Video on-demand giant and other online streaming companies are helping redefine the motion picture industry.
With its stark black-and-white depiction of Mexico City in the 1970s and the savage government crackdown on student protesters, Roma opened up mainstream US moviegoers to a cinematic world rarely captured in Hollywood masterpieces. But more than just becoming the first Best Picture nominee for a film with the main character speaking the Mesoamerican indigenous language Mixtec, the Netflix original production directed by Alfonso Cuaron has turned the movie business on its head.
In conventional showbiz, the best movies were awarded Oscars, and the best television programmes scored big at the Emmys. Yet with the advent of online streaming for on-demand film content, the distinction between the silver screen and the tube has become fuzzy.
Earlier this month, Steven Spielberg reaffirmed his commitment “to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience” in remarks that many observers considered a jab at Netflix, the latest titan to join the elite Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) lobbying group. “Joining the Motion Picture Association further exemplifies our commitment to ensuring the vibrancy of these creative industries and the many talented people who work in them all over the world,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, said in an MPAA statement in January.
“All of the major pundits at Gold Derby are 100 percent in for Roma,” said Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. “That is quite a stronghold. Either they will all be right or all be wrong.”
Netflix hired a leading strategist and spent some $25m to promote Roma, which cost only $15m to make. Disney, Black Panther; Warner Bros, A Star is Born; and Universal, First Man have also invested heavily to give their own Best Picture nominees a competitive edge.
Despite theatre chains protesting against Netflix’s gambit to qualify for Oscar glory, this year the theatrical earnings for Best Picture nominees were the highest since 2010, a combined North American box office total of more than $1.3bn. However, that figure excludes the relatively small amount generated by Roma, as Netflix, Inc does not publish information on how its films perform financially.
Netflix, with around 140 million paying subscribers worldwide, is modifying its business model. Although the cinematic releases were limited and not intended to generate revenue, the move served to increase the company’s Oscar chances and also signified flexibility by the Los Gatos, California-based entertainment firm to adapt to the market.