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Adam Sandler's recent landmark deal with Netflix, which was announced last week, is an indicator of the changing landscape of film production and distribution. Sandler's deal calls for him to produce and star in four films that will be exclusively available via Netflix, an arrangement that makes it absolutely clear that Netflix is interested in working as a movie studio in addition to a cable network.
It's clear that Netflix's strong move into feature film content indicates that a de-centralization of the production of major features is occurring.
When discussing the deal, Netflix's Ted Sarandos stated that the appeal of working with Sandler derived, in part, from the fact that Sandler's global appeal ensures that his films always do well in international markets. While film studios deal with international and domestic markets on their own terms - different territories get different marketing campaigns, sometimes the films receive different titles, etc. - Netflix, as a website, functions the same abroad as it does domestically. The result is a studio that places a significant importance on their films' appeals to the international marketplace.
It's not as if the big studios aren't doing the same - China, in particular, is currently seen by studios as a priority audience - but the simplicity of Netflix's platform means that the same film will be accessible to someone in China in just the same way it will be accessible to someone in the states. The result is a film studio with a strong interest in content that will play well internationally. It'll be interesting to see, for example, if Sandler's Netflix outings function any differently from his traditional Hollywood fare, and it'll also be interesting to see if Netflix provides a global stage for popular foreign filmmakers to do some cross-cultural pollination of their own; for example, Bong Joon-Ho, the famed Korean helmer of The Host, recently made Snowpiercer for The Weinstein Company in the US. Might Netflix give him a shot?
It'll be interesting to see, for example, if Sandler's Netflix outings function any differently from his traditional Hollywood fare.
Regardless, it's clear that Netflix's strong move into feature film content indicates that a de-centralization of the production of major features is occurring. What are the ramifications? My guess is that, as the proliferation of cable channels has thoroughly shaken up (and revitalized) TV programming, so, too, will myriad web outlets that produce significant feature work shake up the feature film game. Netflix is surely not the only web video provider that will go into original feature content - I expect Amazon will as well, and surely there are plenty others - and as these providers begin to truly compete with studios in the manner that House of Cards has become competitive with cable and network TV, I expect we'll see more competition and a proverbial fire lit underneath the behinds of the studios to do high-quality work. Regardless of how things turn out, I imagine the viewer will win.