Netflix apparently wouldn't mind if you just never left your house again.
If you hate spending money to see lame new Hollywood movies in theaters, Netflix wants to fix that for you, by letting you watch all of the lame new Hollywood movies on your own couch. This, in Netflix's estimation, might actually make movies better. It would almost certainly improve Netflix's profits.
"Why not premiere movies on Netflix the same day they're opening in theaters?" Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Chief Content Officer, said during his keynote speech at the 2013 Film Independent Forum on Saturday in Los Angeles, Calif. "Why not follow what the consumers desire, to watch things when they want, instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to advertise to people who may not even live near a theater?"
"And not little movies," Sarandos added. "Why not big movies?"
Netflix is widely known as a source for older movies and recent seasons of TV shows, but it clearly wants to provide all of the content.
Netflix does occasionally get special streaming rights to some new movies and has even produced its own movies and stand-up specials. Netflix also plans to start producing original movies on Netflix, Sarandos said last week during Netflix's earnings call.
Netflix's third-quarter earnings quadrupled from a year earlier, as its tally of U.S. streaming-video customers hit 31 million, topping the number of HBO subscribers. The company said subscribers were attracted by its original content, including series like "Orange Is The New Black" and "House Of Cards." Streaming brand-new movies could only help pad those numbers.
But Sarandos claimed altruistic motives, too, suggesting that the current distribution system for big studio movies is crushing cinematic creativity. And it's all the fault of the movie theaters, according to Sarandos.
"I don't blame the studios for what they're doing, and I don't fault them, because the studios are always trying to innovate," Sarandos said. "The premium video-on-demand model has been tried and tried, and theater owners stifle this kind of innovation at every turn.
"The reason why we may enter this space and try to release some big movies ourselves this way is because I'm concerned that as theater owners try to strangle innovation and distribution, not only are they going to kill theaters, they might kill movies," Sarandos added.
Theater owners, as you might expect, disagree.
History suggests Sarandos' plan might not be feasible. In 2011, Universal planned to release its movies for rental on the same day of theatrical releases for $60 per movie. Theaters killed that effort.
<a href="http://paidcontent.org/article/419-draft-sonys-grouper-evolves-into-more-complex-video-package-rebrands-as/" target="_hplink">Crackle was bought by Sony in 2006</a> (when it was a startup called Grouper), and now its <a href="http://crackle.com" target="_hplink">streaming-only movie and TV library </a>features mostly Sony productions. It is free to watch, and you don't have to register, but you do have to sit through advertisements that break up your movie. The options are fairly limited right now--there are about 250 full-length movies and episodes from 50 TV shows, though apparently Crackle adds about 10 of each every month. The quality of the options is pretty good, however; I've been watching "Pineapple Express" since lunch, and I'm moving on to the original "Bad Boys" when that's done. The stream looks great at 480p on my laptop, though would probably pixellate on a television screen. <strong>PROS</strong>: Totally free, no registration required; varied quality options; user-friendly website design; good picture on laptop for free service; free iPhone, iPad and Android app. <strong>CONS</strong>: Ads, ads, ads; limited quantity of movies and especially TV shows; no DVD rental option.
A startup founded in 2004 and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/23/walmart-vudu-deal-walmart_n_472838.html" target="_hplink">purchased by Wal-Mart</a> in 2010, <a href="http://vudu.com" target="_hplink">Vudu is a movie-streaming service</a> that prides itself on two key features: first, it has a database of high definition, 1080p movies that is larger than any other website's; and second, it is accessible on any device that connects to the Internet, from PlayStation 3s and Blu-Ray Players, to laptops and Internet-enabled TVs. Vudu is compatible with over 300 devices and works as a simple laptop movie streamer, too. The selection is terrific--over 20,000 movies are available-- though the payment option (for me) is not as terrific. Renting a movie for two days costs between $2 and $7, depending on the desirability of the movie and the streaming quality. A new release in high definition at $7 for 2 days? Pass. <strong>PROS</strong>: High definition streaming; terrific selection of new releases and classics; great "Collections" sections, including my personal favorite, a "Best of Rotten Tomatoes" playlist. <strong>CONS</strong>: Pay-per-view on-demand system can get very expensive very fast; no DVD rental.
That ".org" is not a typo: <a href="http://www.facetsmovies.com/user/homeNewUser2.php" target="_hplink">Facets Multi-Media is a Chicago-based non-profit</a> founded in 1975 as a film appreciation group that now has a monthly DVD-by-mail rental system similar to Netflix's. There are over 75,000 movies in its warehouse, and one-out-at-a-time plans are $8.99 a month or $90 a year. If you're a little squeamish about signing up for a year, the monthly plan is one dollar more than the new Netflix DVD-only plan ($7.99), but perhaps you can justify the extra expense with the knowledge you're supporting a non-profit. As a film appreciation society, Facets has a great selection of rare and imported films, as well as playlists <a href="http://www.facetsmovies.com/user/moviePickExpert.php" target="_hplink">curated by "experts" that are worth checking out</a>. <strong>PROS:</strong> Reasonably priced DVD-by-mail rentals from a non-profit; excellent selection of independent and foreign films; recommendation lists from Werner Herzog, Stephen Sondheim, Dan Savage, and other notables. <strong>CONS:</strong> No streaming (yet--a company spokesperson says it's on its way); cannot match Netflix's prices, even after the price hike.
<a href="http://zediva.com" target="_hplink">Zediva</a> is an intriguing video-streaming service that may or may not be legal (they are <a href="http://paidcontent.org/article/419-mpaa-v.-zediva-is-shaping-up-to-be-quite-the-legal-showdown/" target="_hplink">currently being sued by the MPAA</a>). It is streaming-only, and there is no high definition streaming, but the prices are incredibly low ($2 for a 14-day rental of a new release, or 10 rentals for $10). <a href="http://www.zediva.com/faq" target="_hplink">How do they do it</a>? When you rent a movie online, you are really renting a physical DVD and a DVD player at Zediva headquarters. The DVD player plays the movie for you and streams it--and thus Zediva does not have to pay the Motion Picture Association of America. So if you're looking for a way to both save money and tick off the MPAA, Zediva might be your best option. <strong>PROS:</strong> Very cheap prices for streaming new releases; no monthly fees; chance to stick it to the man. <strong>CONS: </strong>Might not exist soon; possibly illegal; substandard video quality and website design.
<a href="http://greencine.com" target="_hplink">San Francisco-based GreenCine is Netflix for film buffs</a>; they have "an accent on independent, art house, classics, foreign, documentary, anime and Asian cinema," as their website <a href="http://www.greencine.com/central/dvdrentalinfo" target="_hplink">boasts</a>. With over 30,000 DVDs available for rent at plans starting at $9.95 per month (which lets you take out one video at a time), it's a little more expensive than Netflix for mail rental, but that is the price you pay for Greencine's "eclection" (again, per their website). Not included in your monthly fee are on-demand rentals: rather than streaming, you download the movie on DivX. Most of those rentals are $5 for 30 days with the DRM-protected flick. So, streaming is available, but only for a price. <strong>PROS:</strong> Awesome online selection of niche films, including anime, indie, and foreign; Blu-Rays available; DivX-quality watching on computer <strong>CONS:</strong> The prices. More expensive than Netflix, and the per-rental fee for streaming is way too high unless you are only streaming one movie a month