Sean Parker's At-Home Movie Service Faces Revolt

  • Screening Room would show films on opening day for $50
  • Napster co-founder challenging 90-day exclusivity window

The latest attempt to make movies available in households as soon as they hit theaters is meeting resistance in Hollywood even before it begins.

A venture backed by Napster co-founder Sean Parker seeking studio and exhibitor support for a set-top-box that would stream movies when they’re released in theaters has been rebuked by bodies representing some of North America’s biggest circuits.

The National Association of Theatre Owners said Wednesday that any decision to change the exclusivity window for movie releases should be decided by distributors and exhibitors, “not by a third party,” according to an e-mailed statement. A separate group representing 600 smaller theaters said it “strongly opposed” the venture, which would charge movie fans $50 to watch a new release at home on the night it opens on the big screen.

Disrupting Again

The venture, called Screening Room, has reignited a debate in Hollywood over the roughly 90-day window typically granted to exhibitors on new films before they are made available in the home. Theater circuits such as Regal Entertainment Group have been fighting the slow encroachment on their business by digital distributors such as Netflix Inc., which have sought to disrupt the traditional movie-distribution model.

But that won’t be easy for Parker, who sent the music business into turmoil with his digital file-sharing service, and his fellow backer Prem Akkaraju.

“Just about 100 percent of these efforts have been non-starters without support from the exhibition industry,” said Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley & Co.

Representatives of Screening Room have yet to comment on reports, first published by Variety, that Parker and Akkaraju had approached studios about the service and were in talks with AMC Entertainment Holdings. AMC will overtake Regal as the biggest theater chain in the world if the company, controlled by Dalian Wanda Group Co., successfully completes its acquisition of Carmike Cinemas Inc. The three chains declined to comment.

Jackson’s Support

The service would charge $150 to access the set-top box and $50 per movie. Participating distributors and exhibitors would get a cut of the movie rental proceeds, according to Variety.

Peter Jackson, director of the “Lord of the Rings” series, a backer of the venture, said in a statement that Screening Room would “expand the audience for a movie -- not shift it from cinema to living room.”

Other high-profile filmmakers have spoken publicly in opposition. Director James Cameron, creator of the “Avatar” series and “Titanic,” and producer Jon Landau sided with theaters.

“It is essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theaters for their initial release,” Landau said in an interview with the website Deadline.

Prima Cinema is a provider of a so-called day and date at-home service. Its set-top box costs $35,000 and films are rented for $500 per movie. Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. are the only major studios with their films on the service.

Screening Room’s price would likely hurt theaters and the home entertainment market, which includes pay TV, according to Shawn Yeager, Prima’s chief executive officer.

“Even if you are targeting something at a price point of $50, I think that segment bleeds and you cannot keep it from bleeding to other segments,” he said.

(Prima Cinema CEO corrects comment on price in last paragraph.)
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE