From Nickelodeons to Screening Room, how we watch what we watch has been and will be a key element of the cinematic experience.
I am withholding my opinion on these following stories until I hear from you, dear students and graduates, as it is YOUR tomorrow that will be most impacted by this “breakthrough” in film distribution and exhibition.
It is your “stories” that are going to be impacted by this technology.
Read, think, debate, and share.
FROM THE LA TIMES 4-5-16:
Sean Parker stood in front of a whiteboard at Napster’s dingy offices in San Mateo, Calif., and mapped out a hoped-for future for the besieged music file-sharing service.
It was late at night, and amid the detritus of discarded pizza boxes, a group of Red Bull-guzzling employees had assembled to hear the Napster co-founder’s plan to begin paying fees to artists and record labels, recalls filmmaker Alex Winter, whose documentary “Downloaded” covers the rise and fall of Napster.
“This was an impassioned explanation of why Napster at its heart was not a ‘stealing business,'” Winter said of the 1999 meeting. “He made it clear that if they couldn’t do licensing deals with the labels, they’d have to close down.”
Napster was eventually shut down by court order after being deluged by lawsuits from record labels and the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Fifteen years later, Parker, 36, is once again attempting to take on an entrenched industry in the entertainment space.
He is pitching Hollywood on an unorthodox home-video service called Screening Room that would give users access to films the day that they’re released in theaters for $50 each. If Parker succeeds, it could open a vast new revenue stream for him and change how entertainment is consumed in the home.
But his plans have reignited long-simmering tensions in Hollywood over the future of cinema and face stiff opposition from many exhibitors and filmmakers who view the simultaneous release of movies in theaters and homes as a threat to their business.
Parker also comes with baggage: An arrest on suspicion of cocaine possession cost him a top job at Facebook, for example. And, fairly or not, Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of him in “The Social Network” as a glib and greedy schemer has attached itself to him. (“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool?A billion dollars,” the Parker character says in one scene.)
Parker’s supporters say that he’s well suited to take on — and ultimately win over — the Hollywood studios, whose content his company would need to be viable.
“His legend had been both mythologized … and blown completely out of proportion,” said Winter, whose “Downloaded” was released in 2013. “One thing that was very clear to me when I met Sean Parker as a teenager: He was incredibly smart and incredibly capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody.”
In what could be a make-or-break moment for Parker and Screening Room Chief Executive Prem Akkaraju, the company’s system is scheduled to be shown to industry professionals in private meetings held in Las Vegas during the annual CinemaCon convention next week.
The service would offer 48-hour rentals of films via a set-top box that would cost about $150. Revenue would be split among Screening Room, studios and exhibitors. Also, each rental would come with a pair of tickets to see the film in movie theaters.
Some filmmakers back the idea because they worry that their business risks being left behind by upstarts such as Netflix. Screening Room’s supporters include producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard — who are also advisors to the company — and “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender, who said he asked to invest in Screening Room after receiving a demonstration.
“I think it’s going to be good for everybody,” Bender said. “I’m extremely confident that it is not going to affect the number of people going to the theater, but it is going to add a huge amount to the box office.”
Many detractors have also spoken out against Screening Room. The trade groups representing European and North American movie theater owners have rejected the service, as have directors such as James Cameron and Christopher Nolan and producer Bill Mechanic.
“I think it’s an anathema and extremely destructive to the business,” Mechanic said. “Creatively, movies are meant to be shared with an audience in a darkened environment on giant screens.”
Tim League, the founder of theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, said he worries that Screening Room “will jeopardize the content business as a whole.”
Parker declined to comment.
For years, efforts to beam movies into consumers’ homes on or near the date of their theatrical premieres have been met with staunch resistance from cinema chains. And studios — whose product is deeply tied to the exhibition business — have often been reluctant to rock the boat. Typically movies are made available in the home about 90 days after they debut in cineplexes.
Theater chains refused this year to show Netflix’s sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which was intended for a simultaneous release in theaters and on the streaming service.
The country’s largest theater chains, including AMC Entertainment — which is reportedly interested in Screening Room — declined to comment.
Some studios such as Universal have been willing to experiment with video-on-demand in recent years, in part because it offers a new revenue source as DVD and Blu-ray sales have plummeted.
Five of the six major film studios declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Paramount said the studio has “made no decisions about this venture.” A person close to Walt Disney Co. said the company is not currently supportive of Screening Room.
Despite the disagreement, there is widespread acknowledgment that consumers’ viewing habits are changing.
Netflix and other popular streaming video platforms have allowed consumers to watch on-demand content from the comfort of their increasingly high-tech living rooms. Some analysts believe that trends in media consumption suggest that eventually people will be able to watch movies at home starting the day they are released in cinemas.
But there is skepticism that Parker is the person to crack the code. Doubters have cited Napster as evidence that Parker may not be the right person to take on Hollywood.
Parker grew up in Herndon, Va., not far from Washington, D.C. He was turned on to programming at an early age when his oceanographer father gave him a computer and taught him how to use it. By his teenage years, Parker was hacking into the computer systems of corporations and governments. That led to his arrest at the age of 16 by the FBI. He was given community service for his offenses.
In 1999, Parker — who did not go to college — moved to California to join up with Shawn Fanning, whom he had met online and who was then creating Napster.
Together, Fanning and Parker, then just 18 and 19, roiled the music industry by releasing Napster in 1999. Tens of millions of people were soon using the service to download MP3 music files, but a wave of lawsuits shut it down in July 2001.
“I think there was a real arrogance on the side of not only Napster but others as well — ‘We are going to reinvent music and bring this to the people and damn the torpedoes,'” said Russ Crupnick, a music industry analyst for MusicWatch.
Friends like Court Coursey noted that Parker is in good company with many other accomplished businessmen who have had their share of setbacks.
“It is very rare to see a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t have some failures in his past,” said Coursey, managing partner at investment firm TomorrowVentures. “You have to believe that the person that you are backing … [will] know when to pivot and make a business successful. Obviously Sean has that track record.”
In addition to Napster, Parker backed Facebook and Spotify early on. His wealth soared when Facebook went public in 2012.
Parker joined Facebook in 2004, and as the company’s first president, he has been credited with helping transform it from a fledgling website started in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room into a serious business. He has been described as a mentor to Zuckerberg and an advocate for the Menlo Park, Calif., company and its founder during its rocky early days.
But Parker was long gone from Facebook by the time of its initial public offering of stock: He left his post in 2005 after the cocaine-related arrest (he was not formally charged with a crime).
He also has a penchant for living it up in ways that attract attention — and scrutiny. In 2013, The Times reported that he had agreed to pay a $2.5-million penalty for unpermitted construction as part of his roughly $10-million wedding at a coastal redwood forest in Big Sur.
Parker married singer-songwriter Alexandra Lenas in a fairy-tale themed gathering that required construction of “artificially created ‘ruins’ of cottage and castle walls,” according to a California Coastal Commission report.
Screening Room would not be the first to rent movies to consumers at home on the same day that they are released in cinemas. Prima Cinema Inc. offers a service that allows users who shell out $35,000 for an in-home device the ability to screen first-run films for $500 a pop. Prima, which declined to disclose its number of subscribers, caters to a high-end crowd.
“Our goal was never to try to disrupt a business,” Prima Chief Executive Shawn Yeager said. “At $50, it is hard to imagine how [Screening Room] doesn’t disrupt.”
FROM DEADLINE 3-14-16
Oscar-winning Imagine Entertainment partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have issued the following statement in favor of the Screening Room, Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju’s day-and-date streaming concept. Their response comes a little more than 24 hours after Peter Jackson expressed his vocal support of the proposed service.
“When we met Sean (Parker) and Prem (Akkaraju) last year it was clear Screening Room was the only solution that supports all stakeholders in the industry: exhibitors, studios and filmmakers. The SR model is fair, balanced and provides significant value for the entire industry that we love. We make movies for the big screen and for as many people to see it. Screening Room uniquely provides that solution.”
Yesterday, Deadline broke the news that the Screening Room’s board of shareholders and advocates also includes Martin Scorsese, Taylor Hackford and Frank Marshall. They join Jackson, Grazer, Howard, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams.
Jackson, who originally signed a 2011 open letter from the Hollywood creative community protesting Universal’s proposed day-and-date streaming of Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist back in 2011, addressed his change of heart yesterday stating:
“I had concerns about ‘DirecTV’ in 2011, because it was a concept that I believe would have led to the cannibalization of theatrical revenues, to the ultimate detriment of the movie business. Screening Room, however, is very carefully designed to capture an audience that does not currently go to the cinema. That is a critical point of difference with the DirecTV approach – and along with Screening Room’s robust anti-piracy strategy, is exactly why Screening Room has my support.
“Screening Room will expand the audience for a movie – not shift it from cinema to living room. It does not play off studio against theater owner. Instead it respects both, and is structured to support the long term health of both exhibitors and distributors – resulting in greater sustainability for the wider film industry itself.”
Parker, who was one of Napster’s co-founders, has been pitching studio and exhibition on the Screening Room, a streaming service whereby consumers can rent a major studio film on the same day as its theatrical release for $50 (after a $150 set-top box purchase). Exhibition stands to make $20 a title. In addition, consumers renting a title (good for 48 hours) will receive two tickets to the same move at a local theater, this way an exhibitor can potentially recoup on concessions. The concept is said to be in its infancy stage with only Warner Bros, Sony and Fox having heard presentations. AMC Theatres reportedly has signed a letter of intent. The Screening Room is trying to persuade studios that this could restore the safety net they lost when DVD revenues cratered. When news hit last Wednesday about The Screening Room, Deadline heard a chorus of protests about the service from theater chains and studios.
FROM VARIETY 3-16-16
Landau told Variety that he and Cameron believe that the initial release of films should take place only in theaters.
“We know that this proposal is at the early stage and we have an obligation to speak out publicly against it,” he added.
Early supporters of the Screening Room include Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Frank Marshall, Taylor Hackford, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Variety first reported last week that Sean Parker had originated the proposal, which would offer new releases in the home for $50 per 48-hour view.
Landau and Cameron are the producers of “Titanic” and “Avatar” — the two highest-grossing films ever made, with combined worldwide box office of about $5 billion. They are working on a trilogy of “Avatar” sequels.
Both received a best picture Oscar for “Titanic.”
“To us, the in-theater experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on,” Landau said. “No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it.”
FROM THE DAILY BEAST 3-26-16
A war is raging in Hollywood—and no, I’m not referring to this weekend’s titanic throwdown between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel. Rather, it’s a battle being waged over the future of movie distribution, and it’s been instigated by Sean Parker, the entrepreneur who rose to Silicon Valley fame as the cofounder of Napster and, later, as the initial president of Facebook. Along with partner Prem Akkaraju, Parker has forwarded an idea dubbed “the Screening Room” which will allow people to watch new movies at home on the same day they make their big-screen debuts. That proposal has led many of cinema’s biggest names, as well as the theaters themselves, to square off in a debate that, at heart, is about the delivery model that has long guided the industry.
The thing is, triumph or disaster, the Screening Room is merely another sign that the cineplex’s demise (at least as the movies’ foremost venue) is not-so-slowly approaching.
This isn’t to argue that AMC, Regal, and Cinemark—the country’s three biggest chains—should turn off the lights, lock the doors, and board up the windows just yet. Rather, it’s to suggest that regardless of the Screening Room’s ultimate destiny, the fact that such a plan has been floated by a name as big as Parker, and supported by a raft of cinematic luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, reconfirms the notion that in the long term, technology is apt to make the traditional movie-distribution template outdated—or, at least, a far more marginal, niche business.
This potential development warrants no joyous fanfare, since there’s still no better way to enjoy a film than on a gigantic screen, in a pitch-black auditorium, with a bucket of popcorn, a drink, and/or choice of junk food directly at hand. That experience, at once personal and communal, is at its finest so entrancing, overwhelming, and purely entertaining that its shortcomings—screaming kids, rude patrons on their cellphones, absurdly inflated ticket and concession fees—can’t overshadow its sheer sensory majesty. It is, in short, the ideal way to see a film, be it a comedy, a romance, a drama, or a larger-than-life, louder-than-loud CGI superhero action extravaganza.
And yet the Screening Room is merely the opening salvo in an assault that theaters are unlikely to sustain. The particulars of Parker’s plan are simple: purchase a $150 proprietary set-top box that connects to your TV, and then use it to rent premiere movies for $50 per title (watchable over a 48-hour period). According to Parker, this idea supposedly won’t steal business away from theaters, since it’ll only appeal to those customers—primarily older adults with kids and jobs—who don’t have the time or patience to head out to the multiplex. Plus, to placate distributors, they’ll get a cut of the set-top box fee, as well as 20 percent of each $50 rental.
Who’s on board for that? Well, apparently lots of filmmakers, including Spielberg, Howard, Peter Jackson, and J.J. Abrams, all of whom are reportedly shareholders in the venture. On the other side of the fence stand heavyweights like Christopher Nolan and James Cameron, who’ve actively spoken out against the Screening Room—as has, predictably, the National Association of Theatre Owners, who in so many words told Parker to butt out; they’ll figure out their business on their own.
Setting aside the fact that the Screening Room will invariably lead to greater piracy—there’s virtually no way its set-top box’s anti-piracy technology won’t be cracked by industrious hackers, given the coveted content up for grabs—there’s something questionable about the underlying logic behind the Screening Room.
Specifically, it’s difficult to imagine there being an enormous untapped moviegoing market willing to shell out $50/title for any film. Certainly, DirecTV’s failed 2011 attempt to charge $29.99 for rentals of relatively new movies (i.e. after they’d been in theaters for 60 days) implies that such prices are prohibitive, regardless of any living-room convenience. It’s true that, if split between multiple viewers (a spouse and kids, or friends), that cost is roughly equal to a night out at the movies. Nonetheless, it remains exceedingly high when the trade-off is a smaller screen and a less-social and fun night-out-doing-something atmosphere. For that diminished at-home experience, you can wait three months for the film to hit VOD and blu-ray at a far cheaper rate.
No matter the Screening Room’s possible flaws, however, the paradigm it portends is very real, and likely inevitable. While watching movies outside a movie theater may not be preferable, the convenience of doing so is a powerful draw—and as younger generations grow up consuming videos of all sorts (not just feature films, but also TV shows and YouTube clips) on their handheld devices, and via Apple TVs and Rokus, that entitled desire for everything-at-your-fingertips expediency will grow.
And then, of course, there’s the matter of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, which have moved full-force into the business of producing original content—Netflix will premiere at least 16 exclusive features in 2016, many headlined by A-list stars—that won’t ever be projected in a theater.
While multiplex attendance has largely stagnated over the past decade, opposing forces have been on the rise: the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, and Web-enabled ultra-HD TVs and home theater set-ups; escalating Internet (and thus streaming) speeds; the top-to-bottom digitization of movies’ production and exhibition; and the rampant availability of pirated movies available for illegal downloading (proven, most recently, by the pre-VOD leak of Star Wars: The Force Awakens). When taken together, it’s hard not to envision a rapidly approaching time when consumers come to expect, if not outright demand, that movies be accessible—in every form—on the day of their release.
That’s how TV shows and music work. The former may look better on a giant flat-screen than on your iPhone, and the latter may sound better on a phonograph than via an mp3 file. Yet in the evolution of both mediums, quality of consumption hasn’t been the determining factor; maximum convenience coupled with minimal cost and hassle has been. The same will invariably hold true with regards to movies as well.
In other words: The Screening Room’s fate is still unknown, but also for better or worse, cinema’s future will likely play out not (only) in a dark, crowded theater, but from the comfort of your couch—if not the palm of your hand.