Netflix's Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos wants to save movies by releasing them on Netflix at the same time as they are in theaters, but does that really help anyone but Netflix?
At a speech at the Film Independent Forum in Los Angeles over the weekend, Sarandos launched an attack on the industry status quo, foretelling death for movies and blaming it on theater owners' unwillingness to allow movies to be released digitally at the same time they make their debut in theaters. "Theater owners stifle this kind of innovation at every turn,” he said, per Variety's report. "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."
Sarandos thinks releasing big movies on Netflix helps both the consumer and the product. "Why not follow with the consumer’s desire to watch things when they want, instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to advertise to people who may not live near a theater, and then make them wait for four or five months before they can even see it?" he said. "They’re probably going to forget."
One could see this as a declaration of war against theater owners, who have been notoriously resistant to changing distribution methods. For instance, theater chains protested when Universal planned to release 2011's Tower Heist digitally and the plan never went through. The president of the National Association of Theater Owners fought back while talking to Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr, saying that Sarandos is the one that wants to kill cinema. "The only business that would be helped by day-and-day release to Netflix is Netflix," John Fithian said. "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."
In the indie movie world, releasing movies on VOD either before or at the same time as theatrical releases is becoming a more realistic model, as films like Arbitrage have found success with multi-platform distribution. Still, no matter how impassioned Sarandos is, it seems unlikely that he can convince theater owners to loosen their grip on big movies. To them, this is just Netflix trying to eat up even more of the entertainment industry. Maybe they're right to see it that way. After all, look what they're doing to TV.
You can watch Sarandos here: