According to a Variety story from 2016, it was called the Screening Room, and it was the latest brainchild of Napster co-founder and early Facebook investor Sean Parker, also known as the guy Justin Timberlake played in The Social Network. Touted by Parker in numerous interviews, even as it was never formally announced, the idea of The Screening Room was that consumers could watch first-run movies in their homes, for the cost of $150 for a set-top box and $50 per movie.
The whole thing would be protected with foolproof anti-piracy technology, and the kicker was, it was endorsed and backed financially by a long list of A-list filmmakers known for their belief in the sanctity of the cinema, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Jackson, and J.J. Abrams.
The startup was highly likely to antagonize movie theater chains, who tend to resist any attempt to collapse movie theater windows, and it did come from one of the people who started Napster, the company that had posed an existential threat to the music industry. But, the Screening Room’s proposal, per that Variety story in 2016, would have given exhibitors up to $20 out of the $50-per-movie fee- while anyone renting the movie for $50 would also get two free tickets to see the same movie, again, at a theater.
The initial reports about the Screening Room made a huge splash, but then a funny thing happened: Nothing. The company never actually launched. Per a Business Insider story in May of 2017, the Screening Room had “gotten little traction,” and hadn’t reached final agreements with any studios or exhibitors.
There have been some occasions in the last few years in which movies have gone from theaters to the home much faster than usual, most notably with Netflix and Amazon’s annual slates of awards movies. But the Screening Room ended up not a part of that equation – and was “good as dead” as of mid-2017, per the Los Angeles Business Journal.
But now, all of a sudden, with movie theaters closed nationwide and major Hollywood studios putting previous theatrical releases straight out to streaming and VOD, The Screening Room is back.
Variety reported this week that the Screening Room has been revived, under a new name – SR Labs – and a new CEO, Sony veteran Man Jit Singh. Prem Akkaraju, who founded the company with Parker, is now executive chairman while Parker, quoted in the articles about the launch, remains involved, although there’s no mention of any of the famous filmmakers having anything to do with the company. SR Labs has also raised $27.5 million in new funding.
It’s unclear whether SR Labs will be doing anything that resembles the Screening Room’s previous business model, or whether the revival was in the works prior to the movie theater closures. The press release describes the new company as the “developer of next-generation software and hardware technology for secure video delivery.”
Another company, Prima Cinema, offers day-and-date releases much like the Screening Room was planning, albeit at a much higher price point: $35,000 for the setup, and $500 per movie. Its rival, Red Carpet Films, has a similar model, although its box “only” costs $15,000.