FEATURES: Screening Room Changing Movie Distribution Industry

(Photo courtesy thewrap.com)

(Photo courtesy thewrap.com)

By Owen Paiva – Staff Reporter

After years of wishing and hoping, packed cinemas across the U.S. were treated to the premier of “Deadpool” on February 11. Many walked out ecstatic, their immense expectations met by the film, an event to behold, especially in IMAX, with the action scenes shining through good audio and visual design and editing.

Two months before this, a galaxy of fans eagerly flocked to the cinema to see “The Force Awakens,”, the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga. The feel of Star Wars was finally back, and to many it was their first viewing of the franchise in theaters.

The theater experience enriches certain movies. It allows the audio to be loud and crisp, and fully provide the effect intended by the editor. “Avatar” and “Titanic” Producer Jon Landau sums this up best.

“Both Director James Cameron and I remain committed to the sanctity of the in-theater experience,” Landau said. “For us, from both a creative and financial standpoint, it is essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theaters 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.”

A new start-up service is being proposed by Napster co-founder Sean Parker, known as Screening Room. This will be a service that allows for the broadcast of movies, while they are currently in theaters, in your home.

The company is offering new movies in the home for $50 at the same time as they open in theaters. It would charge $150 for access to the anti-piracy equipped set-top box that transmits the films. Customers have 48 hours to watch the movies, and the idea is to capture an audience older than teens and young adults, who might have responsibilities such as children that prevent them from going to the theater.

In order to convince studios and exhibitors to back the plan, Screening Room is cutting them in on a significant percentage of the revenue. Theater owners could get as much as $20 of the $50 fee.

Customers will also receive two free tickets to see the movie at a cinema, which will further benefit exhibitors when concessions are purchased. Still, this idea is causing people in the industry to go ballistic, especially the National Association of Theater Owners.

The National Association of Theater Owners may only be interested in the money they earn from sales and concessions; however, others are concerned for other reasons. The whole movie-viewing experience could be set to change.

To some people, the theater experience is holy. They love the the gigantic screen, the comfy chairs, the amazing audio system – none of which they can replicate with a home cinema.

Yet, home cinemas could be the way of the future, and could provide a more accessible experience to the public. Babysitters would not be needed for parents for a PG-13/R rated movie, and the hassle of the trip and overpriced food in concessions could be avoided.

Many people also prefer matinee showings which are generally before noon or on Tuesdays due to the $5  ticket price. Otherwise, tickets are generally $12-$13.

Theater chains like the Alamo Drafthouse are gaining popularity because they offer an experience previously not available in cinemas. These are cabaret style theaters where customers can order and be served food and alcohol during the film, as cabaret style tables accompany the seats. The food served at these theaters is not the usual faire, as it is actual restaurant-quality food. Besides great food, Alamo Drafthouse does not tolerate texting or phone use in their cinemas, as evidenced by their famous “Don’t Talk/Text PSA”

With many competitors copying this style, it could be the new trend that saves traditional cinema. But with the growing trend of digital media, can it compete with the notion of brand new movies being accessible from the comfort of home?

Cameron and Landau are not opposed to having films in the home, but they feel the period of exclusivity for theaters needs to remain.

“To us, the in-theater experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on,” Landau said. “No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it.”

There is a service similar to Screening Room, which is not drawing much flack. It is known as Prima Cinema, and it offers movies straight into subscribers’ homes. The service costs $750-$1,000 per movie, which makes it favorable only to the Bel-Air crowd and not a meaningful threat to cinemas.

“It’s not a scaleable business,” said one insider.

Hollywood heavyweights are divided on this issue. Famed directors such as Steven Spielberg (“Indiana Jones,” “E.T. ,” “JAWS”), Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings,” “Hobbit”), and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) have voiced their support of Sean Parker and Screening Room, as they are purported shareholders.

Across the aisle, the aforementioned duo of James Cameron and Jon Landau (“Titanic,” “Avatar”), and Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight Trilogy,” “Interstellar,” “Inception”) have opposed the initiative,

“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,” Nolan said.

Nolan is a fan of the IMAX set-up, and his movies utilize the full potential, both visually and audiolly. This process allows his movies to be exactly how he wants them.

That same crowd was mired in debate back in 2011, when Jackson and nearly two dozen other directors penned a letter objecting to studios’ deal with DirecTV to shrink the theatrical release window, which, they believed, would threaten the theatrical business.

Only one director has had a change of heart so far. Peter Jackson opposed DirecTV’s deal, but is now found at the forefront of Screening Room supporters.

Jackson made comments regarding differences between the two different services and why he had a change of heart.

“I had concerns about ‘DirecTV’ in 2011, because it was a concept that I believe would have led to the cannibalization of theatrical revenues, to the ultimate detriment of the movie business,” Jackson said.

“Screening Room, however, is very carefully designed to capture an audience that does not currently go to the cinema. That 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.

He continued: “It does not play off studio against theater 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.”

Even with the measures taken by Parker and Screening Room to appease theater owners, resistance is still massive.

Reports have even come out about cinema juggernaut Disney, who also owns Marvel, who churns out blockbusters, Lucasfilms/Lucasarts who owns “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” and Pixar, 3D animation pioneers. Millions of children flock to see movies under the Disney umbrella.

Why is this so important to Disney and theater owners? There is a substantial profit in concessions, since movie theaters usually mark up prices, especially in candy. Disney and theater owners do not want to lose out on these profits.

The debate may soon go to the public if Screening Room begins to gain steam. This will divide movie-goers mainly the casual fans and the cinema crowd.

When directors take full advantage of resources available, they can create a masterpiece for all to enjoy. Would action scenes pop in a move without the stunning sound of IMAX, and would movie scores carry the same magic if they were on television instead of theaters?

These are questions that cinema fans will ask, but they may not affect the casual crowd. There are benefits of Screening Room, but it could be harmful to the current medium of movie distribution.

Whether moviegoers are in favor of or in opposition to Sean Parker’s startup, it paints a painfully clear message for the future of cinema. It is at a crossroads, and the future of movie distribution could be radically different 20 years from now.

Movie theaters owners do not fear just Screening Room, they also fear the potential change in the industry, and some directors are scared to adapt, as their methods may not work in future mediums. No one knows what the future holds, but theater owners and directors fear the change that may be coming to the industry.

(Some information courtesy of ew.com,screendaily.com,variety.com,deadline.com,cinemablend.com, thewrap.com, and highsnobiety.com)


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