Netflix Chief On Destroying Film Romanticism

Netflix has various issues they deal with on a daily basis, but one longer term challenge they have to handle isn’t so much a technical or presentation issue so much as a cultural one – that of changing the perspective around the romanticism of cinema.

An old interview conducted by Deadline in May last year with Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has been making the rounds again this week. At the time Sarandos spoke about the role of Netflix in the changing film and television landscape and discussed how a theatrical viewing experience is not the only way to have a rewarding relationship with cinema:

“A lot of directors will come in and they will talk about the movies that they saw, and these are the movies that influenced them and made them want to be a filmmaker, and in almost every case they watched them at home on a VHS tape.

There’s a romantic notion about the film being on a big screen. There’s definitely something about a [Sundance] premiere at Eccles [theater] that you can’t replicate – that I can’t replicate – but the fact is, that happens for a couple hundred people once a year.

We’re doing it every day for the world. People who are discovering a movie that might change their life; that’s who they’re talking to. We have to get rid of the romantic part. I don’t really think that they’re mutually exclusive. I think over time that these films will get booked into theaters at the same time they’re on Netflix.

What I’m trying to do is take the benefits and the beautiful byproduct of the internet, which is all about consumer choice, and apply it to movies where no one else has. The theatrical movie window is the only window that really still exists. Every other form of entertainment is pretty much available to consumers where and when they want it. Perpetuating the movie window — adding new money to perpetuate the old system – I don’t think is really that interesting.”

Sarandos also appeared on the Pop Culture Confidential podcast last week with the topic coming up again, and he does have a point. Sport is televised worldwide, yet people still go to sporting events. Music is available to download digitally at any time, people still go to concerts. Games are available in stores day-and-date for everyone, yet gaming conventions and game industry events keep getting bigger. TV is available on demand around much of the world often within the same day or week, and yet people are still flooding social media to discuss a Netflix show dropped all at once (ala “Stranger Things”) or an HBO show week to week (ala “Westworld”).

Yet the single most common argument for keeping the theatrical window, beyond the more logical one of economics, remains the one that a commenter on The Playlist summed up succinctly: “Theatrical window is the only thing we’ve got so don’t touch it” – a line of illogical reasoning not unlike that of a domineering partner in a dysfunctional relationship. Films are the beauty, and fans of the theatrical experience the beast afraid to let it go out into the open world (ie. the day-and-date VOD arena) for fear of rejection.

Comments like this stem from an obviously deep seated fear that if people are given the choice of day-and-date releases, cinema going as both an activity and a communal experience will disappear overnight. For those whose economic livelihood depends upon filmgoing – namely exhibitors and distributors, festival organisers and event planners – such fears are understandable and to some extent warranted.

Yet, as another commenter on the same board says: “if it is so compelling then no window should be necessary – it should succeed on it’s on merits.” Certainly film festivals, lavish premieres and huge tentpole release launches don’t seem to be going anywhere and will be around for many years to come as there’s no obvious economically advantageous reason for them to disappear. Same goes for event programming such as cinematic retrospectives.

But we’re also in an age where quite a few arthouse releases every week are already day-and-date with VOD and have been for around two years so far with no signs of the trend slowing down. An age where respect of others in a cinema is at its lowest levels, whereas technology in the home to replicate the filmgoing experience is at both its peak and its most affordable.

With services like Amazon and iTunes along with SVOD services like Netflix and Hulu, the infrastructure is already in place as well, so what’s holding people back from embracing it beyond either nostalgia or fear, neither of which anyone should consider a healthy psychological motivator. Is the idea of the remaining limited releases and even some smaller and medium-sized wide releases also being available day-and-date on VOD that abhorrent and if so, why? Have your say on the issue in the comments below.