From Batman vs. Superman to Captain America: Civil War, 2016 is packed with geeky movies that will make you want to go to the cinema. But what if you didn’t have to? What if you could watch these new movies in the comfort of your home, just like how you stream Netflix videos?
Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and first president of Facebook, has a new plan to bring newly released movies to your home through a streaming service called The Screening Room. It’s his solution to the slow death of cinemas. The catch? You need to pony up $50 for each movie.
This raises a bunch of questions. Can Parker actually make this happen, especially as some filmmakers and theater owners are resisting the idea? Will your experience at home be diminished? And is $50 really worth it for a movie, considering that even the latest Blu-ray movies retail for $30 or so?
What’s The Screening Room All About?
Parker’s new venture, in association with partner Prem Akkaraju and represented by Hollywood attorney Skip Brittenham, is still in the nascent phase. There isn’t even an official website yet. Variety was the first to report news of this fledgling startup, and very few details are available so far.
Here’s what we do know at this early stage:
- The Screening Room will stream brand new releases directly to your home for $50 per movie.
- You’ll be “renting” the movie for a period of 48 hours. After that, you’ll need to pay $50 to watch it again. There are already online services to rent movies for a limited time, like Google Play Movies and YouTube rentals.
- You’ll require a special set-top box, which has a one-time cost of $150.
- Parker and his associates claim to have made this set-top box with enough anti-piracy measures to ensure it stops illegal transmissions or copies.
So far, there is no release date or indication of availability for The Screening Room. And naturally, the bigwigs of the entertainment industry have an opinion about it.
Who’s For It, Who’s Against It
This isn’t the first attempt at bringing newly released movies to people’s homes. Back in 2011, DirecTV tried this through satellite services but failed to make a dent. It was opposed by several Hollywood executives, directors, and industry groups. But things are a little different this time.
One of the biggest detractors of DirecTV was filmmaker Peter Jackson, who made the The Lord Of The Rings movies. He was against DirecTV partly for its lack of piracy controls and also because it only brought movies eight weeks after their release. But this time, Jackson loves the idea of The Screening Room, convinced by its anti-piracy technology and overall package. Joining him in the For camp are directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and J.J. Abrams, who have all backed the new service by investing in it.
The move makes a lot of sense, since streaming media options lower piracy rates. Plus, it enables studios to tap into audiences who would not visit the theater otherwise, thus opening up a new revenue stream.
This is why The Screening Room reps have been courting studio executives to actively collaborate with the new service. And they’ve been making just as many trips to talk to the startup’s biggest detractors: theater owners.
The Art House Convergence (AHC) and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) represent big hurdles for The Screening Room. However, AMC Theaters, the world’s largest cinema house chain, has already expressed some interest, thanks to the startup working actively with them and claiming that $20 out of every $50 purchase would be fed into the existing distributor-exhibitor infrastructure.
Some filmmakers have also come out against The Screening Room, claiming that the big screen is central to the cinematic experience. Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, and Jon Landau have expressed their concerns about the new service and claimed that from “both a creative and financial standpoint”, a theatrical release is critical to the film industry.
The Screening Room vs. Movie Theaters
For consumers, the big question is whether $50 (over and above the $150 cost of the set-top box) is worth the price for watching a movie at home. It seems like a lot of money compared to the average $8 ticket price in the U.S.
However, let’s look at the math a little more closely. Take a typical family of four. That’s four $8 tickets, totaling $32. According to Yahoo, a large bucket of popcorn averages to $8.15. A large soda costs about $6, and a packet of M&Ms costs $4.25. Add in the cost of gas or an Uber ride to and from the theater and our family is facing a lot more than $50 for a trip to the movies.
Plus, that’s a one-time watch only, while you get 48 hours of play time on The Screening Room. And if you have a nice home theater setup and call a few friends over, watching movies at home through The Screening Room would be a much cheaper proposition.
On the other hand, Nolan and Cameron do have a point about the cinematic experience. Going to the movies is also a social event for many people. And then there are some 3D movies that you must see on the big screen.
Who Would Want to Pay?
All of this brings us to the big point: Who would want to pay $50 for a service like The Screening Room. Well, I think there are quite a few scenarios where it’s useful.
- Families with kids or babies: It can be difficult to go to the cinema when you have kids with you. From controlling a bawling child to changing a diaper, some parents would love to have an option to watch the latest films without worrying about any childcare issues.
- Injured, sick, and old-aged people: Those with some major injury or illness can’t just go to see Star Wars in a movie theater. Older folks who would rather not leave the comfort of their home for just a movie can get the latest flicks at home without a worry.
- Second-time watchers: OK, so you went to the cinemas and got your big-screen experience. And you loved the movie! Now you want to watch it again, reliving all the excitement with your buds. Instead of a trip to the theater, call them all over. Heck, you can get an IMAX-like experience in your home on a budget, so it’s not like the film is necessarily going to look that much better in the theater.
Could It Actually Happen?
Right now, the jury is still out on whether The Screening Room is a doomed concept or a revolution waiting to happen. Both sides seem to want to protect their interests.
The current ecosystem of studios, distributors, and exhibitors is strong and extremely profitable, so multiple analysts claim that neither side will want to rock the boat too hard.
However, from a consumer perspective, The Screening Room makes perfect sense. As Arianna Huffington says in Variety, “Often people who are making a lot of money now don’t see why they need to adjust. They refuse to recognize how the world is changing.”
Would You Pay $50?
So, now you know what The Screening Room is all about, here’s the big question… Would you pay $50 to watch a new movie on release day instead of heading to the theater?
To help you mentally calculate whether it could ever be worth it, work out how much you spend on going to the movies (all expenses included) these days. And then let us know what conclusions you draw in the comments below!