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David Poland

By David Poland

MoreOn Netflix

I’ve written about this so much that I have tried to deal with recent events on Twitter only. But there are now stories on stories on stories, so I figured I should state my opinion as clearly (and concisely) as possible.

NETFLIX & DREAMWORKS ANIMATION – Nothing really new going on here, though I am shocked that the New York Times has become so enamored of Netflix that they run virtual press releases without asking any of the hard questions that have become clear in recent months. There is nothing significant here. Netflix is playing over retail. No one else is. They can’t afford retail for STARZ Disney & Sony deals. So not happening. DWA is a smart attempt to plug that dike. But 24 movies will not change the game.

Few people believe that the deal is really $30m per movie. But there is a real chance that the deal is $60 million a year, which would represent 2 new movies each year as well as the 24 film library (not all of which is immediately available, btw). The price is high for Netflix, but would be the rare exclusive in their library. The vast majority of other deals are non-exclusive.

While the New York Times positions this as a comeback, it is much more of a desperation play. But it does confirm, yet again, what I have been saying, which is that Netflix’s biggest problem right now is not pricing, but content perception. They have gone from the perception (however false) that they are the Everything Everywhere company to being the Lots Of Stuff, But A Bit Like Cruising Through 300 Cable Channels And Not Really Wanting To Watch Anything company.

This deal should cut the stock price of Netflix and raise the stock price of DWA, which is being overpaid. Also, the issue of when films start streaming on Netflix is, it seems quite likely, well after the DVD window. So paranoia about this cutting into DWA’s DVD business is probably unfounded.

NETFLIX & INDIES – indieWIRE is running its second piece on Netflix abandoning the indies in the last couple of weeks.

Again, it has nothing to do with wanting the indies or not wanting the indies. Netflix has spent itself into some serious trouble and they are hoping that international expansion will save them. But even the relatively inexpensive buys, streaming and hard DVDs, like Criterion Collection, are money that Netflix cannot afford to spend right now. They need to overpay for DWA by not having Criterion anymore.

The sad part, for small distributors, is that they ask so little of Netflix that having it pulled away is really painful in some cases. The margins are very narrow in that business and losing 5% of revenue means something real to these companies.

Anthony Kaufman has it wrong when he mentions “the long tail” because this IS a function of the long tail, not a cleaving off of it. The long tail expands, conceptually, to broaden access, which it has done. But it also narrows the financial value of each specific item on the tail… which it is now doing.

The fantasy of The Long Tail was that it would be a Communistic ideal… that everyone would be able to live modestly as things averaged out. This was always ridiculous when it came to films because the cost of production is not easily scalable. In other words, films that are happy to be selling Netflix under 100 copies are okay… but the longer part of the tail, between that and Mid-Indie level and above, were happy to have something, but not paying the bills with what they were getting from Netflix. The problems in the sell-thru DVD business have been taking their toll for a while. The dream was that Netflix streaming would raise the bar and be another revenue producer. But instead, their ambition to be in the thicker part of the tale is not only failing to come true, but these films are being squeezed even further into the thinner part of the tail.

No matter how good your indie film is, the perception of its value on Netflix is based on marketing, the same as a theatrical opening is. A great unknown doc is “more filler” to most Netflix customers.

The longtail still exists for indies. If you want to stream for free, there are plenty of places to go. But the fantasy of the long tail for film, which was always pie in the sky, is no longer gaining believers. It’s hit the wall. And as with so many other things – and think Anthony was saying this as well – when times are tough, the wins go to the biggest profile, least needy partners.

This all goes back to the piece I wrote last week… someone needs to get some big bucks in their deep pockets and start the commune of the indie players’ fantasies. There is a business model that can work… it just requires a lack of raw greed on everyone’s part. If there are 10 different places streaming indies with differing proclivities, it will remain an untenable market. The niche needs a target. And I still think that SnagFilms and Ted Leonsis’ deep pockets would be the best way to go. They’ve spent a good amount of money and this would be an even bigger investment, but I truly believe that they could get a base of subscribers of over 5 million within the first two years after making themselves the place to go with your small, quality films, giving them greater cache with the higher profile indies. Think of the platform just for domestic screening on foreign films that haven’t been over here.

5 Responses to “MoreOn Netflix”

  1. “It has nothing to do with wanting the indies or not wanting the indies.”

    As a user, it doesn’t really matter WHY Netflix is cutting back on indies, all that matters is the fact of it. It’s obviously a wise move for them in the current climate, but it’s another strike in the “Get rid of Netflix” column as I consider dumping them.

    It’s already tempting to jettison the physical DVD part of the plan, but their streaming seems to be getting weaker at the moment and I’m not sure it’s worth 8 or 9 bucks a month anymore. A few Dreamworks titles won’t fix that.

  2. James says:

    “There is a business model that can work… it just requires a lack of raw greed on everyone’s part.”

    I dont see how David. I’ll say this more bluntly, for those interested in “indie” product (defined by the studios you mentioned last week), the quality of product we’re talking about is extremely low and has very little demand. We’re talking about the films that play to small audiences at film festivals or made for peanuts horror films

  3. Foamy Squirrel says:

    That’s the whole principle behind bundling though – if one of those films was on a local theatre and you’d be looking at a poorer turnout than Bucky Larson. Stick it as part of a festival, and at least you get the morbidly curious.

    As you get a larger and larger indie scope, the likelihood that something will catch your fancy also increases – “Now streaming 10,000 international films” or whatever might attract some attention. Throw it in for an extra $2 on your Amazon Prime, Netflix or Dish monthly bill, and suddenly those films have a chance to pass the convenience threshold and start earning some money. Heck, that’s the whole principle behind cable channels – how many channels do you think would vanish overnight if you didn’t have to choose “160 channels” vs “170 channels INCLUDING HBO!” etc.

  4. krazyeyes says:

    Is Netflix still planning on producing that original content that was reported ages ago? I haven’t really been looking but I din’t think i’ve heard a peep about any original content since the original press release.

  5. Bennett says:

    Another problem for Netflix might be this new Amazon Kindle Fire. I am not sure what kind of 3G/WIFI connection it has but I am sure that people will be using Amazon Prime on it. As Netflix starts losing more and more content people might start looking at Amazon Prime as a possible replacement.

    Smart move Amazon

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin