A French Affair
At this year’s glitzy Cannes Film Festival, Netflix found itself at the center of controversy.
The streaming giant premiered two of its self-financed films at Cannes: Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories.
Unlike the other films exhibited at the festival, Netflix’s submissions would not have a French theatrical showing. Instead, its movies would premiere exclusively on its global platform.
French movie exhibitors were none too pleased, and pressured the festival into making a revision to its film submission policy beginning in 2018:
“any film that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters.”
However, it is important to note per French law, any film shown theatrically must wait 36 months after its theatrical run before it can be distributed on subscription video on demand (SVOD) platforms.
This latest incident is the latest salvo in the war movie exhibitors have been waging against Netflix since it began financing and producing its own original films.
In 2015, major theater chains here in the United States closed ranks and boycotted Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation, Netflix’s affecting drama about the plight of African child soldiers.
Movie exhibitors were outraged because the film would be shown simultaneously on the streaming service and in theaters, completely eschewing the traditional 90-day window between a movie’s theatrical release and it being made available for home viewing.
Theater chains see Netflix and other SVOD platforms as an invading horde threatening to completely decimate their business.
They are dead wrong.
The real threat to movie exhibitors is not Netflix’s business model, it is their failure to innovate based on paradigm shifts caused by the advancement of technology.
The internet has allowed us to gain almost instant access to information and media.
Initially, the music and publishing industries resisted the new status quo instead of adapting - and suffered severely for it.
Movie exhibitors seem intent on repeating the same mistake.
They rail against Netflix for not adhering to traditional theatrical releases and windows for their films.
The question is why should Netflix capitulate? It does not benefit their successful business model in the slightest.
Netflix: The Rise Of A New Paradigm
The staggering success of Netflix isn’t difficult to figure out. It has become a major player in entertainment by giving its customers exactly what they want: quality content at an affordable price, on a schedule they control.
The terms “binge watching,” and “Netflix and chill” have become etched in the pop culture lexicon for that very reason.
Another important component of Netflix’s success is it has created much more opportunities for independent filmmakers from diverse backgrounds to have their work exposed to a global audience.
Even though many filmmakers prefer their work be shown in theaters, I think most would agree films were made to be seen, regardless of the venue.
Also, I say bullshit to those who suggest films produced by streaming platforms are not “true” cinema just because they are not shown in theaters.
The size of the screen a film is shown on has very little to do with its quality or artistic merit.
Suggesting only movies shown theatrically are worthy of festival participation and awards consideration is pure snobbery.
The reality is Netflix is not beholden to movie exhibitors’ demands. The service has only acquiesced in the past because it does want its prestige films to qualify for festival and award consideration.
Movie exhibitors should not consider Netflix and SVOD as competitors. This is an extremely anti-productive and short-sighted view.
Instead, theater chains should focus on making going to the movies a special event on par with going out to a fine restaurant, or attending a live sporting event.
Tim League, the CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, of one of the country’s most innovative theater chains, weighed in on Netflix and the future of his business:
“I don’t look at myself as a competitor to Netflix. I think that argument is a little bit of a red herring. I watch a lot of movies at home, but there comes a time where I want to get out of the house. I look at cinemas as one of those options that compete with restaurants or baseball games or all of those things I can’t do in my living room.”
An Uncertain Future
Movie exhibitors need to take a page out of League’s pragmatic and forward-thinking stance, because Netflix and SVOD services aren’t going away anytime soon.
The good news is theater chains are beginning to thaw and make some innovations, but unless they pick up their pace, they may find their industry becoming a quaint relic of the last century.
I don’t want that prophecy to be fulfilled. I still love going out to the movies, but it is a very expensive, frustrating, and inconvenient affair — and I’m single!
I can’t imagine what an ordeal it must be for individuals with families to go to the movies.
Theater chains need to address these concerns. It may not be easy to adapt, but it is necessary if exhibitors want their business to survive in some recognizable form.
No, Netflix and SVOD platforms are not movie exhibitors’ true enemy. It is their stagnation and complacency in the face of a new paradigm that poses the greatest threat to the future of their business.