This week, Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker unveiled his latest venture project, Screening Room, and sought the backing of some of Hollywood’s biggest filmmakers. As the list of filmmakers throwing their support behind the new day-and-date streaming service continued to grow, there was a sense of momentum building for what many are already calling the next step in the evolution of the movie business. At this time, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, JJ Abrams, Taylor Hackford and Frank Marshall are among those who are advocating for the service, while AMC has is the first theater chain to show its support.
But in response to the game-changing service, a chorus of opponents began to speak up, notably Christopher Nolan, Brett Ratner, James Cameron, M. Night Shyamalan – not to mention the International Union of Cinemas.
So what, exactly, is the controversy all about?
Parker and his partner Prem Akkaraju are the duo behind a new service called Screening Room, a set-top box technology – which would be an initial $150 charge – that would allow consumers to view movies newly released in theaters at home for $50. The service aims to appease consumers, theater owners, studio heads and the filmmakers themselves by establishing a revenue stream for all parties involved. The plan would essentially be to create an avenue for film fans who would normally not be able to go to the theater (parents with young children, for example) a way to watch the movies from home. Included in each 48-movie rental would be two tickets to the local theater of their choice (the closest AMC, assuming the theater chain officially boards). This would allow theater owners to benefit from concession sales – assuming the purchasers found the time to make the trip to their local cineplex. There’s also a tentative profit sharing system in place which aims to allow all parties to get their beaks wet, which Parker contends will everyone to benefit financially in the end.
Some in Hollywood, however, aren’t so sure. When streaming services first invaded Hollywood from Silicon Valley, the disruption was – and still is – felt throughout the industry, with many struggling to adapt to everything from a shift in traditional television development and airing seasons to the way a studio like Netflix or Amazon will release a film like Beasts of No Nation or Chi-Raq on its platform without allowing theaters to reap the benefits of showing them. Many in the industry or those involved in distribution are still trying to adapt to these recent changes; Parker’s Screening Room is simply seen as yet another threat for those businesses in the midst of that adaptation. That’s a problem for Parker, because without the support of the industry – from production to distribution – Screening Room will never even get off the ground.
It’s a controversy that has a lot of industry insiders and Hollywood heavyweights taking sides, with some suggesting such a service is an inevitability – a way to reach a larger audience, even – while others are decrying it as the further deterioration of the movie business. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that streaming service technology has crossed a threshold whereby it is only a matter of time before day-and-date releases become the norm rather than the exception. Whether Parker’s Screening Room is the right way to go about it, however, is shaping up to be a battle that theater owners and filmmakers alike are ready to fight.
We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops. For now, here’s where some of the industry’s most influential players currently stand on the debate:
AMC Theaters (Wanda – signed a letter of intent)
Paramount (expressed interest)
M. Night Shyamalan
International Union of Cinemas
UK Cinema Association
The Art House Convergence
Josh Lyons | Managing Editor