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

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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