Sean Parker, one of the minds behind Napster and Facebook, has proposed a brand new VOD service that promises to deliver today's theatrical hits to your living room. Despite some big ticket filmmakers getting behind the idea, there are still figures like Tim League, the ever outspoken founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, that have no confidence in Parker's service working its magic on the public.
The new service, dubbed The Screening Room, relies on an encrypted set-top box to deliver movie fans the most recent of releases, and it does so at $150 for the box, as well as $50 for each film's rental. Yet THR has reported that despite having heavyweights such as J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson all thrown their lots in with the upstart platform, Tim League doesn't feel the same way. Specifically, League's thoughts are as follows:
I think this is not a good idea, and I sincerely doubt the studios will go for it at that price point. It feels like a half-baked plan to me.
Paying $50 for the ability to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice on your home theater system does sound like a bit of a price hike, considering you can see it at your local theater for the average ticket prices. But with audiences finding the multiplex more expensive, and in some cases more annoying than ever, an increased price point might not stop movie-goers from pooling their resources with friends and splitting the cost of a major motion picture at home. At least you know the popcorn is fresh, and anyone who talks out of turn can be easily identified and shamed out of your home.
Still, for as much as a $50 rental model for a flick like Zootopia might improve viewing conditions for families everywhere, there's still a crucial part of the movie-going experience that fans can't replicate at home: the escape. Going out to the movies is an event for fans who love to get out of the house and see the latest flick everyone is talking about. And while crowdsourcing your movie rental fee might be effective, it might not always be an option as people's schedules fluctuate. This is what Tim League is probably banking on to sink The Screening Room, as not only does his theater chain want no part of the $20 per rental Sean Parker's service is offering, but sources in the original report feel competitors such as Regal and Cinemark might be in his corner as well.
If there's any stumbling block to be had with this same day VOD service, it's the $150 set-top box. Considering the box will serve only as the gateway to seeing The Divergent Series: Allegiant in the comfort of your own home, a $150 price point isn't exactly the most comfortable of sells to the viewing public. Previous experiments, such as Tower Heist's "premium VOD" release three weeks after it released to theaters, or Paramount's earlier VOD windows for Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, have backfired with exhibitors and audiences before. All The Screening Room seems to do is add a $150 piece of hardware, and a quicker release window, to the mix.
If anyone is serious about bringing Hardcore Henry to the living rooms of the masses on the same day they can see it in the theater, they need to know that price point, as well as exhibitor support, is going to be key. And so long as influencers like Tim League are fighting the good fight against such practices, it doesn't look like that key will be decrypted anytime soon. Still, with each failed experiment comes another chance to get it right, so don't count same day VOD completely out of the picture.