Thursday, September 03, 2015

DISTRIBUTION Netflix debut at Venice promotes simultaneous distribution

Netflix threatens, along with Amazon Prime, to disrupt the traditional distribution model of film, especially cinematic exhibition. Despite issues explored below, having just released its first feature film production, its already green lit two more - and they're confident (hubris?!) that their user data removes much of the traditional uncertainty, the high stakes gamble, around film...

is already backing two alternative satirical features: Brad Pitt’s forthcoming military parody War Machine and a mockumentary, Mascots, made by Christopher Guest, of Spinal Tap and Best in Show.

Netflix’s Sarandos recently told BBC Radio 4 that the great advantage of home streaming films is that it allows the menu of films to be tailored. “We use a lot of algorithms to put things in front of people that we know they are going to like. This brings a lot of efficiency to distribution.”

We've seen this in the UK with A Field in England released in cinema at the same time as its premiere on C4, the principle producers, but here's a useful term to note, tacked to a bang up to date example...

Here's a key paragraph from the article below, featuring quiffed critic Kermode's take on this phenomenon:

When it is commercially released in October,Beasts of No Nation will be immediately available to see not only in selected cinemas but also to subscribers to the Netflix home entertainment service – which now boasts more than 50 million international subscribers. “Simultaneous distribution”, as it is known, is a development that Mark Kermode, chief film critic for the Observer, has identified as the fast-approaching reality. “Traditional distribution models are beginning to unravel,” Kermode has said. “The future will allow audiences to choose when and where they see movies.”

There's another side to this seemingly inevitable march of digitisation and the convergence it brings: the traditional distributors and exhibitors (ie, cinema chains) are strongly opposed to the loss of the traditional cinema release window.

Disney was forced to back off plans to merely shorten the window with Alice in Wonderland, but Netflix has faced protests from French cinemas arguing its actively seeking to undermine the Francophone cinema culture.

Back in the States, the major cinema chains have refused to carry the film, worried that it, and the simultaneous distribution model it represents, presents a real threat. Here's more from the article:

As well as facing down an angry French lobby, Netflix has to contend with the response of the huge cinema chains in America – Cinemark, Regal and AMC – which are retaliating by not showing Beasts of No Nation. They have argued that video-on-demand releases violate their policies and intentionally undermine their fragile business model. Over the past decade, the time between the theatrical release of a film and its availability to see at home has been shrinking. While studios may welcome the fact they have to pay out only once on an advertising campaign, it is not good for the large multiplexes that rely on attracting crowds for as long as possible. In Britain, Odeon, Vue and Cineworld are holding out to retain a 17-week theatrical window in a battle of nerves. As it is, even big box-office receipts at an opening weekend are no guarantee that a film will make money. It depends on the financial cut between the studios and the distributors. Multiplexes make their money from soft drinks and popcorn.

Digital disruption is probably unstoppable, but it won't transform the cinema landscape without a fierce fight from powerful cinema chains in particular.

There's yet more to consider here, a point I've made many times...

Festivals remain a key element in the marketing of unusual studio films, which could get stuck in the relatively small arthouse circuit, and Indies.

Both Birdman and Gravity got a major boost through critical acclaim at Venice (Birdman) and an extravagant, widely reported launch at Venice (Gravity), which can raise otherwise no-hoper Indies to Oscar contender, a lucrative mantle and great for the brand of their distributors (the Weinsteins built Miramax through their legendarily ruthless and incisive Oscar campaigns). Here's a further quote:

Independent film-makers have little chance of competing unless they can make a fuss at a high-profile festival. Hayman cites the example of British director Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, which won rave reviews at the Telluride film festival in Colorado five months before its release and a subsequent blaze of awards. Such films are valuable to production studios because they often light the path to Oscar victory, something that is not going to happen with a comic-book franchise.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to quote box office guru Charles Gant, coiner of The Gant Rule. Noting that DreamWorks chief Katzenberg's recent speech, appraising the release window as getting in the way of audience or consumer choice - even if that ultimately makes cinema a niche experience - was difficult to argue with, he discussed 'collapsed windows':

“The cinema is the best place to see a film, but if that’s the case it ought to be able to compete with widescreen TVs and tablets and phones and every other platform. If its USP is actually its exclusive window to show films, I think that’s a bit sad for cinemas.”

Gant also points out that “collapsed windows”, which offer a legal way to see a film at home at the time of maximum excitement, when it has just been released, may be the only way to combat piracy. “People will no longer have the excuse that they couldn’t get a babysitter, so that’s why they watched the movie via pirated content.”

Netflix takes on Hollywood with its first film premiere at Venice festival

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