Film Industry Divided By Screening Room

The debate over The Screening Room initiative has now reached fever pitch with normally aligned filmmakers and interests splitting into two groups with differing ideals – essentially turning this into “Cinema America: Civil War”.

It all began with Sean Parker, the infamous online guru behind Napster and Facebook (and played by Justin Timberlake in David Fincher’s “The Social Network”) who proposed The Screening Room- an encrypted set-top box with a VOD service allowing users access to all the latest major releases having just opened or still playing in cinemas.

Costing $150 for the box and $50 for a 48-hour viewing of each film, it’s not a cheap service. Yet when you combine the cost of taking out a date or family, plus parking, tickets, concessions, etc. – it actually seems reasonable for occasional screenings. The downsides mostly relate to potential increases in the risk of piracy and cannibalisation of the cinema-going audience .

One thing that made this different as well is that Parker also has some major filmmaker heavyweights in his corner. Battling for the service are Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, Frank Marshall, Taylor Hackford, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Jackson, Howard and more have given statements endorsing the idea.

Who’re they fighting against? Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Jon Landau, and National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). In a statement to Deadline, Landau says: “To us [me and James Cameron], the in-theater experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on. No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it.”

NATO issued a statement yesterday saying any change in the theatrical window should not be undertaken by a third party, rather it should be in collaboration with exhibitors. Meanwhile the Art House Convergence, a group of specialty theaters such as the famed Alamo Drafthouse, released an open letter slamming the service saying it will kill local businesses.

The Screening Room claims it isn’t driving traffic away from exhibitors. The service cuts them in on as much as $20 out of the $50 fee and gives customers two free tickets to a film – so the same customers will be enticed to buy concessions. Studios also get a substantial percentage of the fee.

With Cinema Con soon to kick off, there’s going to be a lot more to this debate shortly.