Will this kill the film industry?

Top Hollywood directors including J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard are backing a new startup that could break the traditional theatrical model.

Screening Room is the latest idea to come out of Silicon Valley from Sean Parker that would allow people to watch new movie releases at home the same day they come out in theaters.

The company would launch a new set-top box that would cost $150 before you could access any films. Then you would be charged $50 per release with a 48-hour window to watch the movie. In order to get your inaugural screening off the ground, you would essentially be $200 out of pocket before the first frame.

Theater chains have strongly opposed the startup saying it could usher in a new era of rampant piracy where people could easily record and distribute the films the same day they come out in theaters. With no way to monitor or control the environment of the screening, viewers at home could start uploading them online after recording their TV screens.

Others argue that it would disrupt the theatrical window and bankrupt theater chains across America with people being encouraged to stay at home. Then there is the issue of those abusing the system if they decided to create their own ticketing system at home that was unregulated (cash only), charging fees at the door for access.

However according to Variety, Screening Room would provide theater chains with a $20 cut and home viewers would receive free tickets to see other movies in their cinemas.

It is unclear whether Screening Room will gain support in the theatrical business and it has come up against resistance from other Hollywood figures, notably James Cameron who feels it would:

“Provide audiences an incentive to skip the best form to experience the art that we work so hard to create.”

For some time it has been clear that the business model of the film industry has been shifting towards VOD. The idea of a theatrical VOD screening is something that studios are looking at as the next obvious step in the digital era. However this latest venture may not get off the ground. For a majority of film buffs, a $150 payment for a set-top box that only plays a handful of movies seems over the top. Then you have to consider the $50 price tag for each release which is only visible for 48 hours. However it may appeal to a niche of consumers that want an alternative solution so that they can access a private theater experience.

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