Media distribution is an ever evolving industry, from stone tablets and etchings in the dark ages to illuminated manuscripts in medieval times to the newspaper boys of the late 19th century to film houses and cinemas of the 20th century to blogs, vlogs, RSS feeds and online versions of your favorite magazines of today. People want to consume media, and there have always been business people who will get it to them, for a price.
One relatively new entry into the media distribution market is Netflix. They started as a mail-order DVD rental service, transformed into an online video streaming provider and then transformed again into content creator now worth more than CBS. Netflix first ventured into original content creation a few years ago in 2011 with a few (awesome) television shows. If you haven’t watched their version of House of Cards or caught up on the binge-worthy Orange is the New Black then you are certainly living under a rock.
However successful Netflix’s original series have been, they have all been streaming video only available online which is Netflix’s bread-and-butter: watch whatever you like, wherever you like, however you like. Now though, shape-shifting as ever, Netflix is trying on another hat: film distributor.
Beasts of No Nation is the film adaptation of a novel by Uzodinma Iweala about a boy soldier in a war-torn African country. Netflix bought the distribution rights for $12 million this spring, and organized a limited theatrical release of the film last month: showing it in just 31 theaters. It is difficult to be sure exactly why Netflix would show the movie they bought to distribute theatrically in so few theaters, but it may have something to do with the four biggest theater chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike) in America boycotting the film. The theater chains did not appreciate that Netflix would be streaming the film online at the same time it was in theaters. There is usually a 90-day window of time when a film is solely available theatrically.
Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t release viewing statistics of their content, so we don’t know how many people have streamed Beasts of No Nation online in the three weeks since its debut. This leaves us in the dark to whether or not it should be considered a success.
Netflix is certainly hoping the film will earn an Oscar nod or two, but will it? Has this $12 million gamble paid off? Will it solidify Netflix’s place not only in the realm of content creators, but in award-winning content distribution, outside of the internet? Will we see more Netflix content in theaters?
Eyes will be on the Academy this coming January to see how they handle the newest face of the ever-changing company that is Netflix.