Hollywood may finally be waking up to the reality that online piracy isn't going anywhere, as major high-profile directors and producers like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, JJ Abrams and Peter Jackson are now supporting a controversial new home movie subscription service that could put blockbuster movies in people's living rooms on the same day they are released in cinemas.
The Screening Room service is the brainchild of Napster founder Sean Parker – who is already a billionaire thanks to his early investment in Facebook – and music executive Prem Akkaraju.
The point of the service is to reach consumers who do not usually go to the cinema, offering them a chance to see films they might miss out on. This would also dissuade these users from logging onto torrent websites to illegally download the movies for free.
Attracting users who don't go to the cinema
Subscribers would pay $50 (£35.43) to rent each newly released film for just 48 hours, as well as an additional $150 for an encrypted anti-piracy set-top box to plug into their TVs. And because Parker does not want cinemas to go out of business due to the service, the Screening Room would pay theatre owners $20 out of every $50 spent.
"Screening Room will expand the audience for a movie – not shift it from cinema to living room. It does not play off studio against theatre owners. 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," Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit director Peter Jackson said in a statement, according to Variety.
But he is not the only one speaking out about Screening Room – Star Wars: The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams, Apollo 13 director Ron Howard and TV and movie producer Brian Grazer have publicly offered their support too.
"I responded to that system mostly because it actually is beneficial to the exhibitors," Abrams told The Hollywood Reporter.
"I think the metrics on that are very impressive and they're targeting groups that actually don't go to the movies at all. If they could harness even a fraction of the number that don't [go to theatres], the amount of money that would go to the cinemas is significant and actually is amazingly helpful to the cinematic experience."
Who wants to pay $50 to watch a film though?
And aside from these prominent Hollywood heavyweights, Parker has confirmed the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Taylor Hackford and Frank Marshall as shareholders in the Screening Room.
But the most important question is – will a solution like the Screening Room really stop online piracy? For starters, according to Statista it costs an average of $8.34 for a movie ticket in the US, while in the UK it costs just over £6.72, according to the UK Cinema Association.
This means that if you can't be bothered to go down to the cinema, watching a new release at home would cost you six times more in the US and over five times more in the UK. So why would anyone bother, especially people who are already reluctant to shell out for movie tickets?
However, this average price is per person. If you go with friends or take a family then you're looking at a total ticket price close to the Screening Room movie rental fee — not to mention how much more convenient a home viewing is if you have children. Hold a screening where the cost is shared and the service looks far more attractive.
Plus, you only get to watch the movie once if you go the cinema, whereas subscribers will get unlimited views in the 48-hour rental period, and the chance to pause or rewind (we mentioned watching movies with kids, right?). There's also the factoring in of food, snacks and drinks cinema goers are more than likely to buy, which have a huge mark-up, as well as the travel and parking to visit a movie theatre.
In the ongoing row over TV and movie video streaming service Netflix banning connections via VPN, angry Netflix users around the world say that it's only worth paying $9.99 per month for a US membership for the ease of getting hold of the plethora of content that is only available to subscribers of the US Netflix service. Otherwise, they argue that they might as well go back to online piracy, which is free and easy to access.
So does Screening Room have what it takes to combat online piracy? Who knows, but it's looking like it could be just another flash in the pan.