Times are changing in how, where, and when we watch movies. VOD has become a major force and platform in the release strategy for independent films, and streaming is quickly becoming a major hub for cinema too. Netflix of course is leading the charge, not only producing but acquiring new content, while Amazon and other players are also getting into the game. Frankly, they are filling a niche that many of the major studios have become more selective about about lately, and when it emerged earlier this week that Netflix was dropping a staggering $12 million to pick up Cary Fukunaga‘s child soldier drama “Beasts Of No Nation” — already seen as a potential 2016 Best Picture contender — it felt like the kind of big money buy Harvey Weinstein would’ve made in the ’90s. But even people like Harvey aren’t spending that kind of money anymore (for comparison sake, the starrier “The Imitation Game” was acquired for $7 million last year), but for filmmakers and movie buffs, having players like Netflix, Amazon, and others stepping up is good news. However, there is one group threatened by this changing of the guard.
Major theater chains — Regal, AMC and Cinemark — will not screen “Beasts Of No Nation.” Why? Because the movie will debut on the same day in select theaters in the U.S. and worldwide on Netflix in all territories simultaneously. And the chains are not in the business of competing with the streaming service for an audience.
And yet, it shows that theater owners have a fundamental misunderstanding of their business — they provide a cinematic, big screen experience that even the convenience of Netflix and their like can’t match. There will always be those that will want to see the drama on a big screen if they are given the option. Clutching to the old model that movies must bow theatrically first for a pre-determined amount of time before they get released elsewhere will find theaters increasingly becoming the home solely of major blockbusters. And certainly, that’s what theater owners want because that’s where the big bucks will be over the next few years. But that will last only so far as audience taste for it does, and refusing to acknowledge the changing climate and diverse array of movies that people watch will make it harder to shift gears when ticket buyers decide they don’t want to see Marvel Movie #72.
But hey, this is great news for independent movie houses, who will now have an Oscar contender all for themselves. And at the end of the day, those are the places that we’d rather support anyway. [THR]