Sony Motion Picture Chairman Tom Rothman made waves by shouting “Netflix, my ass!” on stage at CinemaCon last week — but he rang up Netflix Chief Content Office Ted Sarandos the very next day to smooth things over.
“He was very quick to reassure me it was a joke, as one of his biggest customers,” Sarandos told TheWrap Friday in a wide-ranging chat from the streaming giant’s new Hollywood offices. (A rep for Sony had no comment.)
The Rothman comment was meant to reassure the convention of movie exhibitors that studio films can and should be enjoyed at the multiplex — not at home through streaming platforms like Netflix.
The Sony exec was hardly alone in making references to anxious conversations about theatrical release windows — and while Sarandos is aware of them, he’s too busy listening to his customers, he said.
“Netflix has been a champion of consumer choice, and the windowing of theatrical movies is the only thing in the media that hasn’t been impacted by the internet,” Sarandos told TheWrap.
“Do you think it’s going to stay like that? Denying people what they want is not good business,” he continued.
This is the second year that day-and-date release models, which make films available for paid video-on-demand the same day they hit theaters, have been a focal point at the Las Vegas convention.
“We need to address the challenges of the marketplace,” Warner Bros. President of Worldwide Marketing Sue Kroll told exhibitors during her presentation. “We are consistent and long-time partners. Together is the way to move toward the future that will be beneficial and profitable for all of us.”
After screening breathtaking footage from his upcoming war epic “Dunkirk,” director Christopher Nolan bluntly said that the only way to experience his film was “through theatrical distribution.”
But Sarandos signaled that even stalwart studios are recognizing that change may be inevitable. “The reason why it’s such a heated debate is because they know it’s what consumers want,” he said. “If you believe that day-and-date would mean empty movie theaters, then you’d better start moving.”
The film that got Rothman excited, by the way, was Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” — a massive-scale, effects-laden action show that studios have become dependent on as consumers increasingly seek out home-based entertainment through cable and streaming services.
But this Christmas, Netflix is releasing its own tentpole-style effects-driven feature, David Ayer’s supernatural cop thriller “Bright,” starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton with a reported budget of $90 million.
While the company is planning a limited theatrical release after it begins to stream, Sarandos thinks most customers will have an at-home experience that’s comparable to the theater. “I think that people want to go out on Friday night and [also] have a differentiated experience. Screens are getting bigger, the viewing experience of 4k streaming is comparable in fidelity to most movie theaters,” Sarandos said.
“If you want to distinguish yourself, create a better experience. Holding consumers at bay is just going to lead to piracy and shrinking attendance. I believe that people will choose a great night out, sometimes.”
Sarandos called up a fine-dining analogy.
“Let’s say you have a great steakhouse, are they going to ban consumers from eating steak at home?” he said with a smile.
“Food is day and date, and people still go to great restaurants,” he concluded.