Top European Theater Group Attacks Sean Parker's Screening Room

Sean Parker
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The proposed home movie service "seems to offer little benefit ... while representing significant potential risks,” the International Union of Cinemas said.

Europe's main theater owners association, the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) has come out strongly against Sean Parker's proposed $50 home movie service, Screening Room.

The UNIC said in a statement that the “vast majority” of its members viewed the Screening Room scheme “with great concern” noting that Parker's model “seems to offer little benefit to cinema operators and their distribution partners, while representing significant potential risks.”

The group is echoing concerns raised by directors including James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, M. Night Shyamalan and Roland Emmerich, who this week attacked Parker's Screening Room concept as potentially disastrous for theater owners and the film business.

The new model envisions offering movies for at-home viewing day-and-date with their theatrical release. The hefty premium price for these at-home screenings — $50 a pop — would be shared between theaters and distributors, with Screening Room getting a $5 cut of each film. The proposed model will include offering subscribers two free tickets for each film to encourage them to watch the movies again in theaters, boosting cinemas' concessions business.

While AMC Entertainment is believed to be considering the Screening Room model, the other two major U.S. theater chains, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark, are said to have no interest in the scheme.

The National Association of Theatre Owners has also dismissed Parker's Screening Room proposal.

But the model has its fans, including filmmakers J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, who have all come out in favor of the service.

The UNIC said keeping a new movie exclusive to theaters “helps create unparalleled levels of audience awareness and ultimately benefits its performance across all platforms, including VOD.” The group also warned of the dangers of online piracy if movies are to be available day-and-date in homes.

“We are therefore very concerned about a model that might result in a proliferation of high-quality copyright-infringing films online during the theatrical release and beyond,” the UNIC said in a statement. “The risk here is not just to cinema operators but to everyone contributing to the wider film ecology."

Parker has said his service, which will be available through a $150 set-top box, will include anti-piracy technology, but he has not yet explained exactly how that will work.

“The past decade has shown that disruptive interventions such as the ‘Screening Room’ do not always yield the greatest commercial or societal benefits; the music sector is a good example of this,” UNIC added.

Parker famously co-created Napster, the file-sharing software many blame for boosting online music piracy and devastating traditional music sales. Parker was also an early major backer of Facebook.

The UNIC represents cinema associations and key operators from across 36 territories in Europe and neighboring regions. Europe traditionally has been much stricter with theatrical windows (the period of time a film has to screen exclusively in theaters before being shown elsewhere) than the U.S. Day-and-date all-platform releases are rare, and state-backed film subsidies in many countries require supported films to have an exclusive theatrical release.

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