Across the world, a three week lockdown to create a firebreak became a three month or longer cessation of many kinds of activity as COVID-19 spread. The entertainment industry was particularly hard hit. As movies were delayed, then delayed again, theater owners started to burn cash.

Other entertainment industries were also hit. Live music, comedy & sport all saw their incomes dented as ticket sales hit zero. Studios shifted to streaming but they had concerns over lost revenue even as their products found a route to market. One $30 PVOD rental could be watched by a whole family, and friends if lockdown wasn’t too harsh where they were. Possibly several $10 movie tickets were replaced by just a single PVOD purchase. No doubt this made studios nervous.

So What Is It?

So do those smart nerds and geeks in Silicon Valley have the answer? Just like iTunes and Spotify replaced the record store, and Netflix pushed Blockbuster over the edge, Palo Alto-based startup Xcinex (pronounced scene-x) believe their Venue system is the answer for live comedy, music, sports or movies. So what is it?

It is essentially a rent-a-system for distributors and a connected-TV streaming device with something extra. It is a revenue sharing platform that works on what they call a “ticketed entertainment”. Still no clearer?

In short, its a studio, venue or provider agnostic tech platform, that any entertainment creator can use as a platform to release their product. What really sets it apart is that it uses scanning technology to turn your home into the “venue”. It essentially scans to determine how may people are in the audience and charges, via the platform accordingly on a per ticket basis.

You have seven people watching at $5 a ticket, it will charge your account $35. It will take a small commission per ticket for itself, and pass the rest onto the provider, the studio or the comedy venue or the sports franchise – whatever the product is.

Sensible, if a little sinister?

The platform is funded by angel investors rather than big venture capitalists and funds. Mena Massoud, an actor and comedian who played the title role in Aladdin, has invested in the company and joined its advisory board. Don Tannenbaum, co-founder and EVP of Xcinex, was at Warner Bros. for 41 years working up to SVP of sales operations and new technology. The rest of the board boasts people who have joined from CBS, Awesomeness and Paramount.

It’s main competition is Screening Room, from the co-founder of Napster Sean Parker. However that is a premium VOD provider that requires $150 of hardware then charges $50 as a one-off rental for a premium movie on the day of release. So the proposition is different to the per-head ticketing approach of the Venue system.

As studios and exhibitors wrestle over what to do and how to do it, does Venue represent the middle ground? It gets the studio what they want while at the same time speaking to consumers new found love of staying at home for their premium movies.

CEO & Founder Cihan Fuat Atkin says it can. and will, keep both sides happy and says it is less intrusive than your smartphone as it doesn’t monitor, it simply head counts and bills accordingly:

“I wouldn’t say ‘monitored’ I would say ‘head count.’ It doesn’t do facial recognition. It just makes sure that the number of people in the room matches the number of tickets.

The data never leaves our ecosystem, it’s encrypted end to end and we’re taking all of the precautions beyond industry standards to make sure that it’s not accessible by anybody. It’s machine vision, so there’s no human being looking at a monitor.”

The device hooks onto the top of a TV. It isn’t just a ticketing system.

It will include free streaming content as well just like Amazon or Roku. According to CEO Atkin, the system will:

“…have access to everything they provide, plus access to content that nobody provides, the only other option besides us is to go to the physical venue, whether it’s a comedy show or a concert or a new movie.”

On this basis single viewers could pay less via Venue to watch a first-run movie than the common $20-$30 price point of PVOD. If just the kids wanted to watch a children’s film then the parents don’t need to pay for them to watch it too, and a grace period allows those unaccounted for to drift through the room to check on the kids without being charged.

Venue prides itself on flexibility towards content creators.

“Every artist or content company has their own strategy, you can’t put it in a cookie-cutter model.”

The viewing figures will also be much more accurate and allow for better analysis. Instead of knowing which households, the creators will get fast data that tells them exactly how many pairs of eyes were watching and get their cash accordingly.

What about that other concern of entertainment creators? Piracy? Well those that frequent the Bay should watch out, as this platform keeps studios happy there as well. Atkin again:

“As PVOD has come out during COVID-19, these movies have been available on illegal torrent sites immediately. What we do is we provide levels of traceablility.”

Digital watermarking technology would enable Xcinex to track down content in case someone tries to pirate it from the platform, and identify who was responsible for ripping it and sharing it.

So, is this the magic bullet that studios have been waiting for? And is it another nail in the coffin of theaters but one that doesn’t hand all the power to studios as there is still a distributor in the mix, and a choosy consumer driving decisions?

Thanks to Outposter Hunt Stevenson for the tip off. Source: Deadline.