Art House Theaters Slam Screening Room, Say Start-Up Encourages Piracy

Indie Theaters Slam Sean Parker $50
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Art House Convergence, a group of roughly 600 specialty theaters, has come out against Screening Room, saying that the day-and-date film release start-up from Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju, could inspire “a wildfire spread” of pirated content.

Screening Room’s business model revolves around a plan to rent new releases for $50 each and to cut theater owners in on as much as $20 of that fee. Studios also get a percentage of the revenue. In addition, Screening Room plans to charge $150 for access to a set-top box.

The technology is intended to be anti-piracy proof, but in an open letter, Art House Convergence members ask how it prevents consumers from taping content.

“If studios are concerned enough with projectionists and patrons videotaping a film in theaters that they provide security with night-vision goggles for premieres and opening weekends, how do they reason that an at-home viewer won’t set up a $40 HD camera and capture a near-pristine version of the film for immediate upload to torrent sites?” the letter writers ask.

Many theater chains have privately expressed concern about the day-and-date nature of the releasing, maintaining that anything that cuts into an exclusive theatrical window threatens their business model. Major exhibitors such as Regal, for instance, will not screen films that are released on home entertainment platforms concurrent with their theatrical runs. Art house cinemas, however, show films that also pop up across on-demand services, and Art House Convergence writes that it has no problem with the day-and-date aspect of the proposal. Its major objection is to the potential for the films to reach torrent sites that share illegal downloads.

“This loss of revenue through box office decline and piracy will result in a loss of jobs, both entry level and long term, from part-time concessions and ticket-takers to full-time projectionists and programmers, and will negatively impact local establishments in the restaurant industry and other nearby businesses,” the letter reads.

Screening Room has received the endorsement of several prominent filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson and J.J. Abrams, and AMC is close to a deal with the service. Several major studios are weighing the concept.

As for the indie theaters, they write that Hollywood should reject the proposal.

“Our exhibition sector has always welcomed innovation, disruption and forward-thinking ideas, most especially onscreen through independent film; however, we do not see Screening Room as innovative or forward-thinking in our favor; rather, we see it as inviting piracy and significantly decreasing the overall profitability of film releases,” the letter reads.

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  1. The Arthouse Convergence has a list of member cinemas on their website for anyone looking for one in their region. Kudos to them for opposing this proposal on the grounds of potential piracy. But indie arthouse cinemas, many of which are non-profit and were forced by Studios to raise major funds to transition to DCP which ultimately saved THEM no money, also keep alive the movie experience as a communal one, even a community-building one, and THAT’s what we shouldn’t want to lose to yet another scheme to keep us tied to small screens in our homes, or worse, on our

  2. wadeneal says:

    Spotlight would have never won best picture without a theatrical release.

  3. I think they forgot that VHS tapes still exist… just run it through the player, record it, then play it back through a TV capture card. Yup, get ready to have everything pirated.

  4. All that those art house theaters need to do is refuse to play not only any film that is released on the day-and-date model, but refuse to play any film from the same studio. That’s what mass-market theaters should have done as well.

    Having said that, there are plenty of regions in the U.S. where it’s almost impossible to see an art house film in a theater. One of the promises of digital presentation was that because DCPs were far less expensive to produce than a film print and because it was easier to present them in a theater, multiplexes could show all kinds of limited-appeal films and rotate them often, but that largely hasn’t happened. So the theater owners share some of the blame by giving an opening to the competition.

    IMO, exclusive windows for mass market films are already too short. In the quest for cash flow, the studios are committing suicide. This is because studio heads don’t look forward more than the next few quarters because they don’t expect to be there. End the exclusivity (or shorten it any more than it is) and it’s the practical end of theaters. They’ll become like legitimate theatres where outside of NYC, there’s only one or two in each city. And if theaters go down, most films will become like all those crappy films you’ve never heard of that you see on the streaming sites, since theatrical distribution is what gives movies their imprimatur.

    After initially not responding to the market demand for digital music, the record labels panicked and licensed everything to everyone for next to nothing. As a result, the music business in the U.S. is now one-third of its former peak size, adjusted for inflation. Is the film business trying to emulate that? I think the ubiquity of movie availability has already reduced the importance of movies in the culture, which I believe is the primary reason why the Oscar broadcast has fewer viewers every year.

    In NYC, which used to be the largest market for movies, we’ve lost 18% of the screens and 32% of the theaters since 2001. In the last 3 1/2 years, we’ve lost approximately 19% of the seats, although some of that is due to conversion to lounge seats. Keep offering movies in other media close to theatrical release and we’ll lose a lot more.

  5. Charles J. Wesoky says:

    Those filmmakers who are backing this venture ignore completely the exhibition business model. They also have not completely thought out all the complicated ways that the Screening Room model will totally decimate the cinema business by killing off attendance. Exhibitors must reject Screening Room without hesitation!

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