Directors Abrams, Spielberg back $50 at home new release rentals, theaters hate it

J.J. Abrams during an appearance on CBS's 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.'
I live in a small city/town with a movie theater that plays three films. To go see most current movies, I have to drive an hour each way. I’m a single mom so it’s a hassle to take all that time to get out to an adult movie. (And this is my job so I should see as many new movies as I can.) When I heard that there could be a service coming that charges $50 to view new releases at home, I was like “take my money now.” Yes that is steep, but I would use it sparingly (that would so come in handy around Oscar season) and I would easily pay that much for a sitter, plus gas, plus all the time it takes to get to the movies.

This is a new concept from Napster founder and early Facebook President Sean Parker called The Screening Room. Consumers would pay $150 for a set top box which would serve encrypted new films at $50 for each 48 hour view. The concept is that at least $20 would be given to theaters/film distributors out of that $50. They’re even going to give two free movie tickets for each film purchased to encourage people to go to the film too and buy concessions. Directors like Sean Howard, J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are early backers and supporters while theater owners are predictably opposed.

Hundreds of independent and art house theaters are protesting Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju’s controversial new plan to make new movies available in the home for $50 on the same day they hit theaters via an encrypted set-top box costing $150.

In an open letter to the Screening Room, the Art House Convergence — representing 600 cinema owners — said the proposed model is “incongruous with the movie exhibition sector by devaluing the in-theater experience and enabling increased piracy. Furthermore, we seriously question the economics of the proposed revenue-sharing model.”

The position of the Art House Convergence is significant because many of its members are hardly averse to day-and-day VOD or early premium VOD releases. “We are not debating the day-and-date aspect of this model, nor are we arguing for the decrease in home entertainment availability for customers — most independent theaters already play alongside VOD and Premium VOD, and as exhibitors, we are acutely aware of patrons who stay home to watch films instead of coming out to our theaters,” the letter continued.

The organization, of which Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League is a leading member, said if studios and larger theater owners agree to the plan, “we will see a wildfire spread of pirated content, and consequently, a decline in overall film profitability through the cannibalization of theatrical revenue. The theatrical experience is unique and beneficial to maximizing profit for films. A theatrical release contributes to healthy ancillary revenue generation and thus cinema grosses must be protected from the potential erosion effect of piracy.”

Parker — the founder of Napster who later played a key role in Facebook’s rise — and Akkaraju hope to entice exhibitors by sharing revenue, and giving them $20 for every $50 spent by a consumer renting a title for a 48-hour window. They also contend they will focus on consumers who don’t go to the movies. Parker and Akkaraju’s push comes at a time when serious discussions are going on between studios and theater owners about how to shorten windows without jeopardizing the box office; however, a $50 day-and-date rental service may not be the solution. – The Hollywood Reporter

When it comes to movies, Parker believes that the future is a couch-based one, but that view has its detractors. Theaters have resisted efforts to shrink the time between a film’s debut on the big screen and its launch on home entertainment platforms. That resolve could crack, after news broke in Variety that Parker and partner Prem Akkaraju have teamed to launch Screening Room, a start-up that offers new releases in the home for $50 per 48-hour view, and have managed to enlist such high-wattage stakeholders as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Hollywood’s biggest rainmaker, attorney Skip Brittenham, is representing Screening Room. Another industry vet, Jeff Blake, a former vice chairman of Sony Pictures, was recruited as a consultant.

“It’s the first real shot across the bow,” said David Weitzner, a former studio marketing chief. “There can’t be an exhibitor worth anything that doesn’t know this is where we’re headed. Short of surrendering and sticking their head in the sand, this is something both sides need to work on.” – Variety

[From The Hollywood Reporter and Variety]

This sounds just like the early digital music debate. People pirated music before it became available to buy legally, and then it was just so much more convenient to pay for it that most people did. The music companies were up in arms about iTunes before they realized it was in their best interest to get with the times and change the method of content delivery to digital. As opposed to music it’s even harder to get new release movies, not like I’ve tried or anything, and I don’t think that this device poses a piracy threat. Parker has promised that it has anti-piracy technology but there are no details yet. It would be theoretically possible to embed a random number string, traceable to an individual box, on each frame of a film so that piracy is traceable to individual accounts. People found to be distributing new movies would have their accounts shut off. I’m sure they can come up with a more proactive way to stop piracy though.

Variety explains that while there may be high profile backers and at-home new release viewing seems inevitable, the studios need to get on board and they’re afraid to piss off the big movie theaters. Parker and his team have been having meetings with studio heads and theater companies and are “close to closing a deal with AMC” theaters.

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67 Responses to “Directors Abrams, Spielberg back $50 at home new release rentals, theaters hate it”

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  1. Sixer says:

    I’m a 40 minute drive from the nearest cinema. If something like this arrived in the UK, I would see more films before they turned up on cable services too.

    • Lizzie McGuire says:

      Me too! I live in a very small town that has no movie theater & the drive to the closest one is 35-40 min more with traffic. So this sounds like heaven, if this is happening I’m happy about it. I’ll get to watch more movies without having to think about making the drive and/or spending money buying $20 popcorn at the movie theater.

      • Sixer says:

        Yep! I’m in a tiny village. My problem isn’t so much miles as windy, pot hole-y British country lanes! It takes a lot for me to hoof it out just for a film.

  2. GiGi says:

    Even though I love everything about going to the movies (especially Alamo Drafthouse!), I would be all about this. It’s a no brainer!

  3. InvaderTak says:

    I’m down. They can’t change the fact that the internet exists and people will use it. So they might as well get with it. They’ll make more money going along with this idea rather than fighting it. Will it mean that theaters are in more trouble? Yes. But CD’s and vinyl aren’t dead yet; they just had to learn to adapt and find a different market. CD’s and vinyl have actually become a great way for indie artists to sell their music without having to give in to streaming and there’s less chance for piracy if it’s all a physical medium. Adapt and innovate people.
    don’t see why it can’t be applied to the movies (obviously not that simple but you get the idea)

    • Lucinda says:

      Exactly. Theaters will have to make it a unique experience. We have a theater in a neighboring city that shut down and then reopened as a restaurant/theater. People literally go for movie and dinner all at one place and it seems to be doing well. Not my thing but I know many people who go there.

      We live in a small town and a theater finally opened several years ago. We started going to movies more than ever at first but eventually reverted back to our old habits. The problem with this small-town multi-plex is that many of the theaters have ten rows of seats and most and you just can’t get far enough away from the screen. However, they too are heavily marketing other options such as renting the screens for x-box parties, etc. I could totally see doing that for my son’s birthday some year.

      Plus, theaters could focus in on the big-budget, need-to-see-it-in-the-theater type movies. Multiple showings, midnight showings, pre-ticket sales and making it a real event while simultaneously reaping the profits from those other lower selling movies by taking the $20 from the at-home viewing crowd and freeing up dead screen space for other ventures.

      Theaters aren’t dead. They just have to change the paradigm.

      • MC2 says:

        Lucinda- I agree. Ever since a few theaters in my city opened up serving dinner, beer & couches to sit in, I can’t enjoy a regular theater. They also have mommy movies where they are adult movies during the day and you can take a baby (baby noises encouraged). I am not like my husband who enjoys explosions though so he prefers the typical theaters that are loud as f.

      • icerose says:

        This is also great for disabled people who may have difficulty accessing local cinemas,I cannot drive or use buses. Living in the country meand a trip to the cinema if my daughter is not free would cost about fifty dollars by taxi or community transport

  4. Jenns says:

    $50.00 does seem steep, but if you factor in the cost of tickets and food, $50 bucks for a family is a deal. Not to mention you can pause the movie for bathroom breaks.

    And it’s only a matter of time before this happens. I would still see movies like Star Wars or Mad Max in a theater for the experience, but for the smaller films, I would love to watch them at home.

    • Rachel says:

      We don’t have any kids, so $50 seems a little steep to me, too. Although I can see how it would actually be a good deal for a family. However, we don’t see many movies in the theater (even though I’d like to) because of distance, time constraints, etc. I’d definitely do this to see more movies and have a freaking viewing party in my house!

      • Lucinda says:

        Two 3-D tickets and some concessions would eat up $50 pretty fast so for a lot of couples $50 is still reasonable.

    • Wren says:

      Seems spendy to me too but even just going to the movies with my husband is $20 to see a matinee and share a medium popcorn. If we had a bigger family this would be a deal. And you wouldn’t have to pack everyone up into the car or buy crappy overpriced snacks. Or sneak food in, which I have totally never ever done.

      I’d love to see a service like this develop and grow. Maybe different movies could be different prices, like Star Wars would be $50 and Random Romcom would be $20 or something like that.

      Going to the movies kind of sucks anyway in my town. They play endless previews, it’s too loud, and people are assholes. My legs are long so if I don’t get the spot in front of the wheelchair railing I’m cramped by the end.

  5. Naya says:

    Its a no brainer. I’m not gonna lie, I have never turned down the opportunity to watch a film just because its still in theatres. I’ve seen a few that werent even playing yet. Plus the pirated copies are so good now that you cant even tell they are ripped. This has to be the next step.

  6. Red32 says:

    Honestly, 2 adults, 2 children and one large drink and popcorn is pretty close to $50, anyway. Plus there’s always some idiot whose cell phone goes off, or worse brings a baby to the movies and doesn’t leave when the baby starts to cry.

    • Fallon says:

      This. I’m very particular about my movie-going experience and while I would still want to see big new releases as part of a night out (in which I would expect talking, cell phones, etc), there are many other films that I would want a quieter experience for.

  7. aims says:

    I’d pay that in a heartbeat. We watch the new releases at home via Amazon and I have no problem paying the 4.99$ to watch it at home in my sweats. I also like it that I can pause, go to the bathroom then unpause. So sign me up!

  8. Pinky says:

    It’s the right direction! The price tag is too steep, but it’s precisely what must and will happen. Get with the times, theaters; change is happening with or without you.


    • crtb says:

      Way too expensive for one person – ideal for people with kids.
      I happened to love to go to the movie theater: The sound, the big screen, the dark, the energy of the audience. Not a fan of watching movies at home.

  9. D says:

    I hate going to the movies, so I think I would be willing to pay for that.

  10. BendyWindy says:

    Take my money!!

  11. Mia4s says:

    Hmmm, interesting. I like the experience of going to the theater since I have several close by to choose from. Also so far my community has been mostly free from the classless garbage that thinks it’s OK to talk or take out their cell phones (mostly). Still, I could see how this might work.

    • Dtab says:

      I am the same…I love going to the theater and having no distractions around. At home, i would be making tea and checking my phone etc. So while it is probably the way forward, I will probably still go out to the Movies.

    • CL says:

      Pray tell, where is this magical place of cell phone restraint? I may want to move

      • Mia4s says:

        Ha! Bless. Most of Eastern Canada and even Ontario outside of the big cities in my experience. I’m a bit of a nomad so I’ve been to a lot of cinemas. Just watch out for Saturday night screenings, the only time I’ve ever had an issue.

  12. Bridget says:

    Movie theaters are acutely aware of the impact of VOD, huh? Except VOD same day release is usually for movies that big chains aren’t interested in putting on their screens anyway. This is the same backlash as the early digital music movement – we’re paying top dollar for a mediocre product. Theater chains haven’t controlled their costs and fewer tickets are being sold every year (the other half of that of course is the quality of movie releases).

    But $50 with $20 going directly to the theaters? Who haven’t done anything to make the movies, but rather it’s like we’re paying to keep them afloat? No thanks.

  13. FingerBinger says:

    $50 for 48 hours? That’s a hard pass for me.

    • it's like you know says:

      Agree. That’s wayyy too steep. I’d pay $25.

      • Pablo says:

        But you can invite a few friends over and share the costs. I don’t think it’s expensive at all.

      • it's like you know says:

        @ Pablo: Nah. If I’m going to watch a movie at home, I’m doing so in my pajamas with my husband. Inviting people over, splitting costs, having to provide food/drink and cleaning up… Meh. Just go out to the movies, at that point. You know? Why stay home and pay pretty much the same thing? I live fairly close to a theater, though.

      • Lucinda says:

        I could see a bunch of 20 somethings who are broke doing a movie party. Heck, I could see my husband doing it for a movie I don’t want to see. People do that for PPV all the time. This isn’t much different.

    • SKF says:

      In Australia an adult ticket is now about $23. So if two or more people are watching that’s actually an okay deal – as long as everyone chucks in.

    • Emily says:

      Truth. Also, they’re not just competing with theaters but also with free torrents.

    • SusanneToo says:

      Not for me. I’m a solo and with senior discount I pay $5.75 for a ticket. And I like to support the small arts theatre that plays the indie films I prefer. I go every time they change films.

  14. Green Is Good says:

    Great idea. And why would studios be worried about pissing off big theater chains? What are they going to do, boycott the movies? So what? Then release the movie as pay per view /on demand. The theater chain owners can go Piss off, because the day of movie theaters is slowly ending.

    • Chem says:

      Whaat! I love going to the theater. The big screen, the popcorn is good, the VIP, people’s reactions are funny.

  15. Astrid says:

    I rarely go to a theater because $50 a trip for my family is just too much for my budget. I would go in a heartbeat if I could afford it. So I won’t be buying this service either but it seems like the next evolutionary step.

  16. ladykarinsky says:

    I’m of a couple minds about this. On one hand, it’s true that its costs at least that when you factor in sitters, gas, tickets. And really theaters have done it to themselves by being outrageous about concession prices. But I’m also lucky to live near a Harkins that has a an in-house sitting service, and my kids love going. And my husband goes for the big screen experience – there are dozens of movies that just have to be seen BIG, ya know? I’d consider it more if they included a digital copy of the movie that you own rather than movie tickets.

  17. vauvert says:

    We are close to a couple of huge theatres but if they bring this deal to Canada I am all in. Our tix cost around Cad$15/pp and you add another $10 for concession. Plus, it’s always starting too early or too late, so just the convenience factor alone is a bonus. And I am not one of those people with a gigantic cinema set up in the basement (but we have friends who have gone the route of a complete setup with very expensive equipment and I am sure they will be lining up for this.)

  18. CornyBlue says:

    While I do enjoy a theater experience, i live in a new city where all the friends I have made have very different tastes to me and we never agree on movies to watch. So this would be so welcome.

  19. HeyThere! says:

    My husband and I hate the theater! We ALWAYS get stuck by the people on their phones the entire time?! Some people even answer their calls and run out. Ugh. I always have to pee mid way and miss the best part. It’s so expensive and you have to sit in these shitty seats that don’t recline and are very short. So you sink down in them so our head and shoulders have something to lean on…then you get up after the moving and can hardly walk you are in so much pain!!! We don’t have a theater with the crazy awesome seats like one in Miami when we were on vacation! I also would will not pay 50$! We are too cheap for that. For several years now we wait to see things and we rent them. It’s no big deal to us. 1$ rentals in our small down, 1.99$ if you want fancy blue ray!!! We see tons of movies, we just wait for rental. We have so much money doing this. 99% of the time I’m like “thank God we didn’t pay 50$ for this crap movie, it wasn’t very good was it???” Hahahah

    • CL says:

      A suggestion to help with a complaint you made: download the RunPee app. You start it when your movie starts, and it tells you how long until the next “peetime” (meaning a good time to go). Then it tells you how long you have and gives you a summary of heat you missed during that time. It’s genius.

  20. missmerry says:

    I think my personal situation makes this whole thing expensive and silly.

    We live 20 mins from a theater that charges $8 for a movie on tuesday. we go out of our way to go on tuesdays. we care little for seeing things as they release (unless it’s in IMAX, usually)
    even on a weekend, it’s under $30 for two of us to see a new release.
    we bring our own snacks, its never made sense to me to buy food there (its not even that good)

    I also don’t see how people could be stopped from filming their own TV with another device and putting that on torrent sites.

    I get if they have special technology to prevent or catch people who are DVR’ing the movie as it plays or something…but I don’t see how this is foolproof or how the price is enticing (unless you live an hour from a theater, which is crazy! and I grew up in New Hampshire and I can’t think of any place I lived there that was more than 30 mins from a theater)

  21. Peanutbuttr says:

    I don’t think $50 is unreasonable. If it was only you, yeah that would be steep but I assume you’d be watching with other people and when you do the cost per person, it starts to look reasonable. I went to see Star Wars with my siblings and their kids and the tickets came out to a total of more than $100.


  22. Peanutbuttr says:

    And may I add, unless I am watching with a highly passionate fan base (like I did for Doctor Who screenings) or the theatre is giving a premium experience like those in South Florida, the whole movie going experience is crap. Sticky floors, obnoxious kids, and oversized and overpriced drinks

  23. Madpoe says:

    Cut it in half and I may consider. You still don’t know if you’d like the movie and its not like you’re gonna walk outta your house if you hate the film. lol. Not everyone has the TV/sound system they’d like either, which now some neighbors may invest and start blaring their sh*t for the movie feel in a tiny NYC apartment. Great *eye rolls*

  24. mkyarwood says:

    It seems steep, but I think this has always been the initial price tag since the idea started popping up. We’d be customers, for sure. With two kids and limited trusted babysitters, we don’t go to theatres much (except the drive in, but that’s an hour away). My question is, does ‘home release’ mean we can include other people, or would that count as our own screening? Like, are people going to bust your door down for piracy if you tweet you’re watching the new Abrams’ film with 20 of your closest friends?

  25. Deadnotsleeping says:

    I’ll take a hard pass. I like going to the theater and the whole “movie experience”. I saw Deadpool opening weekend and it wouldn’t have been the same at home as with the whole theater cracking up. And part of the reason I go to the movies with friends is to get away from our homes/husbands/kids. But there are movies worth paying the money for and movies that are worth waiting until they are on netflix or Amazon prime. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. I also like to own movies. Why would I pay $50 when I can wait a few months and pay $25 for a bluray with digital copy?

    • SusanneToo says:

      I’m with you. I can wait also for lots of movies. My library gets the latest releases the day they come out on dvd/bluray and it’s $0.75 for one week rental. If I want to own it I wait till I can get it from Amazon for $10.00 or less. For things like Star Wars, Deadpool, Mad Max, etc., I take my grandson to the big screen.

  26. lucy2 says:

    For a larger family or a group, it’s a good deal, but I still like the theater experience, especially for big movies. I get too distracted at home – the cat is jumping on me, the laundry needs to be folded, that actor looks familiar let me look them up on my phone, etc. Some movies are fine for that, but for a really good movie, I prefer the theater, which is a more immersive experience. The one two miles from my house is terrible, but a lot of my movie going friends live near nicer theaters, so we go there. I don’t mind driving a little for the experience.

  27. Mimi says:

    The hubby and I would be soooo happy if this happened. We are movie lovers, but between his work schedule and my son’s school/extracurricular activities, we just don’t make it to the theater as often as we’d like. Make it happen, Napster dude.

  28. Izzy says:

    The price seems a little steep. Also, I may be missing something, but they already do same-day release to VOD, so why not just expand that mechanism and charge more for big box office movies? Whatever, not my problem. It’ll happen or it won’t, and I’ll partake or I won’t. Meanwhile, I have the release schedule for every Marvel movie that’s known on my iPhone. Boo-yah.

  29. rtms says:

    For a single person like me it’s way too much. And the point of seeing it at home is to save money, not spend the same amount you would going. I don’t see this taking off. Your not paying for snacks and drinks etc nor for premium sound or seating. All the expenes for the movie have been covered and actors etc paid for. I What would the point be. And I bet you anything they will have restrictions on showing it to more than two people in a room, same as sports bars etc who got in trouble for showing boxing matches etc to patrons with the same excuse, we paid for it so we can show it off. Hmm I see piracy going through the roof to protest this.

    • Lemon Tea says:

      ” will have restrictions on showing it to more than two people”

      Impossible to enforce in millions of private households. Sports bars are public. The $50 tag indicates they’re happy for you to show it in a private setting to anyone you want to invite over. If families started breaching (likely) terms and charging for attendance, word would get out – and that’s very different to inviting your whole neighbourhood over for a private movie night that’s free for all.

  30. Embee says:

    Interesting. I think it’s inevitable. The last time I went to a theater was for a matinee of Frozen (for my daughter, obvs) and before that I’m pretty sure it was Charlie Wilson’s War in like, 2007.

    I don’t have strong feelings about this because it’s such a no-brainer for me. I virtually stopped attending the cinema because there’s nothing in my body or mind that responds to the prospect of paying even $12-$15 to sit close to hundreds of strangers, 30% of whom have poor manners, in a dirty, uncomfortable seat and forced to eat (if hungry) over-priced, unhealthy food that tastes fake for the privilege of watching what will undoubtedly be a mediocre movie delivered at a volume so loud I fear for my hearing.


  31. thaisajs says:

    I don’t understand why they would build this service so that you’d have to get ANOTHER set-top box. They could easily deliver movies digitally via apps. So there’s that.

    Also, I’m sorry but there is no movie that I would spend $50 to watch at home. If I had a large family? Sure, I guess that makes sense. It doesn’t make sense, however, for single people or those who don’t have a couple of kids at home.

    • Lemon Tea says:

      “Also, I’m sorry but there is no movie that I would spend $50 to watch at home”

      I agree, families are the target demo. But have you noticed how at any time 30 – 50% of the films showing at the movies are for kids or strictly family friendly?

  32. iheartjacksparrow says:

    I agree that the theater chains need to evolve with the times. I don’t know if it’s the economy, but when I went to see Zootopia opening weekend on an IMAX screen, there was only six other people in the theater. And that particular theater went from having 31 screens, to closing off one entire section and now having only 17 screens.

    I also agree that $50 is too high a price for one movie. If they cut it to $25 you can sign me up, as that’s basically what I’d pay for tickets for myself and my husband. I would love to see more movies when they are released, but I get all the pay channels (HBO, Starz, etc.) so waiting six months to a year is not that much of a hardship.

    • Lemon Tea says:

      You’re going to have people hosting movie nights and paying just $50 for possible 15 people. $50 is reasonable.

  33. Kate says:

    I like this idea. It’s very cost effective, especially for larger families and parents whose children are too small to attend the movies – it’s saves on babysitting for them. I also love this idea for people like me who have compromised immune systems and miss out during the winter because we have to avoid crowds.
    I still love everything about going to the movies but I would love to see this come to pass.

  34. Gia says:

    Screw them. I’ll download the torrent and watch it for free. Maybe they should consider pay cuts for their “stars”. $10-$20 million for acting is unjustifiable.

  35. ME! says:

    My husband is 6’5″ tall, so fitting in a seat and having to worry about the person behind him is a real concern. We try to sit in the top row, but the teenagers snag those. And for a movie like Star Wars, forget it. This would be a great option for us (we have kids!) and allow us all to see the movie together. Now, I just take the kids, which is sad.

  36. Lemon Tea says:

    I still love catching films at the cinemas but have to admit this at-home release thing is overdue. $50 and bring your own popcorn versus $100+ for a whole family after traffic and a stressful, annoying trip through mall/car park, etc? Cinemas will never completely die out but they’re going to be fairly novel in terms of how many locations you get in a city. I’ve seen all sorts of things like great catering and massage chairs, but people are getting used to the idea their 400 inch TV could be just as good.

  37. Sarah01 says:

    50 bucks is steep!

  38. MB says:

    Watch new release movies at home with this one quick trick! Theaters HATE it!!

  39. CharlotteCharlotte says:

    JJ’s hand doesn’t look so much like he’s waving a greeting, as it does that he’s trying to Jedi mind wipe us all.