Isn’t it a coincidence that on the day that Yahoo! had a screaming news story declaring that Sandra Bullock’s enormous smash “The Blind Side” just passed the $200 million domestic gross mark –an impressive feat never before done by any other major actress—we have a magical piece of news from two corporations that don’t normally like each other: Warner Brothers and Netflix.
28 Days Later
In a press release today, both companies agreed to essentially force Netflix and its customers to wait out a 28-day period before Warner Bros. distributes its new releases to them.
That’s a whole month before movies like “The Blind Side”, which has been raking in tons of money since its November release with its plucky performance by Bullock and its do-gooder, racism is bad, Republicans-are-good-values, can ever be accessed by Netflix’s millions of members as a “New Release”. According to the agreement –monetary figures not released, of course—Warner has also agreed to renew and expand the library of their movies they will allow to be streamed to Netflix. For Netflix’s part, they are content to have a strong distributor and possibly reduce product costs. According to Ted Sarandos, chief hack for Netflix:
We’ve been discussing new approaches with Warner Bros. for some time now and believe that we’ve come up with a creative solution that is a ‘win-win’ all-around. We’re able to help an important business partner meet its objectives while improving service levels for our members by acquiring substantially more units than in the past after a relatively short sell-through window. At the same time, we’re able to extend the range of choices available to be streamed to our members. Link HERE
Thanks a lot, Ted. Now, let’s get back to “The Blind Side”, a Warner Bros film, and potentially one of the largest moneymakers it has ever seen. When this movie releases on DVD/Blu Ray, Warner Bros. effectively wants to make as much “sell-through” (studios make as much as 75% of their revenue from direct sales in the first four weeks –uh, 28 days –and hey, bonus: that’s also the name of another mediocre Sandra Bullock flick, natch!) as it can, from all the consumers who will see it propped up on Target shelves or Safeway check-out stands probably later this spring. (We smell a convenient Mother’s Day tie-in, with little red balloons and mini-footballs!)
Why Warner Bros., Why?
Warner Bros. clearly smells the potential Brinks-truck-type cash that this one movie will bring in and, while we’re at it, why not screw the Netflix customers and ask them to wait out this release and other upcoming releases like “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Invictus”, “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Informant!”?
And what wonderful extra Warner Bros. fare could be added to the array of semi-interesting films that are instantly streamed on Netflix? Since it doesn’t make sense to put out anything that’s going to be profitable and make Warner Bros. lose money, I would guess that it would be any of these Warner Bros. films —some that are either hyper-exposed enough on pay cable already or those that no one cares about anymore: we put “Sex and the City”, “Four Christmases”, “17 Again” and “Slumdog Millionaire” in the former category, “He’s Just Not That Into You”, “Yes Man” and “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2” in the latter. In short, whatever the details of this lame, emasculated, sell-out agreement,Warner is not going to shoot its wad, so to speak, and Netflix, for its part really doesn’t have much leverage to force its hand. All it can do is continually screw its customers by effectively outlawing the term “New Releases” from its line-up of categories to its fee-paying customers. Why doesn’t Netflix amend its agreements with all of us, or at the very least say the following:
Dear Netflix Subscribers: We’re sorry, dudes. That “Long Wait” you guys see in your queues for the New Releases you want? It’s now gonna say ‘Pending Cash Deal from Movie Studio.’ Sucks for you. Thanks for your support, Netflix.”
Corporate greed strikes again, and you best believe that other money-grubbing studios are quick on Warner’s tail, eager to make their own questionable distribution deals with Netflix. In the face of a record-breaking, multi-billion-dollar gross revenue year in Hollywood, let alone the numbers overseas –$10.6 billion here and $26.3 billion worldwide —you’d think that movie studios would have milked enough cash out of consumers. But apparently not, and Netflix, after having demolished other on-line movie rental companies like Blockbuster and Walmart, is only too eager to bend over.
All of which makes me think: the only reason I had Netflix before and the only reason I just rejoined it, after an eight-month suspension, was entirely because of “New Releases”. As we posted last year, I left Netflix because I would have to wait weeks to finally get a “New Release” mailed to me.
Either Netflix didn’t keep enough copies in stock, or they were assuming I’d just rather watch “Ratatouille” for the 10th time. Over the holiday break, I re-joined Netflix only because I thought I could get “New Releases” streamed from my queue to my brand new TiVo HD XL (140 hours of HD wonder!) unit and my new Sony Blu Ray disc player. Boy, was I wrong.
Netflix Streams Low-Budget Films
In my current Netflix queue, I have “The Hurt Locker”, a film that comes out next Tuesday. Highly acclaimed film that no one watched but is expected to nab some Golden Globes and Oscars later on.
I also have “Taken”, another relatively new film. Also: “(500) Days of Summer” and “Funny People”, again both new-ish and potential crowd pleasers. Are any of them streamable? Do any of them have an extra “Play” button to the left of the titles in my queue, which means they would download on to my TiVo in a few minutes and I could play them? No. Not a one.
In fact of the ridiculously large number of films in my queue (213), only 40 of them can be streamed. And these aren’t big blockbusters necessarily. We’re talking “Food, Inc”, a low-budget doc, “Born into Brothels”, a foreign film, and even “The Princess Bride”, a film I have never (really) ever seen but then again who hasn’t?! Have a hankering for “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, the big new DVD release yesterday, via the instant stream? Forget it. What about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, the #2 highest grossing film last year or “The Hangover”, in at #9?
Hell to no: these are Warner Bros. films, and you won’t probably see them streamed until Daniel Radcliffe gets gray hair or until Bradley Cooper makes another decent movie.
All of this sounds so depressingly familiar. In our last post about Netflix, I also mentioned that I had gone over to Redbox, the now-recognizable red DVD distribution box you find at your local grocery store —all for $1 a day. As we mentioned before, other movie studios, such as Universal and the Weinstein Company, are locked into anti-trust lawsuits because the studios do not want Redbox to have their newest flicks available to the grocery-store-going masses, or at least not for—yeah—28 days.
Back to Redbox?
All Redbox wants to do is provide the most competitive and varied selection of films; all the studios want is more money, or at least something to alleviate the relative “pain” at knowing that “Cloudy” (Sony) is only bringing in $1.09 per day to Redbox, maybe a small piece of that to the studio. Amid all this fuss, Redbox continues to look like the rebel –and an increasingly profitable one.
To be quite honest, I haven’t “left” Redbox. I still pass by the boxes everywhere and if I remember to do so, I can request something on-line and then pick it up. (On occasion I do have to stand behind toddlers who are simply flicking through the screens.) But I admit that maybe the studios like Universal have really stuck it to Redbox in one sense: their selection of films leans towards the second-rate, even straight-to-video, and certainly not all of the new releases for that particular week.
So Netflix, we say “Thanks”. At a moment when we’re all trying to watch how we spend our own dollars and at a time when the technology for receiving movies is better than ever, you have still decided to reduce our overall experience by deciding what’s best for us. And as you increase our fees sometime this year or next, we will all remember all the windfalls you have received from this Warner Bros. deal and the others that are waiting just around the corner.
We think we hear some studio heads calling you now, eager to talk money.