Right up until the moment Green Book was announced at the end of last night’s Oscar broadcast there was still speculation Roma might edge out a Best Picture win. The Netflix-exclusive film from writer-director Alfonso Cuarón about the Mexico City he grew up in the early 1970s seemed to have some momentum among critics and press, who seemed to have formed the consensus that yes, it was the best movie released in 2018 and deserved to be recognized as such.
Cuarón did win Best Director and Best Cinematography while the movie itself was recognized as Best Foreign Language Film, but losing out on Best Picture felt, at least in part, like a repudiation by the industry of Netflix. The company has grappled with various factions within the film industry who feel their business and prestige are being threatened by its continued streaming-centric release of their original and acquired features. Theater owners in particular have refused to book any Netflix movie, even the handful that have received limited theatrical runs prior to showing up for subscribers.
Those theatrical runs – which are often just a couple weeks long, just enough to qualify for awards consideration – have been used by Netflix to assuage concerns among filmmakers that their work will never be seen on the big screen. That’s helped attract directors like Cuarón, Tamara Jenkins, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh and others, all of whom have helmed original features in the last year.
Sunday night Netflix used a paid TV commercial during a broadcast when it was losing some major awards to middle-of-the-road biopics to promote perhaps its biggest directorial “get” to date when it ran the first teaser for The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci.
The movie has been in production for quite a while and beyond “This fall” a release date remains vague. At the beginning of the year many critics included it on their list of “most anticipated movies of 2019” seemingly because surely it *had* to come out this year, right? Last night’s teaser was the first bit of official marketing for the movie and while it has less than 1 percent of the views on YouTube as Disney’s commercial for The Lion King (which is just a new version of the teaser released months ago) its surprise inclusion caught the attention of many industry reporters and watchers.
At the point in the broadcast when The Irishman teaser aired, Roma’s ultimate fate remained unknown. Still, it felt like Netflix using advertising for what it’s meant for: Becoming part of a conversation you’re not organically part of.
As pointed out earlier, ratings for the Oscar broadcast were up year-over-year for the first time in five years, driven largely by nominations for crowd-pleasing and popular movies like Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody as well as anticipation over a performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and curiosity over whether the host-less show would be a trainwreck.
While just about anything would be an improvement over last year’s terrible ratings, the fact that the audience was greater than before means a good number of people now know there’s a new Scorsese movie coming out later this year. The teaser didn’t feature any footage, just some animation of a bullet over snippets of dialogue, but it included the names of those involved in front of and behind the camera. All that is meant to draw in new subscribers, get the attention of cinephiles who don’t want to miss such a high-profile “prestige” release and continue positioning Netflix as working with the best in show business.
Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan have been vocal with their opinions that titles premiering (more or less) on Netflix are on the level of TV movies and not of the same quality as those shown in theaters. But theatrical exhibition only has the reputation of being more “selective” because of the costs associated with distribution and the limited number of screens available. Streaming does away with those constraints, and it’s that removal of at least some hurdles – many of which form the linchpins of the business models for some companies – that has entrenched powers put out.
So, concerned a trade group that continues to emphasize theatrical exhibition as one of the major criteria for any film chasing Oscar gold to meet would shun it, Netflix opened up the checkbook and co opted The Academy’s platform to promote its upcoming content. That’s savvy advertising that, when complemented by owned posts on Facebook (584,000 views) and Twitter (990,000 views) shows the company is eager for everyone to know it will be the best place to watch the latest movie from one of the all-time great directors.