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New movies at home on launch day: Is avoiding the theater worth $50 per film?

A new startup called Screening Room wants to save you a trip to the movie theater, though it probably won’t save you any money in the process.

According to Variety, Screening Room’s plan involves a $150 set-top box that downloads first-run movies, presumably from the Internet. Once viewers buy the box, they can rent movies on the same day as the theatrical release for $50 each, with a 48-hour viewing window attached. As an added perk, customers would get two free tickets to see the movie again at the theater of their choice.

Variety’s industry sources say Screening Room has been meeting with all the major studios and talking to theater chains, who have strongly opposed day-and-date movies at home in the past. A deal with AMC, which may soon become the world’s largest movie exhibitor, is reportedly close to finalization. The startup is backed by Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Napster and was the founding president of Facebook. Prem Akkaraju, a former partner at electronic music company SFX Entertainment, is serving as CEO and co-founder.

Obviously, theater chains’ concern with day-and-date movies is largely about money, as they don’t want to lose ticket and concession sales from people staying at home. Screening Room is reportedly offering them as much as $20 of the $50 rental price, while also promising a cut of around 20 percent to distributors. The free theater ticket bonus could also benefit theater chains if customers end up buying some drinks and snacks.

Movie studios, meanwhile, are mainly worried about piracy. Screening Room’s special $150 set-top box is meant to keep movies secure during home viewing, though it’s unclear exactly how this will work. The startups talks with studios are still in the initial stages, Variety says, and Disney reportedly isn’t interested.

In the meantime, it’s already possible to screen day-and-date movies at home, provided your pockets are extra deep. As Variety notes, a company called Prima Cinema will install screening equipment in your home theater for $35,000, plus $500 per movie. And that’s just for the 1080p version; an upcoming 4K player increase the installation price to $50,000.

Why this matters: Although $150 up-front and $50 per movie is much pricier than a $12 theater ticket, Screening Room’s plan could find a niche audience among people who are physically unable to get to the movie theater, or parents who might otherwise have to find and hire a babysitter to see the latest films. But with so many movies available instantly on subscription streaming services like Netflix, and cheap rentals through on-demand stores like iTunes, a $50 ticket could be a tough sell for most people without the theater experience attached.

IDG Insider

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