When American entrepreneur Sean Parker co-founded the free music file-sharing site Napster back in 1999, the Internet was hardly the musical resource that it is today. Napster was quickly embraced by millions of music fans, but it didn’t take long for the Recording Industry of America to see file-sharing as detrimental to the production and sales of tangible albums.
Despite legal action against Napster and its eventual demise as the source for free music file-sharing, there was no going back to how things were before. New Internet models for music file-sharing began popping up everywhere. Music was officially online as a commodity and the days of vinyl records, cassette tapes and compact discs began to look increasingly distant and fusty.
Once again, Sean Parker is upping the ante and making the entertainment industry nervous with his latest project, Screening Room (per Variety and The Wrap). Though still in its very early stages, the opportunity to pay to see new theatrical releases at home has already attracted some big name stakeholders, including Stephen Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
The central idea behind Parker’s latest brainchild is that for about $150, customers will receive a set-top box which allows them to pay an additional $50 for the privilege of viewing a newly released film at home. The film will be accessible for 48 hours after purchasing, with movie theatres and distributors each getting $20 and Screening Room taking the remaining $10. In addition to this – and as an attempt to appease the less than enthused theatrical exhibitors – Parker and his business partner Prem Akkaraju are attempting to broker a deal that will see Screening Room customers receive two free tickets to a movie with each $50 Screening Room purchase. Faced with the potential final nail in the coffin of the movie theater as we know it, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) had this to say on the concept of Screening Room:
NATO has consistently called on movie distributors and exhibitors to discuss as partners release models that can grow the business for everyone. More sophisticated window modeling may be needed for the growing success of a modern movie industry. Those models should be developed by distributors and exhibitors in company-to-company discussions, not by a third party.
In other words, exhibitors want Sean Parker to butt out while they work with distributors to find a better method for moving things forward. For many people, the idea of paying $50 to see the latest blockbuster on opening day, in the comfort of their own home, is a blessing. This is understandable, but the magic of sitting in a theater and watching a story unfold on the big silver screen is too much a part of cinema for others to relinquish so easily. All the reactions experienced while watching a film – laughing, screaming, crying – have their own special place as part of an audience, in a theater.
Though some may resist the concept of Screening Room, the truth is that times change. Just as Napster ushered in a new era of music distribution and sales years earlier, so too could Screening Room. Sean Parker seems to have a knack for these sorts of endeavors, whether their wider effects are immediate or gradual game changers. For now, all audiences can do is wait and see what comes next.