The Screening Room brings the cinema home, literally

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  • Monday, 21 Mar 2016

Disruptive techie: Parker could be set to shake up the movie industry with "The Screening Room," a concept currently under development in the USA.

Fancy watching new movie releases in the comfort of your own home on the same day they hit theaters? That's the idea behind a new and totally legal concept that's gaining ground in the USA. Although still at the idea stage, some see this new way of distributing feature films as the future of the movie business.

The idea of turning your living room into a private movie theater isn't entirely new. Since 2013, film buffs in the US have been able to bring the movies home via the Prima Cinema service. Thanks to a device – similar to a set-top-box -- installed in the home, subscribers can access the latest movie releases on their TV or another device. But the luxury of enjoying the latest box office releases without leaving the house comes at a certain cost – US$35,000 (RM142,000), to be precise. And, after shelling out US$35,000 (RM142,000) for the Prima Cinema box, users can count another US$500 (RM2,030) for each movie watched (US$600/RM2,440 for a 3D version). With pricing like that, it's no surprise that the service has been dubbed "Netflix for millionaires."

"The Screening Room" is based on the same concept, but with pricing brought down to a more widely accessible level. The project – being developed by Sean Parker, co-founder of the Napster music platform and former Facebook president (played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network) – envisages a cost of US$150 (RM610) for the connected terminal and US$50 (RM200) per 48-hour movie rental. Although this cuts the cost considerably, the service still doesn't come cheap. However, with price of cinema tickets constantly rising, it could be worth it for some, as for US$50 (RM200), the number of viewers is only limited by the size of your living room. It could, therefore, be an interesting option for large families, for example.

Shaking up the movie business

On paper, The Screening Room offers several advantages to consumers. But, on the other side of the screen, the system can be seen as a threat to the movie business. In an attempt to address the industry's concerns, Sean Parker has recruited a former Sony Pictures vice chairman who knows the business inside out. So as not to send the big Hollywood studios running -- as without them the idea will never get off the ground -- the duo are ready to hand over a large part of the profits. In fact, studios are promised US$20 (RM80) of the US$50 (RM200) paid for each movie rental if they accept to break the traditional bind giving movie theaters exclusivity on new releases.

Another concern worrying the industry is the risk of piracy. And Sean Parker knows a thing or two about that, since Napster upset the cozy world of music in the early 2000s as a pioneer of peer-to-peer file sharing, principally for digital music files. Shut down in 2001 after being judged illegal, the firm transformed itself into a legal music download site. In any case, Sean Parker has apparently pre-empted the risk by loading the in-home device with robust piracy prevention systems.

Word is that Disney has already ruled out joining the project, according to Variety, while Universal, Fox and Sony are still studying the proposal. —  AFP Relaxnews

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