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by Paula Bernstein
November 4, 2013 4:32 PM
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Netflix's Ted Sarandos Changes Tune About Day-and-Date, But What Do Distributors Think?

Ted Sarandos at Film Independent Forum

Just a week or so ago, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos riled the industry with his contentious Executive Keynote address at the 9th annual Film Independent Forum in which he criticized theater owners for their resistance to the idea of day-and-date releasing of films on Netflix and threw down the gauntlet saying that theaters are going to "kill movies."

After getting some flak, he presented a more subdued keynote today at "The Business of Entertainment," an event in Los Angeles sponsored by Bloomberg and the Tribeca Film Festival.

"I wasn’t calling for day and date with Netflix," Sarandos said during the Q&A session. "I was calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants."

In response to a question about why the change of heart, Sarandos said, "I think there's a better business in giving people what they want than creating artificial distance between the product and the consumer."

That's quite a change of tune from the October 26 keynote, in which Sarandos asked why Netflix couldn't premiere movies the same day they open in theaters. "And not little movies. There's a lot of people and a lot of ways to do that. But why not big movies?” Sarandos asked.

He also said, “The reason why we may enter this space and try to release some big movies ourselves this way, is because I’m concerned that as theater owners try to strangle innovation and distribution, not only are they going to kill theaters–they might kill movies."

In response, John Fithian, president/CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners told 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. As for day and date releases on Netflix, Fithian said, "The only business that would be helped by day-and-day release to Netflix is Netflix. If Hollywood did what Sarandos suggests, there wouldn't be many movies left for Netflix's customers or for anyone else. It makes absolutely no business sense to accelerate the release of the lowest value in the chain."

Sarandos' comments come just as many independent films are challenging the traditional theatrical model with multi-platform releases, including day-and-date VOD releases and ultra-VOD. So is it unreasonable for Sarandos to think that Netflix can get into that arena?

Clearly, the debate about day-and-date releasing isn't going away any time soon. Indiewire wants to know -- what does Sarandos' position mean for independent film distribution? Making independent films available on a platform like Netflix could mean an exponentially larger audience, as we've seen with day-and-date releases on VOD. But, surely distributors won't want to jeopardize the movie theater business or cannibalize theatrical audiences.

Indiewire has reached out to indie film distributors to get their response to the hot-button issue of day-and-date releasing, the future of movie theaters and how we watch movies. Stay tuned for our report on those responses in the coming days.

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2 Comments

  • bongokillerclown | November 5, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    Theaters are all but a waste of time and $$! People want the comfort of their homes with their own large screens and surround sound systems. Only major spectacular action films should be in theaters where you are paying upwards of $60 to watch a film when its all said and done. Unless that changes expect viewership to drop further. Ive gone to films that have a dozen people at most in an empty theater.....

  • Vin | November 4, 2013 5:33 PMReply

    "Sarandos' comments come just as many independent films are challenging the traditional theatrical model with multi-platform releases, including day-and-date VOD releases and ultra-VOD. So is it unreasonable for Sarandos to think that Netflix can get into that arena?"

    It's not unreasonable, if we're talking about smaller-budget independent film. In fact, that is precisely where indie film is heading (and I imagine everyone reading these pages already knows this).

    Sarandos is not convincing, though, when he talks about "big movies" - I presume he's talking about studio-scope movies, costing at least 70M. If that's the case, I am very curious to see exactly how that would make sense financially, either for a studio or for Netflix? It's telling that he doesn't really get into the details.