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Would you pay $50 to watch a movie on your TV? Napster's founder thinks you will

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How much would you pay to watch a blockbuster movie from the comfort of your couch on the same day it comes out in theaters? How about $50?

Thanks in part to Sean Parker — the man who disrupted the music business with file-sharing service Napster — we might be able to do that.

A startup called Screening Room reportedly has a piracy-proof set top box and a growing list of Hollywood studios, filmmakers and theaters interested in bringing big movies directly to the small screen.

Brent Lang, a senior film and media writer for Variety, recently wrote about Screening Room. He spoke with The Frame’s John Horn.

Who might a service like Screening Room appeal to?

...There’s this sort of age around the time that people have children — of between mid-30s and mid-50s — when people just sort of stop going to the movies as frequently. And what this technology would in theory do is allow studios to capture that audience and, advocates for the Screening Room suggest, grow the movie business.

Are there any theaters showing interest?

Well, it sounds as though AMC is the most interested in this proposal, which is not surprising because they’ve been the theater that’s most willing to experiment. But other exhibitors such as Regal [Cinema] apparently are not interested in this plan, at least not yet. And as you say, some people feel like something like this would, in essence, be midwifing their own demise... You could encourage people to not show up at the theaters anymore.

One of the things that’s been interesting to see is some of the bigger Hollywood names getting behind this: J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson. Why do you think these filmmakers are making a bet on a technology which could in theory keep theatergoers away from the multiplex?

Well, I can’t speak for all of them, although Peter Jackson did come out and confirm his involvement. But, you know, when you look at how the movie business is currently constructed, it’s quite interesting, because while domestic ticket sales reached $11 billion for the first time last year, fewer films were responsible for a greater percentage of that income. So what you have is a real case of haves and have nots. You have a very few films like “Deadpool” or “Zootopia” doing monster numbers and you have a lot of movies that are falling through the cracks. And maybe something like a Screening Room — I’m not sure [but] perhaps these filmmakers reason — could provide a business model forward for films that aren’t about superheroes or comic book characters or transformers and allow them to have a viable business model.

What are some of the major studios thinking about this?

Well, right now, officially it’s a very firm “no comment.” But we have heard that several studios are very interested. So far the only studio that we know that is firmly a "no" is Disney. And that makes a lot of sense because the kinds of movies that Disney produces are all these tentpole blockbuster movies — Marvel movies, Pixar movies — that don’t necessarily need to get the kind of older audience that Screening Room would cater to. And Disney cannot run the risk of angering exhibitors and potentially losing theaters for their major film releases.

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