers should go a long way to further convincing studios and exhibitors to come onboard, and with the incentives built in, this certainly sounds like it could be the future of moviegoing. While I will always take the theater experience over watching a movie in my house, I’m not opposed to this option being available to those that can/need to use it.