Screening Room wants to take 'going to the movies' out of going to the movies

Hollywood's biggest directors and Napster co-founder Sean Parker want to let you download films on the same day they hit theaters, but oh, that $50 price tag.

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Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Would you pay $50 to stream a movie at home? What if it meant skipping the queues and seeing the movie on the same day it opens in theaters?

That's the proposition behind Screening Room, the new streaming service from Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker and entertainment mogul Prem Akkaraju. And with Variety reporting that Streaming Room has financial backing from some of the biggest names in movies, including directors Peter Jackson and J.J. Abrams, the next big disruptor to the film industry looks to have the approval of Hollywood itself.

Ever since the days of VHS, film buffs have had to wait anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for their favorite movies to make it from the cinema to their TV screen. Even today, with boundary-pushing as the order of business for the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and your local cable company, there's lag time before Hollywood's output comes knocking on your home entertainment door.

Screening Room is looking to change that by cutting out the delay altogether.

The concept is simple. You'll be able to stream a film on the same day it's released in theaters, but the convenience will come at a premium: $50 for a 48-hour viewing period per film. You'll also need a dedicated set-top box (equipped with antipiracy protections), which will set you back a further $150.

Coughing up $200 before you can even watch your first movie may seem exorbitant, but Screening Room is hoping that convenience will trump cost, giving hardcore movie fans the titles they want without the need to leave home.

It's not the first time Sean Parker has mainlined entertainment straight into homes, bypassing the behemoths of the content industry. In 1999, at the age of 19, Parker launched the file-sharing service Napster with fellow teen Sean Fanning and quickly became both an emblem of online piracy and the entrepreneur credited with revolutionizing digital music.

Now the one-time nemesis of the entertainment industry has managed to woo some of the biggest names in Hollywood for his new venture. Deadline Hollywood and Variety report that Screening Room's list of backers now includes Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.

But it's not just the directors who need to back the operation. In order to guarantee day-and-date releases, Screening Room will need the support of the major studios and rights holders who own the copyrights on the titles and hold the aces when it comes to distribution deals. There's no use in charging $50 a pop and promising opening-day streaming if you can't secure the kind of tent pole titles that get movie buffs into cinemas in the first place.

And finally, there's the movie theaters themselves. Screening Room is reportedly promising as much as $20 from the $50-per-movie fee to theater owners to ensure they play nice. Variety also reports that each title will come with two movie tickets to go see the film in person -- a seemingly contradictory offering, until you remember just how much cinemas can charge on candy bar sales.

Hollywood was built on back-lot deals, and it seems that showbiz's answer to movie streaming might have to follow the same path in order to get off the ground. After all, there are still plenty of vested interests that are used to getting their cut of the movie industry pie, and Screening Room will need to appease at least some of them.

But even if Screening Room launches without a hitch, the central question remains: Will people pay $50 to watch a movie? And after years of VHS tapes, DVD releases and Netflix streaming, will the remote control finally deliver a knockout blow to the decades-long tradition of venturing out to view the silver screen?

Screening Room did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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