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The Screening Room — Sean Parker’s proposed day-and-date film service that had Hollywood buzzing a year ago and then promptly disappeared — is finally taking shape, an individual close to the company told TheWrap.
Co-founder and CEO Prem Akkaraju has spent the past year nailing down security protocols to address concerns that the service would be vulnerable to piracy, the insider said, and the company will attend CinemaCon next week to meet with studio heads and movie exhibitors to explore distribution deals.
The “refined” security measures are the most evolved part of the product, the individual added — which was reported to involve a set-top device that would put new releases in consumer homes the same day they hit theaters, for a per-movie fee targeted around $50.
Both men are expected to hit the convention floor at Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace this year, the insider said.
In 2016, Akkaraju attended CinemaCon solo while Parker took first-look meetings in Los Angeles and New York with major players like Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox and mini-majors like The Weinstein Company.
A major question at last year’s convention and in the industry at large was how Parker and Akkaraju intended to protect studio intellectual property. Not to mention the blunt annoyance felt by studios and filmmakers that a third party would come between them and American theater owners, and force a conversation about evolving windows — or the lifespan of a movie in physical theaters before it hits streaming, VOD, digital download and the ever-declining DVD market.
The Screening Room does count A-list champions and stakeholders including Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson and more. The company also retains high-powered attorney Skip Brittenham and has a senior advisor in former Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Jeff Blake.
While many blasted the idea of eliminating the theatrical window altogether, industry veterans have become increasingly focused on evolving traditional rollout of movies across different platforms.
“For a business not to be able to sell what it makes for a period of time is anachronistic,” Fox Film chief Stacey Snider said at February’s Code Media conference.
“Most of the big films, even the blockbusters, have done 90 percent of their business in the first three to four weeks,” she continued. “Who is it helping [by] not to offer premium video on demand earlier? Who is it hurting?”
It will be interesting to see whether studios would consider working with a third party like Screening Room — and some studios may be better positioned to explore their own path to more immediate home viewing. Universal Pictures is owned by the cable giant Comcast, while Warner Bros. films could be streamed through DirecTV if the studio completes its merger with AT&T.
While Screening Room’s business model does allocate a portion of the $50 fee would go to theater owners, the logistics of dividing that payment seem complicated.
Exhibitors have taken a chilly view on the proposal. “Movie theater operators … will individually decide what business models work for movie theater operators,” a spokesperson for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) said last March.
“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.”
CinemaCon runs from March 27-30, and will feature slate presentations from the major studios as well as STX, Focus Features and Amazon.