Cannes’t get with the program

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Cannes plans to shut Netflix films out of next year’s competition to, I guess, reenact, in a transatlantic version, the trail of tears that is the doomed U.S. “window” system of releasing content. This is the distribution arrangement that delayed studio-funded movies from appearing on TV, video on demand and streaming services until after their movie theater and DVD runs. I’m all in favor of theatrical runs because there’s nothing more thrilling than emerging from a movie theater with popcorn stuck to your clothes and that secret conviction that you and Superman vanquished the Kryptonite monster together. I’m all for it, unless it means that viewers have to wait forever to see the dang film on Netflix or Amazon or whatever.

Yes, the French film industry benefits from theatrical revenues, but restricting films to certain platforms during special “windows” doesn’t suit consumers and is bad for the kind of international and independent films that Cannes celebrates. If you hold a film ransom in a theater, we are going to forget that we vowed to see it when the YouTube trailer popped up three years ago.

U.S. movie ticket sales have declined every year since 2013, when streaming services got serious about making content yet Americans watch a lot more content at home, and that trend won’t reverse itself unless we break the Internet. Better to have a movie theater run and allow simultaneous streaming at a premium that will benefit French filmmakers. Otherwise, your théâtres will look like that picture right there.


Where it all started – not ‘House of Cards’

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The media paid a lot of attention to the 2013 roll out of Netflix’s House of Cards – but the show did not mark the first time Netflix tried content creation. In fact, the company’s first foray into Hollywood as Red Envelope Entertainment was more important than its gambles on Lilyhammer and House of Cards because it laid the foundation for the huge success of its second try. The series represented a new paradigm for the company and the entertainment industry – episodes were released all at once, to all Netflix subscribers, and the series itself was the product of Netflix’s prodigious database.

It seems like common sense now, but nobody knew whether that would work in 2013. Nor did Netflix really know how much value it would reap from its little production company, Red Envelope Entertainment, or from its decision to sponsor the Spirit Awards, which honor independent films, starting in the early 2000s.

I attended a couple of the Spirit Awards ceremonies, and it was easy to see as I watched huge stars like George Clooney mingle with up-and-coming directors, writers, and actors in a big white tent in Santa Monica, California that this was the future of American entertainment. Those young directors, writers and stars remembered Netflix’s early support, and when the company plunged into content creation, they were on board. Here’s an interview I did with NPR about this in 2013.