Spielberg vs. Netflix: Let the war begin...

Updated: Jul 1, 2020


I have a vivid memory as a child of watching a boulder almost crush Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark after he stole a golden statue, and I'm glad he got away with it even though some might think he shouldn't have been there. This 2019, Alfonso Cuaron won a best Director Oscar for Roma, a Netflix produced movie that had a small and short theater run before being released directly on Netflix.

In the last 10 years, Netflix has changed the game for film and television making them potentially a first and only stop for content and eliminating the "windowing" process. One of the greatest filmmakers of our time, Steven Spielberg, is challenging whether features produced by Netflix and released with a limited theatrical before being available on Netflix, should be considered for an Academy award nomination and suggesting for example they should receive Emmy's which would essentially say Netflix is the new "TV". Currently, most people might not even care, but such a distinction, if it were decided would affect a ton of people in the industry as we subliminally rank directors, producers, and actors on whether they work in TV or film, and this will also translate to how much they earn and more importantly, the impact of their art. I'd like to share my own perspective as a filmmaker who's made and released 3 indie feature films, and releasing my fourth later this year.

Act I: Setting the stage

I remember distributing my first feature film $upercapitalist in late 2012 through Warner Brothers when they decided to release the title "Day and Date"(released digitally and in theaters at the same time) which at that time was considered a novelty, though now common for indie films. Netflix wasn't producing much of its own content and was considered the last in the chain of how a feature is released called "windowing". In simple terms, that was: First theatrical release (typically 90 days), Airline rights, Transactional Video on Demand (iTunes, Google Play, Cable VOD, etc.), television, DVD, and then Subsciption Video on Demand (SVOD).

In just 7 years (or less) Netflix has managed to eliminate those windows for a lot of content and produce a few Academy Award level titles (Roma, etc.) and deliver it on any smart device, shortening the time a person needs to wait as well as reducing the cost to watch while making it available at an almost ubiquitous level. They have forced industry behemoth players like Disney and Warner Media (owned by AT&T) to refocus their strategies and prioritize streaming or be at the mercy of Netflix's demands as it grows in power. This year App