The first movie that I ever saw in a theater was Dunston Checks In way back in 1996. I was a small kid back then, going to watch a movie for the first time with my parents. Since then, I’ve had numerous visits to the movie theater. After all, it’s a major part of our modern culture. It’s one of the pleasures of life – the experience of watching a movie on the big screen with your friends, family, partner, or sometimes just by yourself.
Enter Netflix. We all know the impact Netflix has had. It has changed the way most people watch TV shows for good. But movies have still mostly remained a different ball game. The option that Netflix has provided is being able to watch your favourite TV show (or movie) anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to wait for the respective channel to telecast a show or even go out and buy the necessary DVD set (I’ll steer clear of the controversial torrents in this article). You can just decide to watch whatever show catches your fancy any time you like. And you don’t even have to sit through those irritating commercial breaks. A lot of very successful TV series have even chosen Netflix as their primary source of distribution. And it has been very successful and the audience have loved it. You did not need to wait a whole week to watch the next episode of Stranger Things or Daredevil – everyone wins.
However, movies are a different ball game altogether. This is primarily because of the entire movie-going experience. TV shows are meant to be watched sitting at home on your couch. But most movies earn their keep by getting audiences to the theaters. Netflix has released a fair number of movies as Netflix Originals. But so far most of them have been more or less middling movies at best. Many of their documentaries have been getting rave reviews and Icarus picked up the Best Documentary Feature award at the 2018 Academy Awards. But their mainstream movies have not exactly shaken up the landscape quite the way some of their TV Series have done. And intuitively it makes sense, doesn’t it? You would think that the highly hyped big-budget movies would be going after the massive revenues that can only be accumulated by playing at thousands of theaters all across the world.
But are things about to change? In April 2018, Netflix acquired the distribution rights to the film Roma. Now, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma was definitely going to be no middling film. And so it has proved. At the time of writing, Roma boasts an IMDb rating of 8.1 and a Metascore of 96. It has been chosen by Time Magazine as the best film of 2018. It has received 10 nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, including in the coveted Best Picture category. And its prospects there are suddenly looking pretty good too. In fact, a few months ago, A Star is Born appeared to be the heavy favorite to win Best Picture, but it seems to be losing steam at this point and has conceded the favorite tag to Cuaron’s movie and now heavy favorite, Roma.
In financial terms, it looks like Roma is raking in the big bucks too. Now, it needs to be mentioned here that Netflix has not kept Roma exclusive to its online platform. Initially, Roma was slated to be released on Netflix, and in a handful of theaters on the same day, all on December 14. But following the film’s rapturous reception during the fall festival season, Netflix decided to release it on screens for three weekends prior to its official release date and expand its theatrical release, which includes playing on 100 screens in the US. Netflix has not publicly disclosed box office figures for Roma, but according to IndieWire, it would “easily be the best grossing subtitled film” of 2018.
So is Roma setting a precedent? Are we on the cusp of a paradigm shift in the movie industry? Make no mistake, Netflix will be working to make sure we are. And they are not the only player in this game. Amazon is well and truly in the movie streaming business. Perhaps other serious contenders would emerge soon as well.
But is the world really ready for this particular paradigm shift? Many of those that have seen Roma in the hall has opined that the movie is better enjoyed on a larger than life screen in a controlled environment. Perhaps watching the movie on your home TV or laptop screen deters from the experience that Roma offers. And this is one of the many challenges that Netflix faces in adding more jewels like Roma to its crown. You cannot simply bring the theater experience to the consumer’s living room.
And then there is the social aspect of it. A trip to the theater is a great evening out for the family. It’s a great option for hanging out with your college buddies. You can’t just replace the movie date with ‘Netflix and chill’, that’s just not how it works. Oh, and all these people buy exorbitantly priced popcorn and soft drinks. That adds to the entire revenue structure as well. Netflix is looking to disrupt a very well developed business and social ecosystem.
On the other hand, there are definite factors in favor of Netflix. Easy and instant availability is the Netflix USP. You can suddenly decide to watch a movie after dinner before going to sleep. Netflix makes it possible. Another major advantage is the availability across the world right from the date of release. Let there be no doubt about this – Hollywood is the largest movie industry in the world, and Hollywood movies are the cream of the crop. Unfortunately for many countries, not all Hollywood movies are released in their theaters. And that usually includes a lot of the very best movies around as well. But thanks to Netflix, a person sitting in India can watch a movie like Roma on the day of release just like his counterpart in the USA.
Netflix has already caused a revolution in the world. In a world increasingly used to instant gratification, can they start dominating movie distribution too? The team at Netflix are always looking for new innovations and marketing ideas. There are obviously many directions that this particular storyline can take. I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out.