The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards, and Netflix scored a major win already with 10 nominations--including Bets Picture--for its original film, The Irishman. This marks the second Best Picture nomination for Netflix. (The 2018 film Roma was the first.)
Granted, there were other films that did well: The Joker received more nominations (11), and there were two other films with 10 (1917 & Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood). But Netflix is playing an entirely different game than the studios behind those films. And, so far, it's winning.
In fact, Netflix has always been playing a different game. Instead of building stores full of VHS tapes and DVDs, Netflix started out by mailing customers their selections and letting them keep the movies as long as they want.
Later, Netflix recognized that there was a market for delivering films and TV shows instantly in your home. While Netflix wasn't technically the first streaming service, it is--in most people's minds--the original. Plus, it had the powerful advantage of having an enormous catalog of content that people loved.
Of course, after a while, content producers realized they could cut out Netflix and host their libraries on their own platform. Enter HBO MAX, Disney+, and Peacock (from NBCUniversal). As they did, they pulled all of that content you loved away from Netflix (goodbye Friends).
Before the content drain, Netflix started making its own content, and--as it turns out--it's really good at it. You can argue whether original content will be enough to make Netflix worth it once all of its licensing deals go away, but it has certainly shown that not only it's capable of creating great content, but that there's an audience for it as well.
With The Irishman, Netflix is continuing to push against the rules of the game. Netflix held its own and refused to bend to the major theater chains' requirement that films run for 90 days before going to streaming services. Netflix, as it did for Roma, showed The Irishman in about 500 independent theaters for just four weeks before streaming it on its own platform.
It's not a surprise that theater chains are entrenched in decades-old rules designed to protect their high-priced tickets and keep away competition. That they were willing to miss out on an Oscar-caliber film directed by Martin Scorcese, and starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci is pretty astonishing.
There's no question Netflix would have happily shown The Irishman at AMC or Regal theaters if those companies would have allowed it to run for just three or four weeks. Instead, you could argue Netflix and the theaters might have left as much as $100 million in ticket sales on the table. But Netflix doesn't care about ticket sales. It cares about subscribers. And, it cares about changing the game again.
Earlier this month, Netflix released a convoluted list of the most-watched shows, most of which were suspiciously tilted towards Netflix-produced content. I wrote that it shows that Netflix is struggling to stay relevant as other services are staling all of its thunder.
Netflix knows that in order to be relevant, it has to control its own future. It knows that it might still be the largest streaming service, but its competition is taking shots at it left and right. It knows that in order to stay on top, it'll have to continue to stay at the top of mind with award-winning TV shows and movies.
That's becoming increasingly difficult as it loses fan-favorites like Friends and The Office. There will likely come a time when you won't find Disney, Pixar, or Star Wars films on Netflix. And when that day comes, Netflix is hoping you'll remember that you'll still find incredible TV shows and films like The Witcher, Stranger Things, and The Irishman.
If not, Netflix is likely to find out that instead of winning, the game it's playing is over.