This article at Slate is as good a summary of the controversy currently brewing over The Screening Room, a plan to disrupt the movie distribution system being led by veteran entrepreneur Sean Parker. After buying a US$150 set top box, consumers can rent first-run, major movies to watch in their homes for forty-eight hours. If you remember a time when renting DVDs cost only a few dollars, you might be shocked at the US$50 rental fee for these releases, but in theory these are “blockbuster” grade movies—imagine being able to experience the critically drubbed “Batman v. Superman” in the comfort of your own home on opening night! The pricing starts to feel even more reasonable once you factor in the hassle of getting to the theater, the inflationary concessions menu, the cost of a babysitter (for some of us), and the ability to invite your friends over to split the fee with you.
Parker has lined up lots of big names behind this plan, including Martin Scorsese, J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Peter Jackson, but there are big names coming out against it too, like James Cameron and, unsurprisingly, theater owners nationwide. My own feelings about this are quite conflicted. It’s hard for my wife and me to make it out to the movies these days, and being able to stream newly released movies on demand sounds like it would be a tremendous convenience. On the other hand, going to the movies is a wonderful experience; even if a given cineplex is nothing to write home about, the exclusivity of a new movie gets us out of the house and into the world alongside other human beings, which is something to be appreciated. As much as I want to be able to watch new releases at home, The Screening Room would almost certainly decimate the theater business, making a world in which there is no theater option a real possibility. I’m not sure I want that to happen, though in the long run, it may be an inevitability.