How times change. Back in 2011, 32 filmmakers including Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Michael Mann, Todd Phillips, Antoine Fuqua, Robert Zemeckis, and Guillermo del Toro signed their names to an open letter urging Hollywood to abandon plans for a premium VOD service that, at the time, would see theatrical releases available to be ordered by customers at home after sixty days for $29.95. They argued that the model was not sustainable, nor was it good for the moviegoing experience. The filmmakers believed that "what sells for $30-a-viewing today could be blown out for $9.99 within a few years," hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue would be lost, and theaters would close. Now, just five years later, some of the industry’s biggest names are backing a premium VOD plan that’s even more ambitious.
Last week it was reported that Facebook and Napster tech titan Sean Parker is part of a startup called The Screening Room who are busy pitching Hollywood on a plan that would see theatrical movies available day-and-date for $50, with customers purchasing a proprietary box to gain access. The company promised they’d be able to handle any threat of piracy, and sweetened the pot for studios and distributors by offering them a generous cut of the action. You might think that filmmakers would see this as a threat to the big screen experience they work so hard to create, but you’d be mistaken.
Variety and Deadline reports that Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Brian Grazer, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and more all are backing The Screening Room, with some of them even putting their personal money in the venture. It’s frankly a bit surprising to see these filmmakers throw their support behind a program that would arguably erode the moviegoing experience, and turn going to the movies into something of a specialty event. But then again, these are exactly the moviemakers who will probably never have to worry about their films not being shown in a multiplex. In fact, it could be argued that its smaller movies that could find theater screens harder to come by in a scenario where theater owners have to work harder to get audiences to show up, and might increasingly choose to program blockbusters that pack the most bang for the buck.
Theater chains have yet to comment publicly about this proposed program, but AMC has reportedly shown interest. Perhaps they believe audiences will be willing to pay a hefty price to stay home and watch "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice" (for example) rather than go their cinemas, and/or maybe they just want to make sure they get a piece of pie if and when the landscape of movie watching truly shifts. After all, theater attendance has been pretty stagnant for years, and hasn’t shown much growth. But it is a bit disheartening that, rather than trying to sustain the moviegoing experience or improve it, a theater chain is willing to throw in with a program that would keep audiences away.
Studios seem to be interested as well, with Universal, Fox, and Sony all apparently somewhat warm to the idea. Perhaps they don’t really care how audiences see their releases, just as long as they are paying top dollar for them.
It’s certainly an interesting development that some of Hollywood’s biggest and most influential names are behind The Screening Room and its plan, but perhaps, better the enemy you know. Thoughts? Are you ready to plunk down $50, eat your snacks, and forgo the big screen experience? Let us know below.