By Jordan O’Brien
Francis Ford Coppola appears to be the next Hollywood heavyweight to embrace services like Screening Room that allow consumers to skip the cinema and enjoy first-run movies at home, the same day they’re released in theaters.
Coppola tells Flavorwire, “The truth is that you’re going to be able to see it [new release] in the theater or at home or wherever you want to because you are the boss of that; you are the patron.”
The director also notes that movie theaters cannot “make those kinds of stipulations” about where a customer consumes new movies. Understandably, commercial theater owners are not too happy about prospects for same-day-and-date movie screenings in the home.
In his seeming embrace of such services as Screening Room, Coppola joins other Hollywood greats who endorse the new movie-viewing paradigm.
During the recent CinemaCon, director J.J. Abrams gave a speech claiming that cinemas need to adapt to stay alive or risk dying out. He also justified day-and-date movie streaming services as a way to combat piracy and give people easier access to the films created in Hollywood.
“We need to do everything we can in this age of piracy, digital technology, and disruption to be thoughtful partners in the evolution of this medium… We have to adapt. It’s going to be required of all of us. We need to meet that challenge with excitement, and create solutions – not fear,” Abrams says. “As the world evolves, all of us are evolving with it. We have to adapt.”
J.J Abrams isn’t the only director backing the Screening Room, with Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Peter Jackson also backing the service. James Cameron and Christopher Nolan are firmly against the plans however, with both directors believing it would cheapen the movie-going experience.
The Screening Room Story
Several times over the past decade pundits have declared the ‘death’ of cinemas. Despite the constant calls for their death however, the industry has remained strong, with box office numbers hitting new heights in 2015.
There is one reason cinemas remain resilient – they all have an exclusive period where people can catch the latest and greatest movie releases. Netflix tried to change this by releasing its own original content, but it hasn’t quite dented box office numbers. One movie streaming service that has the backing of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg could, however, and it’s called Screening Room.
Screening Room is the movie streaming service from Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker and entertainment mogul Prem Akkaraju.
Parker has a history of running services that are popular with consumers everywhere, but unlike Napster, which ran into legal trouble with the music industry, Screening Room is trying to enlist the industry’s help before its launch.
According to Variety, several big names have already agreed to participate in the service, including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard. It’s no surprise that they’re all on-board, as each director has a stake in the service – much like several big-name artists have a stake in Tidal.
Jeff Blake, the former vice chairman of Sony Pictures, is also a stakeholder, having reportedly been consulting for Screening Room for months on end and working tirelessly to get the movie industry on-board.
The goal of Screening Room is to offer movies on the same day of release in theaters for a $50 fee per movie. It would also charge $150 for access to its anti-piracy equipped set-top box that will transmit the movies – a much more affordable option to offer their clients than similar service Prima Cinema, which costs around $35,000 for the hardware and $500 per movie.
The differences between Prima Cinema and Screening Room don’t end there, either. While Prima Cinema offers some of the latest releases, Screening Room is hoping to sign up as many movie studios as it can to offer pretty much every film released.
The biggest stumbling block to Screening Room will be the cinemas themselves – they’re a force to be reckoned with and have often boycotted films, or at least threatened to boycott them, if something doesn’t go their way.
To ensure that cinemas jump on-board with the scheme, Screening Room is supposedly cutting them in on the revenue. In fact, they are set to get one of the biggest slices of the pie, with $20 out of every $50 reportedly going to the cinema chain – customers will also get two free cinema tickets to see the movie at the cinema, meaning cinemas could still upsell customers on concessions.
Despite the incentives, it appears movie studios and cinema chains are still skeptical. Deadline caught up with some of those in the industry before they head to CinemaCon.
“The minute that we allow this (day-and-date) streaming, it will vastly diminish theatrical exhibition,” said one studio exec. “They say it will take 10 to 15 years to impact them, but who knows the time frame? Look at what happened to the music industry.”
One insider notes: “The anti-piracy element of the box isn’t sure-fire. People come up with very sophisticated ways to prevent piracy and then some 17-year old comes along and hacks into it. If you don’t think piracy is real, you might want to talk with the producers of Expendables 3.”
Cinemark’s CEO Mark Zoradi said in a statement: “The exhibition window has been the most stable window long-term and the theatrical success of a film drives the value proposition for the studios’ downstream ancillary markets. Cinemark believes that any day-and-date propositions must be critically evaluated to avoid the devaluation of the exhibition window and all subsequent revenue streams of our content providers.”
“Anyone who predicts day-and-date for major releases is talking out of their hat,” one insider told Deadline.
“It doesn’t work. The revenues just aren’t there. Distributors are experimenting with a shorter window, but even the small guys who do day-and-date know it doesn’t work.
“Marketing is the biggest problem that distribution faces. That’s the only rationale for day-and-date: reduce marketing costs and hope that the theatrical element draws more attention, gets them better placement on the VOD menu and reduces marketing spend.
“Any reasonable-sized budget is unrecoverable with a simultaneous release model. Even the people who do day-and-date aren’t happy with the results.”
Despite some in the industry reacting negatively to the news, including Art House theatres that could have the most to lose, some still support the idea – with reports claiming that Paramount Pictures and the country’s biggest cinema chain AMC are on-board.
“At least conversations have started about how to address all these issues. No one they have met with to this point have slammed a door in their faces,” said one supporter who did not want to be identified.
“If all the different stakeholders are not on board, it’s not going to happen. You have to have exhibition, distribution and film-makers all on board and that conversation has started. We are in a new world and the issues have to be viewed differently and through a different lens and that’s what they are doing.”
Top Hollywood Directors/Producers React
James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, and Jon Landau remain unconvinced by the Screening Room, however. In an exclusive interview with Deadline Cameron and Landau spoke about how damaging the service would be to the film industry.
James Cameron would likely have the most to lose. The director is one of the most successful of all time, holding the top two spaces in terms of box office grosses – Avatar and Titanic. The director has also been behind the successes of The Terminator and Alien series – both which reaped in massive rewards at the box office.
Speaking to Deadline, Cameron and Landau, one of Hollywood’s top producers, described how movies should “be offered exclusively in theatres for their initial release.”
Explaining their reasoning behind that decision Jon Landau said: “Both Jim and I remain committed to the sanctity of the in-theatre experience. For us, from both a creative and financial standpoint, it is essential for movies to be offered exclusively in theatres for their initial release.”
It’s a heavy blow to the Screening Room’s PR campaign, but it’s an understandable one. For years the cinema industry has boasted about its ability to offer experiences unrivaled to people’s homes – including in terms of optics, whether it be Dolby Vision or commercial-grade projectors and sound, with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D.
While many of these experiences are available at home, commercial-grade technologies have always tended to be superior to their residential counterparts – and not even a state-of-the-art home theatre can beat the sheer size of an IMAX screen.
Landau continued: “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. To us, the in-theatre experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on.
“No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it. The in-theater communal experience is very special.”
Both Landau and Cameron also remain unconvinced that the Screening Room’s set-top box will be as ‘piracy-proof’ as it claims. Others have already noted that it can be circumvented just by recording the screen the movie is being played on using an HD camera – it seems Landau and Cameron agree.
“Once something is available in the home, you open yourself up to a vulnerability of piracy and what we have learned is that people who watch pirated movies, do not care about the quality of what they watch,” he said.
There’s also the problem with the ‘water fountain effect’. While it costs $50 to rent a movie for 48 hours, there’s no saying how many people will watch that $50 download. It could potentially be one or two or even fifty. If it’s the latter, then movie studios would lose significant revenue.
“I heard Today show hosts talk on air about, ‘Oh great, let’s have opening day event parties at our home to watch the movie.’ Who knows how many people would attend? As an industry, we have a responsibility to support all the theaters not only the big chains in big cities, but all theaters — in small towns and the small chains, too.
We do that by creating quality content and the theater owners have a responsibility to continually upgrade their theaters to provide a state of the art presentations,” Landau continued.
“I really view the distributors and theater owners as partners in this industry and we need to work together to continue to create an in-theater special experience for moviegoers around the world.”
James Cameron and Jon Landau aren’t the only directors against the plan though. Christopher Nolan backed the two Hollywood giants up by saying: “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.”
While the two most successful directors of all time are supposedly on-board with the plan, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, James Cameron ranks third in terms of total box office takings. Fourth place Michael Bay has remained silent on the matter thus far.
In 2011 Universal Studios attempted to release the film Tower Heist on VOD the same day it came out at cinemas. At the time Michael Bay joined countless other directors, including Christopher Nolan, James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino opposing the plan. He was joined by Peter Jackson – who has since changed his position on day-and-date releases.