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We’ve documented the hardships of movie theaters as this pandemic has essentially put the entire industry on hold. Bailout programs have been put in place and organizations are collecting money to make sure theaters are able to turn the lights back on when everything returns to normal, but now a potential new revenue stream has presented itself as another way to help in the short term. It’s called ScreenPlus, and thanks to their partnership with a software company called VistaGroup, they’ve rolled out technology that will enable cinema exhibitors to launch their own personalized VOD platform and offer films directly to their customers for at-home streaming. Get the details below.

ScreenPlus’s VOD solution will be launched in “every major territory” starting this week, utilizing the “world class studio grade piracy protection and digital rights management of ScreenPlus with Vista’s leading cinema operations, management, loyalty and marketing systems.” The thinking is that with cinemas closed because of COVID-19, this could be a new revenue stream for exhibitors, who can create customized platforms on their individual websites. Once set up, cinemas could offer customized promotions through the service to entice people to come back to theaters once they open. It seems like this will be available to big chains and small mom-and-pop theaters alike, though it’s unclear how much they’ll have to pay for such a service.

I reached out to ScreenPlus’s marketing team to get some more information about exactly how the revenue will be split between the parties involved. They explained that when a customer rents a film on an exhibitor’s platform, ScreenPlus takes a revenue share and pays the exhibitor and distributor their share.

The thing I’m still a little hung up on is that it seems like theaters and ScreenPlus would need to force customers to pay higher prices for this to be worthwhile for them. Let’s say you rent The Invisible Man on iTunes. Wouldn’t the two way split between Universal and iTunes for that rental be better for the studio than a three way split between Universal, ScreenPlus, and Mom and Pop’s Local Theater if you rented it from their website instead? The idea appears to be that studios are going to be fine with losing some money by participating in this as long as it ensures that there is a theater industry left standing when the pandemic ends.

If individual movie theaters end up charging higher prices for rentals through their own websites, would you pay a little more to support your local theater, or save a few bucks and continue to rent from your current VOD service of choice?

The company’s public relations firm also explained to me that “ScreenPlus’ eventual goal is for cinemas to be able to offer new releases (and other titles) in-cinema as well as at-home via their platform (VOD being at a slightly higher price than in-cinema, as more people can watch, but the cost is in line with other platforms) – only bookable through that cinema’s website & unlocking a larger audience than previously.” And the Vista Group founder says they’ve been working on bringing this concept to exhibitors for a while, so this isn’t entirely tied to the coronavirus. This could be a good time to establish customer behavior patterns so when this thing is over, theaters will still be in a position to make some money when quick VOD releases become the new normal. So if you run a small theater and the other fundraising efforts aren’t enough to keep your lights on, ScreenPlus may be worth looking into.

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