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Ted Sarandos: Theatrical Windows are ‘Disconnecting People from Movies,’ Not Netflix

Theatrical windows have prevented films like "Roma" from opening in theaters around the world.

(L to R) Verónica García as Sra. Teresa, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Marco Graf as Pepe, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte


Photo by Carlos Somonte

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos doesn’t believe the streaming company and movie theaters are mutually exclusive properties. Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communication Conference in New York (via Deadline), Sarandos said Netflix is not disrupting the industry as much as theater exhibitors are for being stringent about preserving theatrical windows.

“They’ve disconnected people from movies in a way,” Sarandos said of theatrical windows, which mandate a certain amount of time separate a film from debuting in theaters and hitting VOD and streaming services. “I don’t think it’s very consumer-friendly that consumers who don’t happen to live near a theater are waiting six months, eight months to see a movie.”

Theatrical windows have been making releases complicated for Netflix around the world. Most recently, Mexico’s biggest theater chain Cinepolis announced it would not be showing Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” because it requires films to have a 90-day theatrical window before they become available for streaming online or on VOD platforms. Netflix is launching “Roma” globally via streaming on December 14, which doesn’t comply with Cinepolis’ theatrical window rule. The theater chain hoped Netflix might push “Roma’s” streaming launch to February so that it exhibit “Roma,” but that request did not pan out.

Ted SarandosBAFTA Tea Party, Los Angeles, USA - 06 Jan 2018

Ted Sarandos

Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

Netflix and Cannes’ much-publicized fight earlier this year was also the result of the theatrical window debate. Cannes banned movies without French theatrical distribution from competing for the Palme d’Or, eliminating Netflix originals like “Roma” from being entered into the Competition section. The reason Netflix refuses to open films in French theaters is because the country’s theatrical window is three years. If “Roma” played Cannes and got a theatrical release in France, it wouldn’t be able to stream on Netflix until 2021, which goes against the company’s business model.

“I don’t disagree that going to the theater to see a movie is a great experience,” Sarandos said, observing that Netflix and cinemas can co-exist. “I don’t think emotionally it’s a different experience than seeing a movie on Netflix. It is a different physical experience for sure.”

Netflix started giving select films pre-stremaing theatrical releases in the U.S. this year, starting with Joel and Ethan Coen’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” “Roma” opened in select theaters at the end of November, a full three weeks before it becomes available for streaming. Sarandos estimated “probably 80% of people in the theaters are also Netflix subscribers,” again driving home his point that Netflix and theaters are not mutually exclusive.

When talent asks for their films to play in theaters, Sarandos said, “I think that’s a way of saying, ‘I want my film to be in the culture. I want people to talk about my movie on line at Starbucks.’”

With major releases from Martin Scorsese set for 2019 (“The Irishman”), expect the debate about Netflix and theatrical windows to continue. “Roma” is now playing in select theaters and will expand once again December 7 before its December 14 streaming date.

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