Netflix took over your living room — now it wants your movie theaters

Outside view of the 'Paris Theatre' in New York, New York, USA, 27 November 2019. Netflix is signing...
Alba Vigaray/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

You’ve got to hand it to Netflix: the company is a master of reinvention.

It started as a DVD delivery service before it started hosting and streaming entertainment on-demand. Eventually, it began producing its own original content to distribute on the platform, and proved it had the chops to compete with legacy TV and movie studios.

Netflix transformed itself from mere digital distributor to powerhouse creative studio in a little more than a decade, with one major snag: the Hollywood industrial complex hasn’t taken kindly to the Netflix insurgence.

The crux of the issue is that Netflix has been unwilling to play ball with movie theaters, who normally get a window of exclusivity on films before they can be distributed for home viewing. But withholding films from subscribers runs counter to Netflix’s business model, so what the company has opted to do thus far is screen its films in theaters for the minimum amount of time it takes to qualify for awards (which is around three weeks), and then release them shortly after.

That’s been the game plan with one of Netflix’s latest Oscar contenders: Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a three-and-a-half hour mob epic that dropped on Netflix the day before Thanksgiving. The company had a rough time negotiating a broad theatrical release for the film — only indie houses more accustomed to limited-run screenings signed on to show The Irishman during its three-week theatrical run. Netflix actually struck a deal with Broadway landlords The Shubert Organization to screen the film at the Belasco Theatre on the Great White Way before its streaming debut.

Now, it looks like Netflix is making limited theatrical runs at historic movie houses part of its business model. Earlier this year, the news broke that the streaming giant was in talks to buy Hollywood’s iconic Egyptian Theater. And last week, Netflix signed a long-term lease on New York’s Paris Theatre, a historic single-screen movie house.

The twin movie houses, on opposite coasts, offer ready-made venues for glitzy premieres and events. Another one of Netflix’s Oscar hopefuls, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, premiered at The Paris Theatre earlier this month.

The acquisitions probably don’t mean Netflix is looking to compete with movie theaters. Rather, buying historic theaters is likely meant to endear the streaming service to filmmakers who may feel skittish about working with Netflix due to its theatrical woes. Either way, it seems as though Netflix is doubling down on its commitment to produce high-profile films. And now, the streaming service has a few IRL homes for them.