A few weeks ago, Netflix shocked many Hollywood insiders by securing more Emmy nominations than HBO. Now, the streaming giant is reportedly setting its sights on The Academy Awards, which has left many in the know wondering what that may mean for the pesky theatrical window problem the theater industry and Netflix have battled over since Beasts Of No Nation was released back in 2015. No one is speaking on the record yet, but sources close to the situation are saying Netflix execs may be warming up to the idea of longer theatrical runs for some of its movies.
Much of the chatter revolves around two upcoming movies: Alfonso Cuaron's Roma and Paul Greengrass' 22 July. Each is considered a possible Oscar contender, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, both directors are pushing for more than just the minimum New York and Los Angeles qualifying theatrical run needed to be eligible for awards. But will they get their way? That's an interesting question, and it could have huge long-term repercussions for the industry.
It all revolves around the so-called theatrical window. In short, movie theaters want as long as possible between when a movie is released and when people are able to consume the film inside their own homes, whether it be through On Demand, Blu-ray or a streaming service. Netflix, on the other hand, wants films to be released on its streaming service and in theaters on the same day, giving viewers the option of how they'd like to watch it. Many of the larger theater chains won't show films that don't have minimum theatrical windows. So, that means Netflix either needs to change its approach or it needs to seek out smaller arthouse-type theaters that may not have hard and fast rules.
For the past few years, Netflix has partnered with Landmark and iPic to rent out screens to show its movies. The company hasn't reported any of the theatrical grosses from any of the runs, and those runs have typically ended very quickly. Netflix has already announced Roma will be release day-and-date, meaning it'll be on the streaming service the same day as in theaters. So, for that title, the only change would likely be an expanded partnership with iPic and Landmark to include more screens throughout more of the country for a longer period of time.
Amazon has, over the past few years, taken the exact opposite approach. It has reached out to theaters and struck agreements to delay the streaming release of its films in order to book better and more exclusive theaters. The approach worked for Manchester By The Sea, which won multiple Academy Awards and also for The Big Sick, which netted and Oscar nomination and more than $50M at the box office.
In the long run, movie theaters aren't going away and neither are streaming services. It's in everyone's best interest for some kind of deal to be worked out. We all would prefer to watch some types of movies on the big screen and some types of movies at home, but with so much at stake, it could be awhile before all the parties decide what they can live with. Unfortunately for Netflix, if it waits too long, it could miss out on some Oscar noms from voters who refuse to vote for anything they can't see in theaters.