Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos riled the industry with a contentious Executive Keynote address at the 9th annual Film Independent Forum, in which he criticized theater owners for resisting the idea of day-and-date releasing of films on Netflix and claiming that theaters are going to "kill movies" if they continue to resist multi-platform distribution.
John Fithian, president/CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners responded, telling Deadline that, in fact, Netflix was imperiling the future of movies. "Subscription movie services and cheap rentals killed the DVD business, and now Sarandos wants to kill the cinema as well," Fithian said.
After getting flak from theater owners about his bold statement, Sarandos backtracked, saying that he wasn't calling for day and date, but rather, "calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants."
Mainstream exhibitors refuse to carry films that premiere day-and-date, saying that there is a direct hit on theatrical exhibition when movies play day-and-date.
But some independently owned and operated theaters don't have a problem with the new distribution model. "I do wish more theaters would be open to supporting day and day releases for indie films," said Tim League, founder/chief executive officer of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
As he told Indiewire recently: "Alamo Drafthouse is one of the few exhibitors that supports the idea of day and date and even ultra-VOD windows. I am a open to this for small movies by small distributors who don't have the budget for a massive national P&A spend. We have proven that model can work for the right film."
It's clear that day-and-date continues to be a hot-button issue for the industry -- big-budget and indie movies alike.
Sarandos' comments come just as many independent films challenge the traditional theatrical model with multi-platform releases, including day-and-date VOD releases and ultra-VOD.
As these distribution methods lose their stigma, they're becoming standard for many small films.
Depending on who you ask, VOD is either the salvation -- or the death -- of independent film.
Of course, the Netflix model, where consumers pay a flat rate upfront, is quite different than video on demand, or from renting or buying a film from a digital store such as iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, or from sites such as Crackle and Indiewire's parent SnagFilms, where you can stream movies for free.
It's unlikely that Hollywood studios and theater owners will ever agree to having films stream day-and-date on Netflix or on VOD: By all appearances, it would destroy their business model. Independent films potentially have more to gain with day-and-date releases than blockbusters -- a larger potential audience and the ability to generate word-of-mouth -- but the risk remains.
If audiences can watch a new release at home, why go to the local theater?