January 15, 2020
Netflix earned an impressive 24 Oscar nominations ahead of the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9 — largely around two movies: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story.
Walmart-owned Vudu.com and exhibitors Cinemark, AMC Theatres and Regal Cinema have launched pre-Oscar events showcasing best picture nominated films — with the exception of Netflix’s titles.
That’s because Netflix — per longstanding policy — does not abide by Hollywood’s traditional theatrical release strategy affording exhibitors exclusive 90-day access. Instead, the streamer mandates all original movies be made available across all distribution channels (including theatrical) at the same time.
This has angered exhibitors and industry insiders domestically and abroad (i.e. Cannes Film Festival) for years — the result being Netflix movies are largely ignored by major theater chains.
Indeed, Cinemark’s “Annual Oscar Movie Week Festival,” which runs from Feb. 3 to 9, enables consumers (for $35) to screen all nominated films — with the exception of Netflix’s titles. Vudu is taking preorders for Oscar-nominated titles, with the exception of The Irishman and Marriage Story (which have not been slated for a digital sellthrough release).
“I don’t see the utility of making a film available on VOD or in theaters, if it’s available for free to anyone with a subscription or trial account at Netflix,” said Wedbush Securities media analyst Michael Pachter. “Netflix would rather people sign up for a free trial and watch these films than it would care for the 50% to 65% it might earn from a movie ticket or VOD.”
Last year, Netflix’s first Oscar nominated best picture title, Roma, was also ignored by major exhibitors. It went on to win for best director (Alfonso Cuarón) and best foreign-language film (Mexico’s first) — but no best picture. The movie reportedly generated about $200,000 in revenue from pre-nomination screenings over the extended Thanksgiving weekend at select indie theaters in Los Angeles.
The imbroglio made headlines when director Steven Spielberg suggested movies that forgo the traditional theatrical run should not be considered for Oscars. The Academy’s annual board of governors post-Oscar meeting nixed that idea.
Netflix responded (on Twitter) at the time stressing “we love cinema” and ubiquitous distribution. “These things are not mutually exclusive,” the streamer tweeted.
While Roma did become Netflix’s first film to be included in The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray Disc and DVD (due Feb. 11), it arguably left millions of dollars in box office revenue on the table.
“If Netflix wants to really be a movie company, and not just a highly successful television company, why won’t they consider the traditional movie business model?,” John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Operators, wrote in a 2018 blog post. “Wouldn’t Netflix make more money and establish a much deeper cultural conversation by offering a true and robust theatrical run first, and offering exclusive streaming to its subscribers later?”