'The Irishman' Ban Once Again Shows Hollywood's Disdain For Netflix is Stupid & Counterproductive

For years Hollywood has seen Netflix as a mortal enemy because of the company’s interest in disrupting the entertainment industry. Hollywood has been particularly vocal about how Netflix is “destroying” the traditional, sticky-floor, brick and mortar theater business because it wants to modernize antiquated release window rules from a bygone era. For example, Netflix content was banned from Cannes last year largely because the company wouldn’t adhere to France’s absurd cultural exception law that requires a 36-month delay between theatrical release and streaming availability.

Hollywood theater chains’ disdain for Netflix bubbled up again this month, with the news that Netflix’s latest exclusive, the new Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman,” would be banned from being shown at a number of major theater chains. Apparently this was intended as some kind of “punishment” for Netflix, though the company quickly spun the narrative on its head. Like “Roma,” “The Irishman” needs at least some major theater time to be considered for Oscar contention, so Netflix has decided to screen the film at the Shubert Organization’s historic Belasco Theatre on Broadway.

It’s the first time a traditional film has been shown there in the theater’s 112 year history, drawing more public attention to the film’s release:

“The unusual arrangement – hailed by the preservation-minded Scorsese as a way to showcase his film in the type of ornate theater in which New Yorkers could once routinely view films – will be the first film screening ever in the Belasco’s 112-year history (the theater was an NBC studio for several years in the early 1950s). Netflix will provide what it describes as state-of-the-art equipment for the screenings.”

The film (featuring Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, and Al Pacino in a purported return to bygone efforts) will be shown at the theater through the month of November, before it arrives on Netflix November 27. Brick and mortar theaters apparently think they’re somehow stopping Netflix from disrupting the industry, but it’s hard to see how that’s actually going to be successful. Netflix simply turned the snub into a new way to promote the film, and the industry loses any revenue from airing a film that many fans of older Scorsese mob films are going to want to see. It’s all a sort of incompetent seppuku.

The biggest issue? The brick and mortar theater worry that Netflix will “kill theaters” has never been proven by any substantive data. Last year a study indicated that Netflix certainly isn’t killing movie theaters. In fact, EY’s Quantitative Economics and Statistics group (funded by the National Association of Theater Owners) found that consumers who visited theaters nine times or more in the last 12 months consumed more streaming content than consumers who visited a movie theater only once or twice over the past year:

“The message here is that there’s not a war between streaming and theatrical,” said Phil Contrino, director of media and research at NATO. “People who love content are watching it across platforms and all platforms have place in consumers’ minds.”

In other words, the claims that Netflix keeps people at home and out of theaters isn’t true, yet it’s the cornerstone of all of these efforts. Much in the way that pirates buy more programming on all platforms than other users, users who stream a lot still like to go to the theater because they really enjoy movies. Streaming and theaters can have a synergistic relationship where everybody benefits, yet instead we get whatever this is.
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