This Newsweek story has been making the rounds over the course of the past week or so. It is, by my count, the 734th story regarding the lack of classic films available on Netflix and other streaming services. That minimal offering is held up as a disservice being done to the younger generation that relies on streaming availability in determining what it watches.
It’s a ridiculous argument that doesn’t seem less so with endless repetition.
The same comments could be made about Blockbuster Video back when it was thriving. Because it operated at the skinny head of the Long Tail, constrained by physical limits, it largely stocked recent movies, particularly the blockbusters everyone wanted to see. Smaller indies might have a few copies available, and there may be scattered classics here and there in the store. But that was it.
While Netflix and other streamers may not be subject to physical limitations determining stock, it does have to make decisions on what to offer based on what it’s going to cost to acquire the rights and what sort of return on that investment it can expect. Right now it, like most other OTT services, is leaning on original content – both short and long-form – as a key differentiator. The expense of The Criterion Collection no longer made sense at some point, for instance.
More than that, it’s not Netflix’s responsibility to create an archive of cinematic history. So many studios have let their libraries collect dust on the shelf while focusing home video efforts on current releases. New movies get a dozen collector’s editions and pop-culture favorites get endless reissues while The Marx Brothers get a few no-frills poor transfers. None of that is Netflix’s fault, it’s a determination based on market considerations.
What makes the “Blame Netflix” mindset especially confusing is that, while FilmStruck, TCM and others have carved out a niche for classic movie fans, these movies aren’t even the focus of streaming programs from the studios or their parent companies. MGM isn’t making headlines by offering a portal representing its vast library of classic films. It’s working on a streaming service dedicated solely to Stargate. Warner Bros. stands largely alone in this field with Warner Archive, which not only produces limited run DVD editions but also a subscription streaming service.
Finally, I truly believe that a love of classic film begins at home. If you’re not exposed to these movies consistently at a young age, you won’t grow up demanding them from your entertainment providers. For myself, it was a “Family Classics” on WGN every Sunday combined with American Movie Classics (its original incarnation) that exposed me to the world of 1930s and 40 film and created a love for those movies.
Stop blaming Netflix for a problem studios could fix tomorrow if they chose to do so.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.