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Peter Jackson Says Screening Room Grows the Movie Business (EXCLUSIVE)

Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju- backed startup offers day-and-date releases in the home for $50

Peter Jackson said he is backing Screening Room, the controversial start-up that wants to deliver new releases to homes while they are still in theaters, because it captures an audience that does not go to the cinema.

Screening Room will expand the audience for a movie — not shift it from cinema to living room,” Jackson said in a statement.

Jackson isn’t the only big name backing the venture. He is joined as a shareholder by Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Martin Scorsese, Taylor Hackford,  Frank Marshall, and J.J. Abrams.

Screening Room, the brainchild of entrepreneurs Sean Parker and Prem Akkaraju, offers movies for $50 at the same time as they open in theaters. It plans to charge $150 for access to the anti-piracy equipped set-top box that transmits the films and will give customers 48 hours to watch the movies. The hope is to capture middle-aged audiences whose family responsibilities prevent them from routinely going to the theater.

After Variety broke the news of Jackson’s involvement, some questioned whether he was back-tracking on his earlier support for theatrical release windows. In 2011, Jackson was among more than 20 directors who signed a letter decrying a deal that several major studios made with DirecTV to rent several releases eight weeks after they landed in theaters. Other signatories included Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro.

But in a statement to Variety, Jackson explained that he believed that the DirecTV deal would imperil the theatrical business, while Screening Room will grow overall revenues for the industry.

Here is Jackson’s full statement:

“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.”

As Jackson argues, Screening Room is intended to serve as a bridge between studios and theater owners. The plan is to cut exhibitors in on as much as $20 out of the $50 fee and give customers two free tickets to a film, so they will be enticed to buy concessions. Studios also get a substantial percentage of the fee.

Studios such as Universal and Fox are weighing the proposal, and AMC is interested in the company’s offer. Other exhibitors, such as Regal, are believed to be skeptical of the plan. The start-up is challenging established business practices. Wide-release films are typically in theaters for 90 days before hitting home entertainment platforms.

Parker is best known for his roles in Internet companies such as Napster, Facebook and Spotify. Akkaraju has ties to the entertainment industry from stints as a partner at the electronic music company SFX Entertainment and as global head of operations at Sanctuary Music Group.

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