Netflix & Other Streamers Walk Tightrope on Theatrical Runs

By Robert Marich

   Nov. 17, 2018-The great unresolved issue of this era of cinema is how video streamers like Netflix will alter theatrical release. The answer unfolds slowly with Netflix—the streamer least committed to theatrical—inching back to cinema.
   Streamers originating and acquiring theatrical films for their online services pursue different strategies for the cinema

Netflix inches back to cinema to coral awards and pacify creatvie talent

window. Amazon Studio tends to embrace a meaningful theatrical window for its movies while Netflix is inclined to skip or just do a token release (and often doesn’t disclose boxoffice performance for those token appearances). Others like Hulu, Apple and new-entrant Wal-Mart are smaller content players with evolving strategies.
   One new wrinkle is that Netflix is being pressed by Hollywood talent that it hires to carve out theatrical windows, and just announced four films will get beefed up cinema runs. The most conspicuous is Roma, which is from Alfonso Cuaron (a Harry Potter movie and Gravity) and acquired for $20 million (Participant Media reportedly made the film for $15 million). Netflix’s policy is simultaneous online/cinema premieres, which mean minor theatrical runs since theaters back-off.
   “The break with protocol is intended to signal to brand-name filmmakers and their fellow Oscar voters that Netflix believes in the power of big-screen cinema, despite being viewed as the theatrical exhibition industry's most dangerous, deep-pocketed disrupter,” writes Rebecca Keegan in the Hollywood Reporter. “For Netflix, a best picture nomination — or better, a win — would bolster industry credibility and entice new subscribers to its service. In awards seasons past, the company spent heavily on the dramas Mudbound and Beasts of No Nation and collected Oscars for cinematography and documentary (Icarus), but a Netflix movie has never been nominated for best picture.”
   The Hollywood Reporter story finds many members of the motion picture academy that confers the Oscars skeptical of Netflix’s sincerity about theatrical and support of cinema. Nonetheless, Netflix pushes some of its films on the festival circuit, though there is debate by the fests whether skipping or de-emphasizing theatrical should disqualify such films in the future.
   Movie theaters aren’t supportive of token theatrical runs. Cinemark, the third largest U.S. theater circuit measured by its 4,566 screens, enforces exclusivity for cinema, according to a story by Dade Hayes. “We’ve been really clear with our key partners,” Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said on an investors’ conference call. “We have a 74-day exclusive window to [electronic sell-through] and then an 88-day to DVD and VOD and so whether that is Netflix or a major studio partner, the policy is going to be the same.” Netflix films jump too fast to online for Cinemark.
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