Revolutionary Screening Room venture by Sean Parker could end ‘theatrical window’ by offering new films at $50 a pop – despite industry doubts
A new service that would make major blockbusters available at home on the same day they hit cinemas has been proposed by the Napster founder, Sean Parker, despite reports of major misgivings in Hollywood.
Parker’s startup venture, known as the Screening Room, would offer movies for $50 (£35) in the US, with as much as $20 going to compensate theatrical distributors for their potential losses. Variety reports “serious interest” from studios Universal, Fox and Sony, as well as cinema chain AMC, the second largest in North America with 346 sites.
Hollywood has long shown tentative interest in the concept of maximising revenues from premium home video releases by breaking the longstanding “theatrical window”, but in practice distributors and studios are terrified at the prospect of putting themselves out of business. The current window, usually 90 days, protects cinemas by ensuring movies are not available via video-on-demand and DVD until interest in viewing them at multiplexes has been exhausted.
The Screening Room reportedly promises to protect rights holders against piracy, but the idea of allowing hundreds of thousands of home users access to first-run releases in the era of Pirate Bay and torrent sites is likely to remain a controversial one unless Parker and his team can prove their technology is 100% bulletproof. Deadline reports that Hollywood insiders are extremely concerned that the new service will gain traction.
“This news is so damaging, I can’t tell you right now how unhappy I am,” one major studio distribution executive told the trade bible, with another suggesting the service “would be the beginning of the end, and half of the theatres in this country would close”.
Cinema chains have fought major battles to keep the theatrical window in place. After Netflix bought the rights to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel Sword of Destiny, in 2014 and announced the film would be available to view on the same day it hit cinemas, US chains AMC, Cinemark, Regal and Carmike all said they would refuse to screen the film. In the end, Netflix abandoned its plans to show the movie in hundreds of North American Imax cinemas and plumped for a small-screen only release last month.
A day-and-date home video service for showing major releases, known as Prima Cinema, already exists in the US. But it is prohibitively expensive at $35,000 and is therefore not seen as a threat by cinema chains.
Parker’s service reportedly hopes to convince distributors that its concept has legs by offering free cinema tickets to users of the Screening Room. The idea is that filmgoers will head to their local multiplex to view a movie as well as seeing it at home, thereby boosting cinemas’ concessions trade. But it remains to be seen if such temptingly dangled carrots will convince Hollywood to abandon a lucrative arrangement which has existed in one form or another since the early days of home video.
This article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Thursday 10th March 2016 11.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010