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From day one, Sean Parker’s plan for The Screening Room has been controversial. The idea of making movies available for home viewing on the same day that they are released in theaters is being nearly universally criticized by theater chains. However, several filmmakers have come out in support of the program and one of them, J.J. Abrams, just doubled down on his support. He says the reason is because it’s actually a benefit to the theaters.
It’s not surprising that The Screening Room is a major topic of conversation this week at CinemaCon. Theaters don’t like the idea, as they are afraid that it will keep people out of theaters if they can view the same movie at home. J.J. Abrams, on the other hand, points out that the program would still share revenue with theaters, which is a good thing, because The Screening Room could appeal to people who otherwise can’t, or won’t, go to the theater. A group that he counts his own family to be among. Abrams tells The Hollywood Reporter:
I love nothing more than going to the movies. That's the way it has to be. I also know I'm the father of three kids and I haven't been at a theater on opening night [with them] in probably 12 years. That's not to say that this is why it [the Screening Room] speaks to me. But I see what's happening, whether people like it or not, and the way things are evolving with piracy and digital technology. And in this moment, I think it's important to be open to all avenues that allow everyone, including and especially exhibitors, to be at the table and a part of that discussion. That's, to me, the thing that makes Screening Room exciting.
For good or ill, the idea behind The Screening Room is that it may appeal to fans who want to see a movie, but are not currently going to movie theaters for whatever reason. Several other filmmakers have come out in support of the business, although others have been equally vocal against it, so it has become a fairly divisive issue. Piracy is a major issue when it comes to theatrical releases and everybody is looking for a way to combat that.
The idea here is that making the movies available for purchase, and easily accessible, may entice those that might otherwise pirate the film to choose a more legal method. In addition, movie theaters would see revenue from the sale, so they’re not being cut out of the loop entirely. What’s more, since the theaters would be getting income from viewers who would not otherwise attend a theater, this is money they’re currently losing out on. The problem the theaters have is that the technology could also be used as a replacement for the theater, meaning they would be losing out on the money from those moviegoers, when you add in unpurchased concessions, it ends up being a net loss for the theater.
Few would disagree that the movie industry needs to find some way to evolve with the times, but the difficulty comes in finding a way to do that which everybody agrees with. The Screening Room would require a $150 set top box and movies would cost $50 a piece. Would you be interested in taking advantage of it?