European rules making cinema 'more irrelevant': Netflix

15th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

The head of programming for Netflix said strict European rules were encouraging piracy and making cinema "more irrelevant" in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.

Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for the Internet streaming service, singled out tough regulations in France such as a three-year wait for a film to be shown on Netflix after its cinema release.

"To wait three years to make a film available in ways that people want to watch it just invites piracy," he told AFP.

"People will choose not to release in the cinema so they don't have the 36-month wait, because with that comes a huge discount in the television value of that film," he said earlier at a public talk.

"It actually makes cinema more irrelevant."

He dismissed critics of Netflix, who say it has an unfair advantage because it does not contribute to government film subsidies, as required of many European broadcasters.

"We're not trying to break the subsidy system -- we just won't participate," said Sarandos.

"Three hundred French movies were released last year and most were not seen outside France. That's why it's subsidised.

"What Netflix can offer to European film-makers is a global platform to get their films seen by many people around the world."

He argued that Netflix did something better than subsidies by financing a multi-million-dollar series in France, the upcoming "Marseilles".

When the issue was raised at the public talk, legendary movie mogul Harvey Weinstein leapt up from the front row to defend Netflix, describing it as "visionary".

"I hope the government spends its money on hospitals and children and that the marketplace is so good that the films... don't need government subsidies," said Weinstein, who has produced a long line of acclaimed movies from "Pulp Fiction" to "The King's Speech" and recently tied up with Netflix for a sequel to martial arts classic "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

"Having the rebel in the room has made us all bigger and stronger," he argued.

- 'Not anti-theatre' -

The Coen brothers, who are heading the jury at this year's festival, satirised the emergence of companies like Netflix earlier this week, with Joel Coen joking that no one was interested in "watching 'Lawrence of Arabia' on their iPhone".

But Sarandos said Netflix was not a threat to cinemas.

"Nothing we're doing is meant to be anti-theatre," he said.

"On Friday night, if you want to go out on a date with your wife or girlfriend, nothing on Netflix competes with that. But if you don't want to put your shoes on, nothing at the cinema competes with the worst thing on Netflix.

"I want to give consumers choice."

Netflix has increasingly produced its own TV shows. Following "House of Cards" and "Daredevil", it is hoping for more success with "Sense8" from the Wachowski siblings, who made "The Matrix".

It is now moving into movies, including a deal with comic actor Adam Sandler to produce his next four films.

Sarandos said it made sense for Netflix to bypass deals with film studios, which charge around a billion dollars to show their films over a three-to-five year period.

"For that same billion dollars, we could invest in a slate of original films that would be competitive in terms of A-list directors, A-list stars, big production value films that we would have for the entire world," he said.

Netflix is infamous for refusing to provide viewing figures for its content, which Sarandos portrayed as an attempt to move away from the obsession with "opening weekend" statistics and advertising revenue.

"We don't steer ourselves towards things that are just titillating for opening weekend -- we want things that people are really going to love and cherish over the long shelf life of a film or series."

He said TV ratings had been "very bad for the quality of television", making companies increasingly risk-adverse.

"That push to win the time-slot has pushed people to make increasingly popular but not increasingly better programmes. I want to avoid that race."

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© 2015 AFP

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