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Netflix and Amazon: Oscar Winners

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The 2017 Oscars marked a coming out party for the top two streaming services, Amazon and Netflix. At the awards show, Amazon picked up 3 Oscars – two for “Manchester By The Sea” and one for the Iranian foreign language film “The Salesman,” while Netflix won an Oscar for its documentary short, “The White Helmets.”

“Manchester By the Sea”

One of the most talked about films of 2016 was “Manchester By the Sea,” starring Casey Affleck in the role of a man battling his own personal demons while also dealing with becoming the guardian of his deceased brother’s son. Affleck picked up a Best Actor award for his role, writer Kenneth Lonergan won for “Best Original Screenplay,” and the film actually picked up four other nominations — including a surprising nomination for newcomer Lucas Hedges for “Best Supporting Actor” and a well-deserved nomination for “Best Picture.”

At the Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel joked about any awards that “Manchester By the Sea” might win that night: “If you win tonight, you can expect your Oscar to arrive in 2-5 business days, possibly stolen by a GrubHub delivery man.” Jeff Bezos, watching live during the event, didn’t lose a beat — he tweeted out via Twitter that the Oscar would arrive within one hour.

“The Salesman”

Even though most moviegoers probably had probably never heard of “The Salesman” before Oscars night, it actually led to one of the most talked-about award presentations for the night – mostly for who didn’t show up to accept the award. The film won for “Best Foreign Language Film” — but the film’s Iranian director (Asghar Farhadi) had skipped the Oscars in protest of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which specifically targeted immigrants and visa holders from Iran. In fact, the cinematographer for the film was barred from entering the country, and couldn’t attend, either.

“The Salesman” tells the story of an Iranian married couple that faces incredible strain on their marriage as they prepare for a presentation of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The film was entirely shot in Teheran. Going into the Oscars, Amazon knew it had a potential hit on its hands – Asghar Farhadi’s previous film, “A Separation,” also won Oscar and Golden Globes acclaim.

“The White Helmets”

Finally, Netflix had a winner on its hands with “The White Helmets,” which tells the story of civilian first responders in Syria. It shows how volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defense risk their lives to save victims in their war-torn country. The director of “The White Helmets,” which won for “Best Documentary Short,” was Orlando von Einsiedel.

The first Oscar awards of many to come

The strong presence by both Amazon and Netflix at the awards show is further proof of how streaming services are completely changing the game when it comes to how films are produced, distributed and viewed. And it means that, at independent movie festivals around the nation, two of the most active buyers are now Netflix and Amazon — not the major indie Hollywood studios.

Case in point: look at what has happened at the Sundance Film Festival over the past two years. 2016 was a tune-up of sorts for Amazon, as it acquired the rights to “Manchester By the Sea” for $10 million. Amazon was looking for the type of quality film that might be Oscar-worthy, and “Manchester By the Sea” delivered completely in 2017.

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And then this year, Amazon and Netflix both made a big splash at Sundance. Netflix paid $12.5 million for “Mudbound,” the Dee Rees civil rights epic starring Carey Mulligan. Look for this film to become an Oscar contender in 2018. And then Amazon paid $12 million for the comedy-romance “The Big Sick,” which it also views as Oscar bait (it stars Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan). All told, Netflix was the biggest buyer at Sundance this year, scooping up 9 different films, while Amazon bought 4 films.

That’s just mounting evidence for the way that streaming services are opening up their wallets in order to get the best film content. It’s not just Amazon and Netflix, it’s also Hulu. That’s leading to a situation where streaming services are bidding upwards of $10 million per film. That’s good news for filmmakers everywhere.

The new model for distribution

The fact that streaming services are becoming such active players in the film market is going to have important implications. Take the example of “Manchester By the Sea.” Amazon snatched the film away from Fox Searchlight, which wanted to buy it back in 2016. If Fox Searchlight had won the bidding war, the film would have had a conventional theatrical release and then would have made its way onto the streaming services about six months after the theatrical run was completed.

But check out what happened with “Manchester By the Sea” – it had a run in the theaters, where it picked up nearly $50 million at the box office. But on Oscar night, it was already possible to stream the movie on Apple iTunes and Google Play, even though Amazon Now didn’t plan to start streaming the film until May.

And that’s the exact opposite approach of Netflix, which has embraced the concept of “day-and-date’ — films are released into cinemas and on streaming service simultaneously. Thus, “The White Helmets” is already available to stream on Netflix. That model might make sense for consumers, but theaters are not fond of the concept of “day-and-date” — their concern is that people won’t drop $15 to watch a movie at the cinema if they can stream it for free on Netflix the same day.

What can we expect at Oscars 2018?

Not every film that picks up a prize at a major film festival like Sundance is guaranteed to become an Oscar nominee, but it looks like Netflix has a major winner on its hands with “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.” The film was pitched to Netflix at Sundance 2016, received funding, and then opened the Sundance festival in 2017, appearing as the first movie in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The writing and acting debut of Macon Blair went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. And, don’t forget, people are already talking up “Mudbound” as an Oscar nominee for next year. So Netflix could have a huge Oscars celebration in 2018.

Conclusions

Think of the 2017 Oscars as a sneak peek of what’s to come. The streaming services have been actively buying up films, so this year’s Oscars wins are not a fluke. And, flush with money from all their new subscribers, they have deep pockets to snatch big-name films away from some of the biggest Hollywood independent studios. So keep an eye on Amazon and Netflix — they are not only making cinema history, they are changing the history of cinema.

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