Film and television are in a state of upheaval. Netflix and Amazon have demonstrated that streaming services can provide the same viewership and win the same prestigious television awards as traditional studios. Now, the two streaming titans are claiming the traditional breeding ground for studio surprise stories, the Sundance Film Festival, as their own.
Last year Amazon won five Emmys, including best comedy series for Mozart in the Jungle, while Netflix received four. The two digital behemoths now hope to transfer their success streaming television into movies. While only the newest arrivals to the well-trod path of wealthy executives making the pilgrimage to Park City, Utah — the home of Sundance — the honchos at Netflix and Amazon have already unloaded big bucks on high-profile movies that may cement the industry’s transition.
This past year saw the first attempts by the major streamers to wade into the annual film season. Beasts of No Nation premiered simultaneously on Netflix and in select theaters, reaching a substantial (if undisclosed) audience online but failing to register as a box office success with only $90,777 ticket sales. Not surprising, perhaps, given that most of the potential audience could see it as part of their Netflix subscription. But the mixed result points to the challenges facing the industry-wide shift.
As major studios find renewed life in a heavy slate of sequels and throwbacks, Netflix and Amazon are finding willing audiences for the edgy and the indie online. And they’re willing to pay studio-level cash to satiate that market. Netflix made waves when it announced it would “burn” $1 billion on new content this year, easily qualifying it as the first major streaming studio.
They let a hefty portion of that total go in the past couple of days at Sundance:
Manchester by the Sea
Amazon picked up one of the most-hyped movies of the year, starring Casey Affleck and produced by Matt Damon, for $10 million, outbidding both Fox and Universal. The family drama will premiere exclusively in theaters before making the jump to streaming.
Billed as the first reunion of Ellen Page and Allison Janney since Juno, the comedy earned a $5 million check from Netflix.
The Fundamentals of Caring
Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, and Selena Gomez starred. Netflix spent $7 million to call dibs.