Netlix is hurting its own argument for its business model, not helping it.
The streaming behemoth has released viewing numbers for its recent original movie offerings. IMPORTANT NOTE: these numbers are by their tally, not that of an independent arbiter like Nielsen ratings (which is what every other network submits to).
According to Netflix (and Netflix only), here are the viewing numbers for their two biggest 2019 straight-to-streaming movie releases:
- Triple Frontier: 52 million households
- The Highwaymen: 40 million households
And that’s just households. Who knows how many actual people that accounts for in those households.
To give that some context, let’s be conservative and count each household as one $10 movie ticket. Multiply that out and, in movie ticket dollars, those “tickets” would amount to grosses of $520 million and $400 million, respectively.
In other words, they’re the two biggest movies of the year. Both outpace Captain Marvel, which is currently at $387 million domesitc, and Triple Frontier viewership exceeds that by a considerable margin.
That’s blockbuster level by any measure, the kind that would not only greenlight tentpole sequels but entire lucrative franchises.
Is anybody really buying that?
In fact, if you think that sounds ridiculous, Netflix also claimed that 80 million households watched their Christmas season “hit” Bird Box. That’s equal to an $800 million gross, second ALL TIME only to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I mean…seriously? Sure, it had a brief media splash and a meme presence but…come on.
Or look at it from this angle. HBO just boasted huge numbers for its Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere, touted in reports that were topped with “shatters ratings record” headlines. The grand total? 17.4 million viewers. That’s actual people, which means even less households.
So, basically, Netflix is trying to convince us that the audience size for their movies is equal to and greater than nearly every movie in the MCU, and that they also exceed the biggest show on television by two and three times the amount, if not more.
That’s absurd. And here’s why.
Nobody is talking about these movies. Not in the media. Not online. Not in your social circles. Certainly not to any substantial level, let alone commensurate to the biggest movies of the year. I’d wager that many people reading this article don’t even know what Triple Frontier or The Highwaymen are.
So what does that all mean? Well, one of two things:
- Netflix numbers are completely bogus. They are the equivlanet of spin, only “accurate” in some technical sense that only they know of but won’t make clear to the public. In truth, the actual viewership is at a subpar level, and not nearly equal to the kind that actually makes and reflects a cultural impact.
- Netflix numbers are entirely credible and legitimate but, inexplicably, their movies have zero cultural impact. This is the less likely possibility of the two options yet it’s actually the one that Netflix wants us to buy into.
To unpack that second point a bit more, here’s where that becomes a problem for them. If we accept their data, then it is an absolutely devastating indictment on Netflix and the entire pitch of their business model, a.k.a. that Netflix is where a movie can make the biggest impact. But clearly that’s not happening.
Netflix’s pitch for its straight-to-streaming model is that it gives movies the widest possible audience, that it allows everybody to see a movie at the same time, and enables everyone to be a part of the cultural conversation together. No one is left out. This is supposed to be enticing to filmmakers and empower audiences.
The barely-there blip on the cultural radar, however, suggets otherwise. Correction: it doesn’t just suggest, it confirms otherwise.
By and large, a Netflix release does not provide any discernible cultural boost; arguably, it even undercuts it. The impact of something like Roma is almost entirely artificial, not based on viewership but, rather, boosted by a $20-to-$30 million Oscar campaign and global festival rollout that the rest of Netflix’s films will never get. Martin Scorsese‘s The Irishman will likely become another anomaly, a glaring artificially-boosted exception that Netflix will spin as being reflective of their cultural “power”.
But it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Something doesn’t add up. The equation is so far off that if similar mathmatics were used to engineer a space mission, the spacecraft would be doomed to explode on the launchpad.
Bottom line: whether you believe their numbers or not, either way, the emperor has no clothes. Consequently, anyone who wants to cede the theatrical experience to streaming — in the name of “progress” or “the future” or whatever — does so to the detriment of the art form that they claim to love, and the filmmakers they claim to fight for.
There is a place for Netflix and for streaming, no question. It’s a vital new evolution in filmed entertainment. But what it is not is a way to make the theatrical movie-going experience an extinct dinosaur.
If movies — particularly small independent ones like Moonlight — never have a theatrical platform to become special and set apart, then they’ll never become either of those things even if, artistically, they are. Don’t let Netflix’s bogus self-defined numbers and marketing spin fool you otherwise.