Netflix reportedly considered buying US cinemas
James R | On 22, Apr 2018
Netflix has reportedly considering buying a chain of US cinemas, as the company finds itself in a heated debate about theatrical distribution.
That debate has primarily been a result of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which banned Netflix from screening any films in competition there because they won’t be released in French cinemas. This is because France has a rule that prevents films released in cinemas being available on a subscription service for three years – and with Netflix reliant on day-and-date releases for films it does distribute theatrically, the impasse ultimately led to Netflix withdrawing its movies from the festival altogether.
Away from Cannes, Netflix has released multiple films in UK and US cinemas alongside their digital debut, from Beasts of No Nation and Mudbound (pictured above) to The Meyerowitz Stories and Okja. However, those theatrical releases have been limited, due to exhibitors not wanting to screen films released simultaneously online, in fear of losing business. (Amazon, on the other hand, has been more open to preserving the traditional theatrical window before streaming its releases, with its business more diversified than Netflix’s and not solely dependent on streaming content.)
Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that Netflix has considered another solution to the problem: buying its own cinema chain. The report claims that executives were considering purchasing Landmark Theatres, a chain co-owned by Mark Cuban.
Based in Los Angeles, the chain comprises 53 cinemas in 27 markets, including New York, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and, of course, LA. Landmark is known for appealing to awards voters, as it screens first-run arthouse titles and documentaries during the awards season. That would make for a smart purchase by Netflix, giving its movies added exposure to the public and the awards circuit, while retaining the big screen experience that would woo filmmakers and potentially appease festivals. Theatrical distribution might also bring with it more press coverage for its titles.
“Netflix wants to establish itself as a critical exhibition source on both coasts,” a source told the Times. “For awards consideration they need to be able to release pictures on screens in major markets.
However, anonymous sources close to the company have said that the streaming giant ultimately backed away from the idea, claiming it was due to the chain’s high asking price. Landmark was bought by Cuban in 2003 from asset manager Oaktree Capital for $40 million, a deal that took the company out of bankruptcy.
How serious their consideration was may never be fully clear, but as debate also rages surrounding the potential introduction of a “Premium VOD” window between cinema and home entertainment releases, the reports will make for interesting conversations next week, when exhibitors meet in Las Vegas for the annual CinemaCon conference.