Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said he thinks the back-and-forth between his company and the Cannes Film Festival might have gone too far and didn’t do anyone any good.
That’s a pretty rare sign of humility and error admittance from a corporate CEO, for whom any sign of perceived weakness is usually strictly verboten. It was undercut slightly by the news Netflix was looking to stick it to Cannes organizers a bit by buying the festival’s opening night feature, but the sentiment was still nice.
This all comes just a few weeks after reports Netflix was considering buying a handful of New York City and Los Angeles theaters, mainly for the purpose of providing the kinds of screenings still necessary to qualify for awards consideration.
The combination of the two news beats got me thinking about how Netflix markets its movies in general. Hastings has gone on record as saying he envisions a future where no external marketing is necessary, but there have also been reports that the company wants to ramp up its marketing efforts in an effort to bring in more eyeballs and subscribers. Additionally, it apparently is working to buy an outdoor billboard company, though 1) It’s more likely to promote its TV shows and 2) Those *might* be still sold to other companies and become an additional revenue source.
I began wondering, though: What if Netflix just decided to launch its own film festival?
That kind of effort could be a lot of fun and provide its original features with a good foundation for audience word-of-mouth in exactly the way other film festivals do currently. In true Netflix fashion, though, the most interesting execution on the idea might be a little out of the ordinary.
Imagine if the company took the approach of bringing mini festivals to dozens of locations across the country. A two-day event in DeKalb, IL could, for instance, offer the chance to see any of a dozen current and upcoming features in a group setting. Fans who bought tickets for the event could come and go to whatever movies they wanted to see and be encouraged to screen as many as possible. After each movie’s over, attendees could filter into one of a few dozen booths where they can either record a video with their own device and post it themselves or use a camera in the booth to record a video and have it added to a stream of similar updates.
Right now one of the primary issues that seems to be impacting many of Netflix’s original features is that they arrive on the service with little to no advance buzz in the audience. A trailer drops three weeks before it arrives and that’s it. The exceptions to this rule are also the ones that have had longer, more substantial press, marketing and word-of-mouth campaigns, movies like Mudbound and Bright.
This kind of model – or something like it – solves for that and drops the elitism that comes with the usual festival circuit. Studios love to tout how many festivals their prestige films have played at, affixing logos to trailers, posters and other assets, but that doesn’t seem to do much to influence the general audience that isn’t already following festival buzz and happenings. Plus, the “come see as many movies as you like in a location near you” is more or less consistent with Netflix’s overall brand mission.
I’m not saying that’s the perfect model, but it’s an idea. More than anything, I think there’s the potential here for Netflix to disrupt (sorry) the festival paradigm in a way that helps it achieve its goals and bolsters its growing catalog of original films. Plus, I have to believe that some of these movies that are dismissed as mid-grade or “meh, alright” would play better in a crowd, at least to some extent.
By all indications, Netflix was willing to play the festival game right up to the point where the rules negatively impacted its core business model. The festivals, with their adherence to old-fashioned industry norms, overplayed their hand. I’d be willing to bet Cannes will soon realize it needed Netflix more than Netflix needed it. The company can reinforce that point by rolling out the festival idea on a mass audience basis.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.