Screening Room is a response but not the answer

MARCH 12TH, 2016 — POST 068

Variety this week has been reporting on a startup that hopes to bring day-and-date movie releases into the home. Today, Variety shared the news that film industry titans such as Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard have apparently shown their support for the startup called Screening Room. Very quickly, Screening Room has gone from a simple notion any idealistic film watcher would have conceived of to something that could very well happen. The kind professional clout now sailing aboard this startup and its proposed product is impossible to ignore and arrogant to dismiss. However, based on this early reporting, what Screening Room is proposing seems a decidedly clunky system that would seem impotent to move any needle it might hope to.

Here’s what is pertinent, as Variety has reported it:

  • A $150 set-top box will be a required purchase
  • Movies will be accessible for $50 per movie
  • Once purchased, the buyer has 48 hours to watch the movie.
  • Exhibitioners (theatre companies) could receive as much as $20 of every $50.
  • Additionally, each movie purchase will include 2 tickets to see the movie in a brick-and-mortar theatre.

Let’s handle the elephant in the room. The heart scoffs a hearty scoff at $50 per movie but the head should be able to see what’s going on here. This is one of those back-of-the-receipt sums that presumably includes the cost of a babysitter, the cost of transport and parking, the premium on concessions, the cost of whatever ancillary things get bundled in during a trip to the movies. This isn’t to say it’s justifiable, but it is (sort of) understandable.

More interestingly, however, is the statement this kind of pricing makes. There are very few things your TV can show for a limited amount of time that will cost you $50 — UFC and porn are the only two things that come to mind. The glut of content massively consumed on the home television is subscription-based and practically infinitely rewatchable. Even then, you’d have to buy a lot of subscriptions to hit $50 a month, and that’s only if you were going to buy one movie per month through Screening Room. This kind of pricing is a brute method of expressing that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 ought not to be fighting against Game of Thrones. Watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at home is not watching Fast and Furious 7 in cinemas with all the additional costs that would be incurred in the latter case. Or at least that’s what I’m betting they want you to think.

How much alike the cinema experience your own Screening Room experience will be depends entirely on how much you’ve already sunk into home entertainment tech. And even then, I’d have to call you a liar if you told me you had a 60 ft screen and a 60 channel Dolby Atmos system in your basement. And this is what everything we’ve heard on what Screening Room is proposing seems either deaf to or willfully ignorant of. The exhibitioners cut and the two tickets included in a movie purchase confirm that this product is seemingly being set up with the intention of pulling movie goers out of the cinema. Some may argue that Screening Room is mostly targeting those who might not have as much of a chance, because of work and family commitments, to attend the cinema. However, if these customers aren’t currently going to the cinema, why then do the exhibitors need such financial placating for them to instead become customers of Screening Room?

Despite it being early days in this story, it already feels like Hollywood is trying to solve its problems from the wrong end: instead of pulling people away from their TVs, they’re trying to push the cinema into the home. As much as The Hateful Eight left me lukewarm as a movie, I was more than okay with pulling out $25 to see 70mm tear through the projector. I don’t have the space, let alone the money, for anything even slightly resembling a theatre in my living room. My price of admission allows me to hire millions of dollars worth of tech for two hours from a single vantage point. That $50 spent on a single movie would still see me sitting in front of a 1990s Pioneer 2.1 system and 48 inches of Samsung LCD.

Because I sure as hell won’t be getting a Dolby Atmos system anytime soon.

Read yesterday’s

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