(Beasts of No Nation, 2016)
“There’s always the buzz of the new thing” – independent filmmakers, Ben and Chris Blaine.
By Edwin Miles
With announcing a large list of new original material, all set to be released straight to the video-on-demand streaming service, are Netflix getting too caught up in their phenomenon of original releases? Since Beasts of No Nation (2016), The Ridiculous 6 (2016), and the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2016) sequel have been distributed by the online network, and in April, Ricky Gervais’ Special Correspondents (2016) also premiered on Netflix. All alongside the ever-growing Netflix original series where new shows are announced almost daily.
Despite being a relatively old service, and with what it provides being common knowledge, Netflix has gathered a lot of talk in 2016 due to these new, original film releases. And, once again, the debate of whether streaming services will challenge the existence of multiplex cinema-going has resurfaced. Does this show that Netflix is slowly changing the purpose and nature of its streaming service by eventually becoming solely for new, original content? More importantly, will this be as astronomically disrupting to the industry as is being talked about, where a recent Variety headline read “It’s All About Conquering the World”, or is Netflix becoming a more traditional media distributing service?
On their website, Netflix state, “we’re now at the scale where we can economically create original content that is exclusively for Netflix and our offering will grow and diversify as we gain further scale and confidence. With each original, we learn more about what our members want, about how to produce and promote effectively, and about the positive impact of originals on our brand”.
The company have announced seven more films for 2016, including Special Correspondents that was released earlier this year. This is a distributor having the authority to make content, something that hasn’t happened before, with films linked to big star involvement, like Adam Sandler and Brad Pitt. Netflix is also gaining recognition on the awards circuit with House of Cards gaining more and more success every year. It is this star quality, in both actors and directors, and the amount of films being distributed in a short amount of time, that separates Netflix from traditional media networks like the BBC or HBO. Netflix doesn’t rely on its viewing figures due to it being a subscription service. This allows for more autonomy, as they are not playing solely toward an audience but to themselves, commissioning content that they choose alone. This is a very aggressive system of commissioning, wholly concerned with Netflix’s own growth.
Independent filmmakers, the Blaine brothers, whose new film Nina Forever (2015) has recently become available on the service, feel Netflix has “definitely changed the industry on every level”, but they think it will die down. “The rise of a streaming platform, and the rise in original content, there’s always the buzz of the new thing”. In a recent blog, chief film critic of the Observer, Mark Kermode said, “it is inevitable” that distribution of films will be simultaneous to cinema releases, and that Netflix will continue to release such a high quantity of their own material. For Kermode, we should not fear or worry because it will and is always going to happen.
The Blaine’s feel that “there’s a much better way to browse films than there is currently online”. The Blaine brothers are Netflix users, but they think that, “Netflix says it has this amazing algorithm of being able to know what films you want to see, but actually they have such a small catalogue that these films you want to see aren’t actually there”. Netflix prides itself on a personal customer service. But more often than not, when recommending films, the company recommend based on the genre of film that was watched, rather than what emotionally made audiences connect with the film. Netflix have recently distributed two Marvel series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and are focusing on the superhero genre. But for consumers like the Blaine brothers, who watch something for the emotional investment rather than the subject matter, and this shows Netflix’s neglect for the needs of some of their subscribers. This is a result of their aggressive commissioning system, and the autonomy and power they have over their original distribution.
“There’s nothing inherent about Netflix that means they will make good content”, Ben said, “sooner rather than later, they will realise that they don’t have to make the good stuff and they will get exactly the same revenue”. To prevent Netflix challenging the cinema experience, then, all cinemas need to do is up their standards. Chris Blaine thinks that “cinemas are smartening up all around the country” and simple necessities like “nicer seats” are enough to entice audiences to leave the efficiency of their home. The Netflix phenomenon, for some, is not as considerably disrupting for the industry, but only if the rest of the industry continues to grow and adapt themselves.
It was recently reported that Netflix UK crossed the line by altering the aspect ratio on the film Mommy (2014), a film they didn’t commission. The film’s director, Xavier Dolan, took to Twitter to show his distrust with Netflix, “you did not direct this movie. So can anyone or anything except me warrant the liberty you took upon my work? No”. It is one thing distributing your own films, but it is another thing altering somebody else’s. Netflix replied saying “we are looking into this”, and since, Mommy has been restored to its original format.
Streaming services are a modern phenomenon. Netflix have the financial clout to continue releasing original material, and this economic scale will only grow in the immediate years. If it continues at this rate, which it will, they will have changed the nature of their service that was so innovative almost ten years ago. They will have evolved the nature of film distribution within their own brand, and changed the cinema experience as a result. We are living precisely as the film industry is radically changing.