Net­flix’s strate­gic mar­ket­ing

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - ONTARIO NEWS - DAVID FRIEND

TORONTO — With direc­tor Al­fonso Cuaron’s sweep­ing epic Roma float­ing on a cloud of pos­i­tive buzz, the Net­flix film seems des­tined to be a ma­jor awards con­tender.

But un­like other best pic­ture Os­car bets A Star Is Born, Black Pan­ther, and Wi­d­ows, it’s an­gling to get there with­out play­ing the­atres across the coun­try.

De­spite a crit­i­cally ac­claimed pre­miere at the re­cent Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Net­flix is screen­ing the Span­ish-lan­guage film by the Os­car-win­ning direc­tor of Grav­ity at only a small num­ber of the­atres in Canada.

Only Toronto, Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver are sched­uled to play Roma at this point, with the pos­si­bil­ity of other cities show­ing the film if it’s a hit.

And just one the­atre is ac­tu­ally screen­ing it be­fore the stream­ing ser­vice does — Toronto’s down­town art­house TIFF Bell Light­box pre­mieres Roma on Thurs­day. Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver the­atres don’t get it un­til Dec. 14, the same day Roma makes its global de­but on Net­flix. It’s also slated to open in Ot­tawa on Dec. 26.

The strat­egy re­flects big screen Os­car am­bi­tions that don’t ac­tu­ally in­clude a strong com­mit­ment to movie the­atres.

“For Net­flix, it all comes back to the monthly sub­scrip­tion,” says Katie Bai­ley, con­tent direc­tor at film in­dus­try trade pub­li­ca­tion Play­back.

“They build their rev­enue $9.99 at a time.”

Net­flix ac­quired the rights for Cuaron’s semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal tribute to his na­tive Mex­ico with the pur­pose of putting it on the small screen.

Reed Hast­ings, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, has long ac­cused movie ex­hibitors of be­ing un­able to think out­side the multiplex boxes. He’s called for Hol­ly­wood to re­lease more films for home view­ing the same day they open in the­atres.

That po­si­tion has put Net­flix in a tough spot as ex­hibitors dis­tance them­selves and some within the film in­dus­try see the com­pany as a com­pet­i­tive threat.

Net­flix has man­aged to pick up Os­cars for both doc­u­men­tary fea­ture and short in re­cent years, but has failed to score gold in the ma­jor awards cat­e­gories.

It’s hard not to view the com­pany’s Os­car cam­paigns as half-hearted at best.

The­atri­cal runs for Mud­bound and Beasts of No Na­tion — which are re­quired to qual­ify for the Os­cars — were booked at the small­est the­atres in Los An­ge­les and New York, mak­ing it tough for even the lo­cal au­di­ence to find.

Nei­ther film turned Os­car nom­i­na­tions into wins.

Now Roma is be­ing show­ered with near unan­i­mous crit­i­cal praise, with cinephiles rev­el­ling in its black-and­white cine­matog­ra­phy and sur­round sound. Dur­ing TIFF, Os­car prog­nos­ti­ca­tors saw po­ten­tial nom­i­na­tions for Cuaron, new­comer ac­tress Yal­itza Apari­cio and best pic­ture.

But Canada’s big­gest ex­hibitor, Cine­plex, isn’t in­ter­ested in show­ing a film that will head to the small screen in mere weeks.

“We are more than happy to play their films if they abide by the same rules as every­body else,” CEO El­lis Ja­cob said of Net­flix in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Cine­plex has long held a 90-day win­dow pol­icy be­tween a movie’s the­atri­cal de­but and its ap­pear­ance for rental or stream­ing at home.

It’s a niche, art house film that only a small au­di­ence will pay full price to see, sug­gests Bai­ley.

“Two peo­ple — $30 easy. Plus pop­corn,” she says.

“You can get a lot of Net­flix for that.”

NET­FLIX

A scene from the film Roma, by film­maker Al­fonso Cuaron.

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