Netflix, the company that rendered Blockbuster obsolete and revolutionized the way people consume TV and movies, is now trying to bring things full circle as it attempts to open its own line of movie theaters, the first and oldest venue for consuming the art of the moving image.
The company apparently tried to purchase Landmark Theaters away from billionaire dude bro Mark Cuban, but the deal fell apart as the two parties were unable to agree on a price, according to the L.A. Times.
At first, it seems like yet another case of Silicon Valley trying to repackage a pre-existing business model under the guise of innovation — like Amazon opening retail stores, or Uber and Lyft trying to reinvent the bus route. And it is that to a certain degree: One of Netflix’s primary motivations for opening its own theater chain is so it can screen more of its original films there, thus qualifying them for inclusion in film festivals and the corresponding awards.
But counterintuitive as it is, a line of Netflix-owned, -operated and -branded movie theaters could have all kinds of cool as hell benefits to consumers. Let us enumerate the ways…
A More Affordable Alternative to MoviePass
MoviePass, the $10 monthly pass that affords unlimited access to movies in theaters, is one of the many “too good to be true” monthly subscription services whose value proposition falls apart the moment you examine the limits around its use. And MoviePass is even less of a deal now that it’s quietly removed its one movie per day plan and placed a cap at four movies per month.
Netflix, however, could offer an affordable membership that bundles together its streaming service and entry to its theaters. Because the deal didn’t go through, there’s no information yet as to what Netflix would charge for this kind of dual-membership. It’s reasonable to assume, though, that it would be a better value than MoviePass — in large part because Netflix has shown a shocking willingness to operate at a financial loss over the years in the name of gobbling up market share. Just for instance: The company is expected to spend $8 billion this year on original and licensed content, and is in the process of raising $1.5 billion in debt financing to help cover the costs.
Plus, the company has a stable of 125 million global subscribers who could effectively subsidize the cost of a streaming-and-theater subscription and deliver on the idea MoviePass has popularized.
Cheaper Movie Tickets for Everyone
Aside from its subscription customers, Netflix could ostensibly offer cheaper movie tickets to anyone who attends one of its theaters. Typically, theaters pay studios a licensing fee to screen their movies, but in owning both the studio and the movie theater, Netflix would eliminate that distribution cost. And those savings would, theoretically at least, be passed on to consumers.
Re-Introducing People to the Joy of Watching Films in the Theater
It seems ridiculous that Netflix would entice people to get out of the comfort of their own homes and venture into a public movie theater — with, you know, other members of the public in them. But the addition of, say, one free movie ticket per month to your streaming package could change that.
Netflix has largely capitalized on people’s frustrations with watching films in theaters, but admittedly, the theater-going experience has improved markedly over the past decade with the introduction of fully-reclining seats, plush couches and at-your-seat food-and-drink delivery. That Netflix was interested in acquiring Landmark — one of a handful of upscale movie theater chains, including Arclight, Cinemark and AMC’s Dine-In locations — shows it wants to provide a theater experience on par with its ability to roll out a seemingly never-ending string of binge-worthy TV series.
The Renaissance of the Mid-Budget Studio Film
Future of Media prognosticators have been warning us for years that mid-budget studio films — the ones that cost roughly between $30 million and $70 million to produce — are close to extinction. The idea behind all this hand-wringing is that, as streaming gets more popular and fewer people are going to the theater, studios are increasingly reticent to produce anything but the largest, most surefire blockbuster hits (the obvious current example being Avengers: Infinity War). The result is a strange kind of bifurcation of the film industry, where the only films produced are tentpole franchises and twee indies.
A streamlined Netflix, studio-to-theater model could usher in a resurrection of the mid-budget action/horror/comedy/thriller that’s too quirky to be an enormous $100 million production, but deserves more money than one could raise on Kickstarter. After all, Netflix is already developing these kinds of films, such as the delightful Noah Baumbach family comedy The Meyerowitz Stories, which it released around this time last year. With a built-in movie-theater division, those movies would get a proper theatrical run.
Binge-watch Parties at the Theater
There’s a certain kind of despair that washes over you when Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” and you realize you’ve spent the last eight hours alone in your apartment, avoiding the rest of human existence.
Instead, you could be a piece of shit in public, with other people, and potentially feel less bad about it. Netflix could stage marathon screenings of Stranger Things in its theaters, and people could dress up for the affair, all Rocky Horror Picture Show-like.
It would be like reading a book at a bar, only less enriching and more pathetic.