It’s always nice to have a working thesis (and, frankly, common sense) confirmed by data, and now the firm Ernst & Young has done just that.
Their new study, commissioned by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), shows that 62% of people are more likely to stream a movie that has first had a traditional theatrical run than they are to stream a movie that premieres straight-to-streaming (which is the model that Netflix has been trying to push). Only 3% of respondents said they were less likely to stream a movie that was first released in theaters.
I’ve been making this point for years now (here, here, and here to link a few examples), even as conventional wisdom in film media has been that such thinking is antiquated, or that it refuses to accept reality about where the industry is inevitably headed.
As someone who’s been very troubled by Netflix’s posture as an industry disruptor (rather than collaborator), I’m heartened that we now have hard data to show that we shouldn’t be viewing the future as an “Either / Or” binary choice between theatrical and streaming . Rather, that the two should (and can) be complementing each other. When they do, both win. When they don’t, both lose.
Drawn by the allure of Oscar glory, Netflix has in recent years begrudgingly mounted very limited theatrical runs for their awards hopefuls like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Roma, but only in smaller, independent theaters. The streaming giant has refused to conform to the 90-day minimum window of theatrical exclusivity that major chains understandably require, thus keeping most people from ever having the opportunity to view a major work like a Martin Scorsese mob epic on the big screen.
But as NATO director of media and research Phil Contrino told Variety (reflecting the point I’ve often made), “A theatrical release creates more of a conversation.” When a movie is denied that platform, it’s denied the possibility of that conversation. Being released straight into the ever-expanding galaxy of streaming options simply causes a film to get lost.
“The coming launch of all these streaming services,” Contrino adds, “means it’s only going to get harder for something to break through. Success in movie theaters is one of the top ways for content to stand out.”
Exactly. Unlike a TV series which, by design, can build an audience over time, movies need to be able to accumulate buzz for a single two-hour story. The best platform to do that in is the movie theater because it turns a movie into an event. It also becomes the best way to raise awareness for a movie, effectively serving as a prestige advertisement for its eventual long-term life on streaming.
And now we have the data to prove it.