Problems with Netflix

This year’s Cannes Film Festival came to end a few days ago, but ripple effects from events that transpired there will be felt on the French fest in the years to come. You may have heard about the controversy that arose surrounding Netflix’s involvement there, and today Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has spoken more about what went down.

You might have also noticed that the streaming service is notorious for being generous with second season renewals for their original series, but Hastings mentioned today that he’d actually like to cancel more of their original shows. Yes, you read that correctly.

Read on for the latest on the Netflix Cannes controversy and to learn what Hastings meant by that cancelation comment.

Cannes Controversy Recap

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, two Netflix original movies, were accepted into this year’s Cannes festival. Netflix, which will always be a streaming platform over anything else, wants its original films to be available for streaming when they debut. But theater exhibitors often demand an exclusive theatrical release window in which those movies would be available in traditional theaters before they’re available to stream at home.

France in particular has a rule that states movies that play in theaters must wait three years before they can pop up on a streaming platform. But Netflix wouldn’t give Okja or The Meyerowitz Stories theatrical distribution before their streaming release dates (outside of the festival, that is), so France established a new rule that states only films with French distribution will be able to screen in competition for future festivals. You can read much more about that here.

Hastings’ New Comments

Today, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke at Recodes Code Conference and was basically asked what the heck happened. According to The Verge, Hastings explained that the National Federation of French Cinemas attempted to throw their weight around and things got ugly:

“They got the festival director to threaten to pull us out, which got a bunch of press. He kept us in because artistic integrity should be the trumping principle. It was very messy … Sometimes the establishment is clumsy when it tries to shut out the insurgent, and then the insurgent’s role is to play that up, which we did.”

All in all, though Hastings looks back on the experience as a good thing because it generated so much press, which he thinks will benefit both of his films that were at the festival:

“We don’t really want to fight with anyone… [When] someone picks a fight with us, it brings [us] attention, [and] it’s fantastic for us. Most importantly it’s fantastic for Okja and Meyerowitz Stories… they’ll get a lot more awareness.”

Wait a Second, He Wants to Cancel More Shows?

Netflix has only canceled six of its original series so far: Lilyhammer, Hemlock GroveMarco Polo, The Get Down, Sense8, and Bloodline, with the latter’s cancelation stemming from a new tax law in Florida (where the show filmed) that made it no longer financially viable. Hastings and his team spent $6 billion (with a “b”) on original content this year, and he mentioned that they’ll soon be increasing that budget by “a lot,” so why would he want to cancel more shows? It turns out it’s because they’re currently too successful. Here’s Vulture with some more quotes:

“Our hit ratio is way too high right now,” Hastings said. “So, we’ve canceled very few shows … I’m always pushing the content team: We have to take more risk; you have to try more crazy things. Because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.” It’s not that Hastings wants Netflix to purposely make shows that are unsuccessful, though. His logic: By taking big swings, “you get some winners that are just unbelievable winners, like 13 Reasons Why. It surprised us. It’s a great show, but we didn’t realize just how it would catch on.”

One could argue that a show’s surprising success shouldn’t necessarily guarantee a second season if there’s not enough story to be told in one, which is a complaint I’ve seen a lot about 13 Reasons Why in particular. But overall, it’s tough to argue with Hastings’ logic. “If anything, what I push our content team on is you should have more things that don’t work out. You gotta get more aggressive,” he said. “The drive towards conformity as you grow as a company is very substantial.” As someone who loves watching studios and filmmakers take big swings (see: David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks), I encourage Netflix to keep avoiding conformity as much as possible.

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