Sean Parker Upended the Music Industry, Now He Wants to Do the Same for Movies

The man who brought the world Napster stumps to create a home-viewing service for first-run films with his latest venture

Sean Parker wants to help the film industry. And if history is any indication, the film industry might want to worry about that.

Napster founder Sean Parker recently met with studios to drum up interest in his start-up Screening Room, which would offer first-run movies for home viewing on the day of their theatrical release for $50. The idea has already gained support from a handful of movie business bigwigs including Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Theoretically the service, still in a very nascent stage, would benefit movie theaters and distributors, which would each receive a $20 cut each time a consumer ponied up $50 to stream a film.

But as TheWrap reported last week, theater owners and distributors are wary of the plan, possibly with good reason.

Parker, now 36, was just a teenager when he cofounded the music file-sharing service Napster in 1999, but his impact on the recording industry was king-size — and disastrous for the business.

Within a year of its introduction, the peer-to-peer program had more than 60 million users. In the 10 years that followed Napster’s debut, music sales shrank by 57 percent.

With music suddenly available on one’s computer via file-sharing for free, the idea of going to a record store — let alone buying music there — became quaint fast.

The recording industry responded with a copyright infringement lawsuit, and Napster was eventually driven to bankruptcy. But it almost dragged the music industry along with it.

The public quickly became accustomed to a “Why pay for music?” mentality, and technology just as quickly came up with ways to accommodate that mindset — so much so that record sales never recovered.

On the other side of the ledger, Parker was an early shepherd of social media monolith Facebook (Justin Timberlake played him in “The Social Network”) and an investor in music streaming leader Spotify for which he’s currently a board member. It’s his prescience that a burgeoning segment of the film business is banking on as it wrestles with declining theater admissions and an insurgent home streaming market.

With filmmakers such as Jackson and Spielberg putting their weight behind Parker’s latest venture — and studios at least willing to entertain the idea — Screening Room surely has some potential benefit for the industry.

But who could blame a theater owner for shuddering just a little bit while walking past a vacant lot that used to be a record store and wondering if history is getting ready to repeat itself?