The Odd Couple - Netflix & Oscar

25th February 2019
The Odd Couple - Netflix & Oscar
Tim Cunningham
Executive Producer

Heading into last night’s Oscar ceremony, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma was 8/13 on with the bookies to win Best Picture. I’m sure the headline writers were all ready to hail Netflix as the first streaming service to win cinema’s top prize.

But it didn’t happen.

In spite of reportedly spending $30m on an Oscar campaign for the film (twice its reported budget), Netflix had to make do with Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography (a category, remember, the powers that be had planned to give out in an ad break). Not a bad haul, but not the top prize they were surely banking on.

Was that because Academy members really thought Green Book was the better film? Or was it rather that a film which most people watched on their computers on a streaming service will win Best Picture over their dead bodies?

BAFTA certainly didn’t seem to mind when it handed out its gongs a few weeks’ ago – but it didn’t go down well in some quarters - with Vue (one of the UK’s largest cinema chains) threatening to boycott the next awards. Chief Executive Tim Richards claims Roma was “made for TV”, so shouldn’t have even been nominated, let alone been crowned the winner.

Setting aside for the moment the argument that many voters (for both Oscar and BAFTA) will watch screeners at home on their TVs rather than seeing all the nominees in a cinema, is it really worth Netflix, and Amazon for that matter, going all out to open a door which looks firmly closed to them? Would that $30m Oscar campaign cash have been better spent on televisual, rather than cinematic content?

The streaming services would argue that they need to splash the cash on their films to attract the best talent. If they’re seen to be prepared to spend what the big film studios will spend on an Oscar campaign, it will attract the A-list to their services.

But if it’s all about subscriber numbers, does that matter? Of course we’ll never really know, but I’d bet that the number of people who subscribed to Netflix to see “Roma” is far fewer than those who have to watch old episodes of “Friends” or “The Crown”.

The TV world’s had rather longer to get used to the disruptive effect of the streaming services. But where film companies once just saw them as an opportunity to squeeze some more life our of their back catalogues, now they have to realise they’re a real threat.

According to Netflix’s own figures, Sandra Bullock’s latest Bird Box was watched by 45 million people in its first week on release on the platform. Translate that into box office figures, and it would equate to over $400m – more than, for example, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Now of course, had it been in cinemas only, chances are it wouldn’t have made anything like that. But if 45 million people in a week are sat at home watching the latest Netflix release, it means they’re not going out to the cinema, and aren’t buying massively marked up popcorn. Maybe that’s why Mr Vue is worried. And why Academy voters aren’t quite ready to give it their top award.

In TV, the streaming horse has bolted – but only time will tell whether Hollywood and the Academy can keep it stabled for a little longer.

Oh, and by the way, the bookies are already quoting a favourite for next year’s Best Picture. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”. Brought to us by…. Netflix. Watch this space.