I love Netflix. I hate Netflix. But mostly, I hate Netflix.
Correction: it’s Netflix CEO Reed Hastings that I can’t stand. He has, without literally declaring it, gone to war with the movie industry.
During a recent Q&A session at his company’s headquarters, Hastings made this glib and intentionally demeaning comment about movie theaters:
- “How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.”
That irresponsible dig is not only false on its face – one need only look at the expansion and growth of stadium seating, recliners, and IMAX/big screen experiences to see how insulting that is to theater chains and upscale indie theaters alike (not to mention 4D cinema that engages senses beyond eyes and ears) – but it’s actually childish, provocative slander on Trumpian levels.
Hastings is not dealing in facts, only baseless smears. But why?
If his ongoing Netflix strategy is any indication, the answer is simple: Hastings isn’t merely in competition with movie theaters, he wants to eliminate them. A means to that end is to mock and berate theater chains in a populist manner that bares no resemblance to actual reality.
In a follow-up comment, Hastings claimed that all Netflix “wants to do is unleash film” and is “fundamentally about growing the movie business”. This is brazen doublespeak, intended to obfuscate his real goal: to have all eyes on one screen – his. That’s an existential threat for movies in the long term because his one screen is on TVs and smaller portable devices, and how we engage movies is inextricably linked to what they are.
(To read Tim League’s response to Hastings’ assault on movies, click here. League is the co-founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.)
You might say, “Jeff, Hastings isn’t trying to marginalize movies, just theaters.” Wrong. The two can’t be separated. When you marginalize theaters, you damage movies.
More to the point, Netflix isn’t in the movie business. It’s in the Netflix business. And given their deliberate erosion of the theatrical experience, that makes Netflix an enemy of the movies.
It’s foolish to believe that streaming isn’t a major part of our viewing landscape, present and future, movies included. It is. But the theatrical experience is a crucial part of Cinema’s DNA, and Netflix’s streaming competitors understand this. More importantly, they actually appreciate and act on it.
Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and Epix have sought positive relationships with theaters, seeing each other as partners in an evolving industry, not enemies. Amazon, Netflix’s primary emerging counterpart, will even be at CinemaCon this year, the annual national convention of theater owners.
This kind of proactive partnership is what caused Amazon to reach major Oscar recognition first, before Netflix, when its film Manchester By The Sea won Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay while also being nominated for Best Picture and other top awards. Netflix, for its part, has won an Oscar for Documentary Short and had other Short and Feature Docs nominated, but it hasn’t come close to reaching the echelon of major awards consideration (despite having tried longer).
What’s the difference between the two? Amazon gave Manchester By The Sea a proper theatrical run, while Netflix has seen its efforts dead on arrival because of an insistence to play its titles exclusively through its streaming platform (save for minimal, brief, and meaningless Oscar qualifying runs in NY and LA).
Now Netflix will rob viewers of the big screen experience that cinephiles have been longing for: Martin Scorsese teaming with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel for the gangster crime epic The Irishman. Hastings scored a coup when he scooped up the $100 million project from Paramount, and he shows no signs of changing that “Netflix exclusive” model.
Many have argued, “Well, Netflix will have to show this one in movie theaters. I mean, it’s Scorsese!” But why would they? As a salesman once told me, “When you have the cookie, you don’t give it away. You make the people come get it – from you.” Netflix has the Scorsese cookie. Why would they spend $100 million dollars and not be the film’s exclusive home? That’s the whole point.
Hastings’ strategy is a succubus on the art form of cinema itself, passing off Netflix’s exclusivity as an alluring innovation when, in truth, it only perverts and sucks the life out of the very thing it claims to support.
(Again, to read Tim League’s response to Hastings’ assault on movies and those who make them – not simply distribute them – click here. League is the co-founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.)