Friday, 30 September 2016

Can Netflix Beat Hollywood at Their Own Game? (VOR)

Netflix and Amazon are drastically changing the film distribution system - and it could spell disaster for the old guard.

Something seismic occurred at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year; for the first time, the biggest players with the deepest pockets weren’t the usual studios like Fox Searchlight and Weinstein. No, this year it was streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, with their grand ambitions and dollar signs ringing in their eyes, that made headlines by forking out tens of millions for a raft of independent films, outbidding the traditional powerhouses and firmly announcing their arrival onto scene.

A still from Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation
No longer content with outclassing most TV networks with high-quality shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Narcos, Netflix (and their US-based rival Amazon Prime) now have their sights set on beating the major film studios at their own game, threatening to turn the industry on its head in the process. 

At the festival, Amazon outbid Fox and Universal by forking out a whopping $10 million for Manchester By the Sea, a drama starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams that is already tipped to be a strong contender come the Oscars. Meanwhile, Netflix bid $20 million for Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. They lost out in the end to Fox, but the fact that they got involved in the bidding war didn’t go unnoticed; Fox’s winning bid was the largest in Sundance history.

At the moment, most films (like Birth of a Nation) will still choose to go the route of a traditional theatrical release, but Netflix and Amazon’s increasing eagerness to muscle in on awards season does beg the question of how this will impact the industry five to ten years down the track.

Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez in
The Fundamentals of Caring
The upside is that independent filmmakers are finding it increasingly easy to get their movie in front of global audiences. Properties like The Fundamentals of Caring (which stars Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts) and Tallulah (Ellen Page, Allison Janney), which were scooped up at Sundance this January, have already been available on Netflix for months. Furthermore, access to these new release movies isn’t hidden behind a premium paywall; they’re all included in a bog standard Netflix subscription.

Beaming directly into millions of homes across the world, these independent films find themselves in a win-win situation. They scored a deal that recouped their production costs and are available to be streamed at any time, anywhere by umpteen subscribers. Score one for the little guy, right?

However, how does this trend impact more mainstream cinema? Probably not great deal at this stage, but it certainly raises the question – at what point are we going to see blockbuster films make their debut on a major streaming service? How long is it going to be before a tentpole film, like a Jurassic World or a Jason Bourne, forgoes the theatre entirely and seeks a larger audience at home on Netflix?

Bear with me here, because that might seem like quite a leap – but think about it. We’re at the stage now where a major studio film opens every fortnight, sometimes two or three in the same week. Naturally, some of these are going to bomb – and hard. This year alone we’ve had Warcraft, Ghostbusters, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence and Alice Through the Looking Glass (amongst others) all flunk at the box office, struggling to find an audience amongst crowded multiplexes. Could these movies have fared better if they’d steered towards streaming, or even split the difference by going both routes?

Ghostbusters, Independence Day and Alice Through the Looking Glass all suffered financially - would studios reach a
wider audience by exploring new methods of distribution?

Be honest, what sounds more appealing – a cosy night on sofa with your significant other or a costly jaunt to the local movie theatre? One is filled with blankets, candles and all the comforts of home; the other sees you standing in queues for ages, forking out for tickets and snacks and, worst of all, being forced to deal with the general public. Who wants that?

Conversely, how many times have you watched something on Netflix simply because it popped up on the dashboard? We’ve all been there. With the recent introduction of 4K technology and the ability to stream across numerous smart TVs and games consoles, access to quality HD film and TV content is easier that ever. 

Even if it seems unlikely right now, this hypothetical future is worryingly real proposition that could spell doom for cinema owners and the major studios. When a single movie ticket costs roughly $15 and an HD subscription to Netflix only costs $12 a month, it’s no surprise that people are changing their movie-viewing habits. Why fork out when you can just veg on the sofa?

Luxury cinema theatres that serve alcohol aim to entice
audiences back to the movies
That being said, cinema chains aren’t going quietly into the night; the increasing prevalence of VMAX (or Cinemax) screens with Dolby ATMOS surround sound and Gold Class theatres are their answer to this quandary; bigger screens, a more immersive experience and an inviting domestic setting is striving to make the movies a more attractive option for film fans.

Bringing this back to my original point, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before Netflix, Amazon or even their Aussie equivalent Stan are going to be producing blockbuster movies that are unmissable and eagerly anticipated. They’ve already begun to influence independent cinema; their ease of access and affordability continues to siphon viewers from the theatre. It’s not too unrealistic to envision a future where they’ve drastically altered the film distribution model as we know it.

Cast your mind back to where they were five years ago; an exclusive political drama starring Kevin Spacey seemed like a quaint novelty at the time, but now Netflix and Amazon’s original programming rivals HBO, AMC and FX. If they can challenge those guys, who says they can’t take on Hollywood at it’s own game too?

This article was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out. 


  1. This is a really interesting read! I think it's easy to dismiss companies like Netflix taking over but the proof is all here. It might not happen soon, but a shake up is definitely coming!
    - Allie

    1. Thanks for commenting Allie. It'll be interesting looking back on what has changed in a few years; only five years ago, House of Cards was a novelty.

  2. Great post and very good points here. I'm still butt-hurt that Beasts of No Nation (Netflix) got very little attention from the Academy last year. I think going forward, they're going to have to embrace the likes of Netflix and Amazon, because they're pushing out the greats now.

    1. True! That's a really great point that I forgot to mention. You're right, Beasts of No Nation was robbed of a nomination last year. Maybe the Academy are too snobby for Netflix?

  3. Interesting points! Personally I like the balance of going out to theaters to see something new and staying home to watch movies. I can't ever really see myself doing the latter more than the former. It makes me a little weary to consider theaters going bankrupt, but studios/cinema chains need to create and sustain better material while lowering costs. The theater I go to is great and worth the price of admission, but that might not be the case for most. Netflix and Amazon are defintely growing and are contenders for studios. The film business is definitely going to be interesting for movie goers in the next few years.

    1. I do too, but I think the general public are more picky with the movies they make the cinema trip for and thus Netflix could be a more viable distribution stream for those mid-budget films that don't draw crowds.

      There are a couple of great theatres near me too that are worth supporting - but a lot of the franchised places are overly expensive and it's no surprise that audiences aren't keen on forking out on a regular basis.

      Thanks for commenting Katy!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...