This is the first part of a special Ankler two-part consideration of how the entertainment industry has turned its back on the mightiest benefactor it has ever known.
There were a few moments in the past week that really made it seem like the zeitgeist, which for years past Netflix has claimed as personal territory fortified to the teeth, has slipped away from the erstwhile paradigm smasher.
First, there was yesterday’s earnings reports which combined tepid growth with cherry-picking of social-media stats in a way that would make even a 20 year-old Vox intern blush, not only shamelessly comparing an international release to a domestic one, but readjusting what counts as a “view” from the previously give 70 percent to um, 2 percent.
In theatrical terms, since Netflix fans are always so eager to compare a Netflix views with theatrical ticket sales, a customer who only “completes” two percent of your movie is a customer banging his fist at the manager’s window demanding his money back.
The numbers shenanigans were so egregious a handful of reporters actually called them on it, at the top of the story, not in paragraph 35. Example:
Though our estwhile trades, as ever, have a different spin on the day in Netflix numbers:
But expecting a sudden outbreak of courage from the trades at the start of Phase 2, is a big ask.
Second Sign that Netflix is losing Hollywood: VCT’s declaration that he’s ready to hire Harry and Meaghan finally seemed one step over the line from social buzz curation into shameless celeb star F-ing in a way that would make a Huff Po junior editor blush.
And third, which we’ll tackle first and then work our way backward: These precursor awards are turning into a popular uprising against Netflix. After the near-miss last year, this was the year it was supposed to sweep away all before them. The last holdouts of opposition have been bought off or deadened into submission. The argument about what is a movie has become so tiresome that no one even brings it up anymore. Netflix has a slate of not one but three critically-acclaimed Oscar contenders, laden with awards trail royalty, the sort of big-budget, serious adult drama that traditional studios supposedly don’t make anymore.
Led by The Irishman, a three-hour-plus “return to form” by the director who pretty much is the living personification of American Auteur, the demigod of multiple generations of film students
Instead, we go through weekend after weekend of seeing its slate almost entirely shut out. In film and perhaps ultimately more significantly, in TV awards as well.
I’m reminded of that moment at last year’s CinemaCon when, having to defend the MPA’s 180-degree turn in taking Netflix on as a member, speaker after speaker appeared to inform the theater owners that, contrary to every word out of their mouths for the previous half-decade, streaming competition was in fact, good for theatrical.
The assembled listened in somber acquiescence until the following day when Helen Mirren took the stage and declared, apropos of everything, “I just want to say, fuck Netflix,” Which provoked such a spontaneous demonstration of enthusiasm from America’s theater owners you would have thought she was hading out half-price coupons to Caesar’s buffet.
As this year’s Oscar race entered the starting gate, all the pillars of the industry from AMPAS to the MPA to the trade press were ready to sign over the entire ball of wax to Netflix. Anyone who doubted, I can tell you from experience, was called a stick in the mud, gadfly, contrarian ant at the picnic.
The films were ready. The press was ready. The trophies were polished. All that was left was to deliver the tearful acceptance speech a couple of hundred times.
Six months later, here are the assembled guilds, trade organizations, and sketchy hanger-on collectives taking the app’s free buffets and saying: No. Thanks for coming. It might be understandable for one of the films to bellyflop on contact, but for the entire slate to get the back of the hand at every turn looks like . . . revolution.
What’s the town got against them anyway? After all, a good percentage of this place at this point works for the App, or has worked for it. Certainly, they hope to work for it. Does Hollywood hate free money or something? Beyond the awards, though, one can sense the worm turning for The App. The awe has faded and been replaced with horror stories, clueless tech stories, or one too many trainwreck stories.
To get down to it, what gives? Why can’t Hollywood just be grateful and give some prizes to a company that’s paying half their salaries, making movies no one else will make, giving a free hand to directors and creators alike (the thing they always claimed they were dying for), dragging entertainment delivery into the 21st Century, pumping a wagonload of adrenaline into a creative community that had been running on auto-pilot, and creating for entertainment consumers a wealth of choices beyond anything imaginable just a few years ago?
So what is Hollywood’s deal with Netflix? What does it have against this miracle-working company? Let us count the grudge.
1. First of all, any Hollywood rationale has to begin with the envy—the element you can never understate. We will gladly take money from everyone who wants to buy, but part of the deal is we’ll hate you for it, giggle at what a ride we’re taking you for, and be the first and loudest to guffaw when you fall on your face. But yes, happy to have the check, thanks very much. Keep ‘em coming. Tell your friends.
2. Creeping Suspicion. At the bottom of every conversation about Netflix in Hollywood today—which is to say every conversation in Hollywood because they are all sooner or later about Netflix—is the fear of where all this leads, the notion that the chasing Netflix industry has gone from something semi-predictable and sustainable into a world built on sand. The fact that most of the people spending fortunes in this streaming war are incurring massive debt has not escaped notice.
3. Neither is the fact that no one yet, including and especially Netflix, is making money off this.
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