Netflix boss calls Glass Onion cinema release a ‘promotional tactic’

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings plays down ideas that the streamer might be moving into theatrical distribution. 

We’re seeing a shift at the moment in the way streaming platforms are handling distribution of their films. Both Disney and Warner Bros have experimented with different types of ‘day and date’ dual releases before largely returning to more traditional models of distribution that involve some sort of theatrical exclusivity windows. Amazon appears to be leaning heavily into that direction with the resurrection of the MGM brand which will create ‘cinema-first’ films.

Streamers are now coming to realise the value of a theatrical release in developing the ongoing value of a film throughout its lifecycle and to some extent, the same is true of Netflix who has granted a relatively wide theatrical release to Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The film has performed well in cinemas too given that in the US especially, it only appeared on around 700 screens. Could this, then, be the way forward for Netflix? Is the cinema something it’s going to look to more and more?

Well, er…

Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings has popped up to quell any thoughts that this might be leading to some kind of full-on move into theatrical distribution on the part of the streaming platform. Instead, he explains that this approach is simply a “promotional tactic” to raise the profile of the film ahead of its streaming debut.

“With films, we release them typically at film festivals early to stimulate conversation and demand, but not to fulfil that demand, except when it launches on Netflix and everybody watches”, he said. “A small number of theatres has done exactly that: everybody’s talking about it and is excited about Glass Onion. It’s going to be huge and [on] December 23rd the whole world’s going to get to see it and I think it will be one of our biggest films. And so it’s a promotional tactic like film festivals, and if it works well we’ll do more of it”.

On one hand we can certainly see how this makes sense. There’s an element of the old ‘cinema release is a trailer for the VHS release’ to it. One of the problems that the company’s film releases have persistently faced is an inability to ‘cut through the noise’, especially during 2022 when Netflix committed to releasing a film every single week. However, releasing a murder mystery film in a limited number of cinemas three weeks before it hits Netflix may not have the effect that the streamer desires either: are the film press going to want to be talking too much about a film that most of their readers/listeners can’t access for weeks, especially given the film’s genre where it’s best enjoyed ‘cold’? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

What is certain is that we continue to work through a long period of transition in the way films are being watched and Hastings’ current comments only explain Netflix’s position as of right now. What the company professes in a year or two from now might well be the same stance, but in an ever-evolving era of distribution and exhibition, things could look very different too.

Screen Daily

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