Film News

Sean Baker: What If Netflix’s Subscription Plans Included An In-Theater Option?

Yesterday, I addressed the Spielberg-Netflix story and the unintended consequences of changing Oscar rules just to spite streaming services. Today, it’s time for some proposed solutions.

First up, Sean Baker, indie director behind movies such as Tangerine and The Florida Project, who threw out the following idea on Twitter:

“Wouldn’t it be great if Netflix offered a ‘theatrical tier’ to their pricing plans? For a nominal fee, Netflix members could see Netflix films in theaters for free. I know I’d spend an extra 2 dollars a month to see films like ‘Roma’ or ‘Buster Scruggs’ on the big screen. This would help keep theater owners and audience members who appreciate the theatrical experience satisfied.”

Counterpoint: Don’t be so sure about this being something which would please theater owners. As the MoviePass experience showed, theater owners are extremely weary of being cut out by a third party which offers a subscription plan direct to consumers. AMC has at least seen the need for change and introduced its own subscription plan, A-List, and European theater chains have similar offerings. Based on that, meeting Netflix halfway on this might be a big ask, however reasonable it might seem in the abstract.

MoviePass, remember, was pitched as “Netflix for movie theaters,” a summation everyone understood because of the way Netflix has become synonymous with subscription-based pricing. However, backing theatrical plays is antithetical to Netflix’s business model. The only reason they’ve done it in the past is for the express purpose of winning awards which they only do to appease creative partners and signal to other major filmmakers that they will put movies into theaters for the right director.

To include a separate subscription package to allow members to see certain movies in theaters assumes enough people would like that to make it worthwhile and that enough theaters would comply to make it practical. This sounds more like the kind of thing would maybe make sense and be made available just to people who live in New York or Los Angeles where any Netflix movie aiming for a qualifying Oscar run would be guaranteed to play.

If Netflix did that, however, and actually shared some of the ticket sales with the theaters – something they don’t actually do right now – then maybe some of the major chains would get involved in those markets. That would at least progress.

Second, Paul Schrader, First Reformed writer and director, who proposes a possibly more sensible option where at least the indie theater chains, like Alamo Drafthouse, band together and partner with Netflix on a special subscription model.

He laid it all out on Facebook, pointing out as many others have that had his movie been purchased by Netflix he’s not sure it ever would have made as much impact as it did. In all likelihood, First Reformed would have fallen victim to the choice paradox impacting so many Netflix subscribers who struggle under the continual weight of sifting through the endless new options for something to watch. More often than not, those people just give up and re-watch Friends or The Office. However, if Netflix at least made more of an effort to put such movies into some theaters maybe that would elevate their profile.

““My proposal is club cinemas (Alamo Draft House, Metrograph, Burns Center, Film Forum) to form an alliance with a two-tiered streaming system (first tier: Criterion/Mubi, second tier: Netflix/Amazon). Distribution models are in flux. It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

However, this all feels a bit like asking Napster, in its heyday, to maybe just stream the first two or three songs from an album instead of the full album. At least that way maybe some people would go buy the full thing in stores. Why would they do that? They just made physical stores obsolete.

It’s not an exact analogy, but the mindset of the old way of doing things trying to force a compromise on the new feels similar. From Netflix’s point of view, I guess the question is how much do they really want to win awards? Because this all sounds like a lot of work for just a little bit of prestige.

But, dangit, at least Baker and Schrader, who know the ins and outs of the indie film world, are trying to find a solution that doesn’t involve Steven Spielberg forcing the Academy to disqualify all streaming movies. What do you think of their ideas? And do you have any suggestions of your own? Let me know in the comments.

Source: IndieWire

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