“If you've seen Eraserhead on a phone, you haven't seen Eraserhead.” This was the view of the David Lynch, director of the 1977 surrealist body horror masterpiece, discussing the movie in relation to online streaming and the numerous screen-size options that this provides.
This is slightly ironic to me, given that I’d wager that most people that truly love that film, and others in Lynch’s body of work, watched them using VHS and on CRT screens around a third of the size of the average home screen now.
However, Netflix has made a business of providing a film viewing experience on any screen size and on any device. This has presented a challenge to the film studios, with business models that are built on bums being put on seats at a global average of $8.95 a ticket in multiplexes worldwide. To paraphrase the UK’s best (and rantiest) movie reviewer Mark Kermode, as we have literally brought the movie experience into our living rooms with increasingly advanced home cinema systems, people may be less inclined to leave them for the actual cinema experience.
At the same time the average global marketing costs for a new “tent pole” cinema release have crept up to $170m. That is a lot of $8.95 bums required to get a return on not just your cost of marketing, but your cost of production.
The release of The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix this week highlights an interesting shift for the movie business. By all accounts, the film had seen a troubled production, with expected production costs spiralling from €30m to $50m. Paramount, the production company, then looked at the global marketing costs for a film that was unlikely to get positive word of mouth, and baulked.
Enter Netflix, who took on the property and with a cost of just $5m at the Super Bowl, and it’s global platform of users, reached over 100m potential viewers. In the words of an unnamed studio marketing exec quoted in this Variety piece, “Cloverfield became bigger than it ever could have been had they released it in April as a wide release.”
Now film studios are left with a tricky paradox of their own. Do they get into bed with Netflix and use it as a platform to shift properties they think will not create a return on their global marketing budgets? But in doing so, they give more unique content to a growing powerhouse which is creating more reasons for people to keep their $8.95 bums at home and not in the multiplexes...
“I don’t understand what the real objective was,” said a rival studio marketing chief. “Was it to show what they could do? Was it to monopolize the market in the midst of the loudest marketing platform of the year? It was attention-getting and certainly effective, and it turned a non-event movie into an event. Cloverfield became bigger than it ever could have been had they released it in April as a wide release.”