The Screening Room: Bill Mechanic Says Day-And-Date Streaming Would Ultimately Hurt Artists

By Anita Busch, Anthony D'Alessandro

Associated Press

EXCLUSIVE: Bill Mechanic, who was instrumental in building Disney’s home entertainment unit, worked as an executive in pay-per-view before that, helped run 20th Century Fox studio and is now a filmmaker, told Deadline that closing the theatrical window on a day-and-date business model the way The Screening Room proposes is “short-sighted.” He is yet another voice in a parade of individuals in the Hollywood community who has taken The Screening Room’s business model to task.

The Screening Room’s proposal is to charge consumers $150 for a set-top box and then give them a 48-hour window (for $50) in which to see a film that would drop day-and-date in the nation’s theaters. The controversial idea, supporters say, is to create another revenue stream for the industry. Some of the concerns are about piracy and the fact that The Screening Room presentation wants to be the exclusive box into the home, which conflicts with pre-existing contracts at some studios. Others in exhibition have blasted the idea: the National Assn. of Theater Owners said any new model should not be handled by a third party.

There are supporters. Wanda-owned AMC has signed a letter of intent, and Paramount — which tried a day-and-date VOD experiment on two films with the Chinese-owned theater chain — has also been interested. Top notch filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and J.J. Abrams (to name a few) —  who are advisors and whose success would reap them a financial reward — are aboard, but there is a growing stream of filmmakers who are detractors, beginning with James Cameron and Jon Landau, who came out against it earlier this week.

Mechanic was the executive at Fox who stood with the two filmmakers during the making of Titanic which became a box office giant. And he’s standing by them again, saying the proposal to do away with the theatrical window would harm the business.

“Anything that tries to eliminate the theatrical window or shorten it where it doesn’t matter is completely short-sighted. And if you are in a business that no longer has theatrical, it becomes the land of the giants … then it is a question of only what can break through the clutter,” Mechanic told Deadline from Australia where he is working on the film Hacksaw Ridge with Mel Gibson. “It’s very myopic to think that it’s not ultimately destructive.”

He said in the long-term it is ultimately bad for artists, especially those who want to make movies with a more artistic bent, to stand out in the marketplace. “Once you’re in to the Internet, you are no longer one of 16 films in a theater or eight films in a theater or even four, you are one of tens of thousands of entertainment products being streamed. You’re going to get lost.”

Some people in the entertainment industry say this day-and-date business model is inevitable because of current consumer behavior and the desire to see things when and where one wants. Supporters, though, point to how the music industry has changed to keep up with consumer needs, and that it’s only a matter of time before the movie business catches up.

To that, Mechanic says: “It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it is not inevitable. You have to remember that movies are not consumed like music … and music doesn’t require millions and millions of dollars to make.”

He also said that existing contracts between studios and other home entertainment providers are a big obstacle if they are asking for the exclusive entry into homes, which Deadline has been told is part of what The Screening room proposed. “There are too many conflicting interests and who owns who. You never would grant exclusivity. A single gatekeeper is a bad idea.”

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