From the traditional consumer value lens, audiences are winning: Streaming subscriptions usually cost less than traditional cable bundles, while providing access to a broad range of titles as libraries consolidate. But the market looks very different from the vantage point of smaller competitors: independent producers and distributors such as A24, Neon and Kino Lorber.
Small producers have always had to fight against the big studios to get their films seen. But they also relied on a robust independent theater market to help them break out. “Moonlight,” “Tangerine” and “Parasite,” for example, built their audiences first through word of mouth before becoming must-see theatrical hits and eventual award winners.
This arrangement was sustained by both producers and exhibitors wanting these films to financially succeed. Even when studio subsidiaries like Sony Pictures Classics distribute art-house films, they have to compete on the same playing field.
Under streaming, however, the switch to a subscription service upends that dynamic. Once a film is on the site, Netflix does not necessarily make an effort to make sure audiences hit play, and often it “buries” licensed films to prioritize its exclusive content.
While co-founder Ted Sarandos claims that a Netflix hit makes “a billion dollars of box office in terms of cultural impact,” when was the last time someone mentioned, say, “6 Underground” or “Thunder Force”? Or go to Amazon Prime Video’s home page and see how hard it can be to find Barry Jenkins’ highly acclaimed series “The Underground Railroad.” The new goal seems to hope for “Game of Thrones”-like hits, with the rest of the content as simply arbitrary filler.