Why Audiences Will Never See Netflix as a Movie Studio

Feb 27, 2018

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There are brands that are engraved into our brains as behemoths of the movie industry. They scream to us a magnificent presence even years after they turn into something else. Names like Warner Brothers, MGM, Miramax, Paramount are all names that evoke a sense of stardom and movie magic in the average movie-goer that is like nothing else in the world. But with the nature of film changing seemingly every year are the new players like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu etc. poised to take over these companies roles moving forward?

The truth is that the major streaming companies are already in the movie-making space and have announced themselves in a major way. The vast amount of content they produce has changed the game and the quality is often just as good if not better than anything found on any other network. Some of the movies that they acquire from film festivals or even the original productions they put out are quite good and feature familiar movie-star faces like Robert Redford, Jason Segel, and Robin Wright. So why am I claiming that Netflix will never be seen as a movie studio in the eyes of the audience? It’s simple – audiences are not seeing the Netflix logo on movie screens.

The Mystical Allure of a Movie Theater

There’s still something that sets apart films we’re willing to go to the theater to see and films we can stream on our phone. There’s an excitement that surrounds the exclusivity of seeing something in a movie theater. It’s still part of the social vernacular. People still ask me all the time if I’ve seen any good movies lately. The conversation does, admittedly, often turn into what we watch on streaming platforms but that’s not anyone’s intention when they ask if you’ve seen any good movies.

Most people are asking about what movies you’ve seen lately to know if there’s anything worth going to to movie theater to see. With the advent of moviepass.com (of which I’m a proud subscriber), it’s not even about the money anymore since moviepass has managed to put the theater-going experience on par financially with a Netflix subscription. What going to the movies about now is the time and attention commitment it requires of you.

For people to commit to leaving their house for a few hours to get parking, load up on popcorn, surround themselves with strangers in seats that are undoubtedly not as comfortable as their living room sofa, sit down for the previews and watch an entire film without interruption is a huge commitment in today’s multi-screen daily life.

What going to the movies about now is the time and attention commitment it requires of you.

Those movies that aren’t quite up to that benchmark are usually skipped in the theater and do pitiful box office business because people know that if it is any good it will end up on the streaming platforms and they’ll end up consuming the film in pieces while they drive to work, are put on hold while they pay their medical bills, and even visit the toilet.

Are Netflix Movies Not Good Enough?

So what am I saying? Is Netflix not making movies good enough to screen in a theater – not in the least. Last year’s Sundance movie directed by Charlie McDowell and starring Jason Segel was something I would have gladly made time to see in the theater. It was right up my alley and was indeed better than most of the films I did end up seeing in the theater that year. But Netflix didn’t put it in the theater so I ended up watching it on my iPhone just like 99% of the other content I consume these days (by the way I’m not knocking watching things on the iPhone at all – it’s a great screen and held at a reasonable distance gives a 70” screen a run for its money).

What am I saying is that of all the films I did see in the theater last year (and this year for that matter) I did not see Netflix’s logo on the big screen once. I saw Amazon’s logo a couple times since they’ve been pushing certain films for Oscars they typically will do a theatrical window on prestige pictures like Manchester by the Sea – but not Netflix.

Maybe there’s no inherent value in being thought of a major film studio in the minds of the theater-going audiences.

Now maybe Netflix has no desire to be viewed as a movie studio by audiences. Having that cache didn’t save production companies like Orion from folding after all. Knowing how much Netflix loves to do research and analyze their audience on pretty granular levels, I’m sure the idea of doing a theatrical window on some of their films was something considered quite extensively. In fact, I can’t imagine a world where Netflix didn’t test this idea and run a set of profits and loss and even had a team evaluate the benefits of doing a theatrical window.


Maybe it’s a Matter of Money

At first I thought that perhaps they don’t want to absorb the cost of the marketing that a feature film requires (especially one that’s rolled out on thousands of screens). But that idea was somewhat negated recently when I saw the insane amount of marketing dollars they threw at their Will Smith vehicle Bright. Bright had an amazing trailer and great promotional packages put together. Whether you like the film or not, you can’t deny that their promotional efforts on that movie far surpassed most of the feature films released theatrically that year – including a world-wide press tour with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton.

If Netflix is going to the trouble and expense of putting that much effort into marketing a marquee feature they’re producing it makes sense to me to at least have a small theatrical window just so that the general audiences can see that Netflix logo on the big screen so that somewhere in the back of their subconscious minds Netflix isn’t just a streaming service that makes movies once in a while but a true movie studio who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Hollywood greats that have come before them.


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