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Netflix exec calls theaters-versus-streaming debate irrelevant

Questions pile up over Netflix’s decision to pull out of Cannes

Bright - Nick Jakoby holding a rifle with human LAPD officers behind him
A scene from Bright.

Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, said today that the company isn’t overly concerned about attracting film talent despite its lack of presence in cinemas.

Speaking during an earnings call today for the first quarter of 2018, Sarandos discussed concerns that investors might have about how the company is viewed by actors, directors and writers in light of recent news. Netflix pulled all of its movies from the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, which is still regarded as one of the most prestigious circuits for movies. The company’s move is seen as a direct response to the festival’s announcement last year that all films in competition must receive theatrical distribution in France. Cannes director Thierry Frémaux stood by that ruling this year.

Netflix’s decision to boycott the festival isn’t too threatening, but based on questions asked during the call, investors seem to be concerned that Netflix won’t be able to attract or retain top talent because of its current film distribution method. Although Netflix has released movies in theaters, the company’s primary focus is still on its streaming service and its subscribers.

“We released 33 films in theaters last year,” Sarandos said. “We released them day-and-date with Netflix. I think it’s going to become more and more accepted as part of the distribution norm. Defining distribution by what room you see it in is not the business we want to be in. We want to be about making great films that people love.”

Sarandos also pointed out that despite the company’s distribution strategy, being a Netflix title hasn’t hindered chances at earning top accolades.

“Keep in mind we had five projects nominated for the Oscars last year, all released in this model,” Sarandos said.

The questions from investors come after a pretty contentious period for Netflix. Christopher Nolan, one of the most respected directors working today, called the company out for its “bizarre aversion” to supporting the film industry and theatrical releases. Nolan later apologized for his comments.

“I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters,” Nolan told IndieWire. “It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it.”

Other actors and directors later debated Nolan’s comments, including Will Smith, star of Netflix’s Bright, who defended the platform. Smith said he understood where the trepidation comes from, but argued that there’s no reason that streaming and theatrical releases can’t coexist as viable distribution methods.

“It’s a difference in a way that in the early days of film, there was stage plays and then you went from stage plays to home entertainment,” Smith said at Comic-Con International 2017. “There’s something about that big screen that does something in people’s minds that’s different. I don’t think [watching a movie in a theater versus on Netflix is] a competitive difference. I think it will just expand a fan’s ability to enjoy entertainment.”

Netflix may not go to Cannes, but based on Sarandos’ remarks, the company’s executives aren’t too worried about how the company is seen by others in Hollywood. The full investors call can be watched below.

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