Netflix CEO: Movie theaters are 'strangling the movie business'

reed hastings Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thinks the state of film is a "real tragedy" and that movie theaters are "strangling the movie business," he said at The New Yorker's Tech Fest on Friday.

Netflix has long faced off against the giants of the movie theater business, who have largely refused to show Netflix's original films in theaters because of Netflix's commitment to making them available to stream on the same day they appear on the big screen.

That could be changing — but only a little bit.

Netflix recently came to a deal with iPic Entertainment, a luxury theater company, to screen 10 of its films as they become available online. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's head of content, characterized this as a “substantial” portion of Netflix’s original movies for the year, according to The Wall Street Journal. That's good news for Netflix, but the company's relationship with the powers that be in the movie industry has been generally ice cold.

On Friday, Hastings came down hard on these theater owners, saying there had been no innovation in the movie theater business in recent years, even as TV has been shaped by the rise of cable and internet networks. "Money" and "innovation" has flooded to the TV industry, Hastings said. Not so with film.

The movie theater business has seen flatline revenue, Hastings said. Part of the problem is that small movies, such as many Netflix has snagged from places like Sundance, would be better distributed both at home and in theaters.

That's a convenient position for Netflix to take, but Hastings said the movie studios feel the same way. Each movie studio would like to "break the oligopoly" of the theaters, but "they don't know how," he continued. If they collude to face the theaters, it's anti-trust, but if they are the ones to take the first step, their films will get killed. That means they just go along with the status quo.

"It's a bad dynamic," Hastings said.


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