A proposed new service that aims to bring the latest movies into customers' homes on the same day they hit theatres is dividing Hollywood, with Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan and James Cameron just some of the top filmmakers weighing in.
Entrepreneur and media investor Sean Parker, best known for co-founding music-sharing site Napster and as the founding president of Facebook, has teamed up with former music executive Prem Akkaraju to launch Screening Room.
Their premium film-distribution service proposes to offer new movies to viewers at home on the same day as their theatrical release.
Subscribers would be required to purchase a set-top box (receiving encrypted digital files) for approximately $150 US and would also be charged about $50 US per movie, which would be accessible for a 48-hour window.
Screening Room proposes to give exhibitors 40 per cent of the per-movie fee, as well as offer customers two free cinema tickets per film purchased as incentive for a future movie night out — in an attempt to appeal to the powerful block of theatre owners, who have largely discouraged any infringement on their status as the first to show the latest movies.
Jackson, Abrams, Howard in favour
Parker and Akkaraju have not publicly discussed the new venture, but filmmakers who have become Screening Room shareholders have been touting the service as a way to reach those who don't currently watch movies theatrically.
"When we met Sean and Prem last year, it was clear Screening Room was the only solution that supports all stakeholders in the industry: exhibitors, studios and filmmakers," filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer said in a statement earlier this week.
Lord of the Rings director Jackson, who was among about two dozen filmmakers who opposed a premium video-on-demand plan proposed by DirecTV in 2011, also supports Screening Room.
The proposal "is very carefully designed to capture an audience that does not currently go to the cinema," Jackson said.
"This is a critical point of difference with the DirecTV approach — and along with Screening Room's robust anti-piracy strategy, is exactly why Screening Room has my support. Screening Room will expand the audience for a movie — not shift it from cinema to living room. It does not play off studio against theatre owner. Instead it respects both, and is structured to support the long-term health of both exhibitors and distributors — resulting in greater sustainability for the wider film industry itself."
Star Wars and Star Trek filmmaker Abrams, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg also support the initiative.
Cameron, Nolan join exhibitors group in opposing plan
However, Avatar and Titanic director Cameron, his co-producer Jon Landau and Nolan — known for Inception and The Dark Knight series — are among those opposed to Screening Room.
"Both Jim and I remain committed to the sanctity of the in-theatre experience," Landau told Variety.
"For us, from both a creative and financial standpoint, it is essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theatres for their initial release. We don't understand why the industry would want to provide audiences an incentive to skip the best form to experience the art that we work so hard to create."
Nolan subsequently added: "It would be hard to express the great importance of exclusive theatrical presentation to our industry more compellingly than Jon Landau and James Cameron did."
So far, AMC has expressed interest in Screening Room, while some studios are examining the proposal.
Predictably, U.S. exhibitors group National Association of Theatre Owners dismissed the startup.
"The exclusive theatrical release window makes new movies events.… Success there establishes brand value and bolsters revenue in downstream markets," the association said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Any new movie distribution models should be created in consultation between studios and theatre owners, not by a "third party," seen as a clear dig at Parker and Akkaraju's proposal.