Not more than five short years ago, Netflix was an obvious outlet for an even decently produced independent film.
Just about every independent film that was acquired by a legitimate distributor ended up on the streaming service.
It wasn’t even a question of whether my films would end up on Netflix. They all did.
The money wasn’t great but Netflix was an extremely popular place for people to watch movies – particularly independent movies. It became the gold standard for indie filmmakers.
Today things are far different.
Netflix is of course still the obvious outlet to target but it’s just not that easy to get your film into Netflix. Why?
Getting films into Netflix is difficult now because movies are not their core business anymore. The juggernaut is focused mostly on television and original content now.
The problem is that as Netflix infused itself into the various film economies around the world, they put many of the little guys out of business.
Prior to Netflix’s introduction into territories like Scandinavia, streaming movies was a foreign concept.
Territories like Korea fought tooth and nail to keep Netflix out, knowing the detrimental impact it would have on the film economy in the region.
Now staple territories like the United Kingdom and the Middle East are tearing their hair out because they simply cannot compete.
As a result, buyers in those territories are buying fewer films and for far less money.
The challenge for us Producers – the cost of producing films has not decreased.
Buyers want bigger movies with bigger stars but want to pay less. But it’s still expensive for us to make those movies.
Thus, Netflix has left a giant hole in the marketplace.
In it’s early days when movie rentals was its core business, it seemed a more than adequate replacement for the Blockbuster Video experience, despite the fact that it was far less lucrative for content creators. But at least it was there.
If I wanted to watch a classic 80’s flick like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Princess Bride at two in the morning on a Wednesday, I just had to go to Netflix.
If you wanted to watch either of those films this week at two in the morning on a Wednesday – good luck. They aren’t there.
Additionally, the plethora of indie movies that used to be available on Netflix are also not there anymore. Instead – television for days.
For many this is acceptable, but what I know for sure is that despite the popularity of television shows these days, people still want to watch movies.
The Interesting Thing About Netflix Now…
The most interesting thing about Netflix, however, is the reality of how the company is operating.
A recent article in Forbes broke down the financials of the company and the results were fascinating.
Netflix is billions of dollars in debt but expanding more rapidly than almost any media company.
The article deduced that based on Netflix’s current spend trajectory, they would need one third of the entire world’s population to be profitable.
From where I sit, that appears to mean one of two things:
1. Netflix is spraying and praying. In other words, they are throwing a ton of content at the wall and hoping something sticks.
2. Netflix is planning to pull a major rabbit out of their hat in the near future.
One would hope that option two is the reality but it’s more likely than not that Netflix simply does not have a rabbit, or a hat for that matter. They are hoping that one of their acquisitions or originals takes off big time.
Some other things to keep in mind are that Netflix has some major competition in its midst as well as some major challenges.
Disney is not only launching its own SVOD platform for it’s family content, but now Disney has acquired 20th Century Fox, which means mega franchises like X-Men and Star Wars won’t be available on Netflix. Apple TV is also making a competitive play. But the biggest slap in the face to Netflix is that they could not get the streaming service into China, which will soon be the largest movie economy on the planet.
The evolution of Netflix has been interesting to watch but the company certainly has not been a friend to independent film. It is actually killing it, whether they realize so or not.
When Blockbuster Video became the big kid on the block, it put countless mom and pop video shops out of business. BUT it filled the gap in the marketplace. It presented a bigger and even better movie rental experience to the masses. Netflix isn’t doing that. It puts the mom and pop shops out of business but doesn’t offer an alternative to what the moms and pops were selling.
A Coming Paradigm Shift…
There is definitely a paradigm shift on the horizon. Netflix will continue to evolve, in which direction nobody knows (maybe not even Netflix executives). But the streaming industry is still in its infancy and currently there is a wide-open opportunity for an innovative yet-to-be-invented distribution platform that will prove to be satisfying to consumers and lucrative for filmmakers.
Generally, all of this insight and the speculation of where Netflix is headed and how it will affect the independent filmmaking world shouldn’t bother you.
Rather it should be used to help guide your path to becoming a savvier producer.
All of us are striving to be more effective content creators, regardless of our level. We all aim to stay ahead of the curve. Staying informed will ultimately help you understand how better to groom your work so it is worthy of mainstream distribution.
If you haven’t already, check out my free webinar – The Indie Film Financing Plan – where I talk about how to develop your film properly from square one in order to set it up for success in distribution down the road.
Knowing in advance what your film is and how it will best capitalize on the rapidly evolving market will help you navigate the business end of filmmaking more effectively so you can capitalize on the likes of Netflix and beyond and build yourself a successful career as a filmmaker.