Netflix’s content boss questions Amazon’s movie efforts: ‘I frankly don’t understand their strategy’

Ted Sarandos Dia Dipasupil Getty final
Ted Sarandos. Dia Dipasupil/Getty

Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos doesn’t get why the press always likes to pit his company against fellow streaming giant Amazon Studios.

In a wide-ranging feature for Variety, Sarandos opened up about many things, and one in particular was Amazon.

“I don’t think we compete with Amazon in the movie space at all,” Sarandos told the trade. “I frankly don’t understand their strategy. I don’t understand why perpetuating a model that feels more and more disconnected with the population is good.”

There is a major difference between the two: Amazon’s movies are released in a traditional theatrical window before they become available on its site; Netflix releases its movies day-and-date, meaning they are available on the site and also in theatres at the same time. Because of this most major theatre chains will not show Netflix movies because it’s going against the industry’s standard of giving a movie 90 days in theatres before showing on any other platform.

Because of this major difference, Sarandos is trying to give the perception that the two can’t be rivals in the movie space. But it’s hard to believe that.

Netflix and Amazon go after many of the same movies that go to the Sundance Film Festival every year, as well as projects by big name directors and actors floating around Hollywood that need money (something both companies have a lot of). And with the current theatrical 90-day grace period model looking like it will become extinct in the coming years, these two companies will be at each other’s throats even more, as Netflix titles will presumably have a better chance to get more theatrical play.

Manchester by the sea
‘Manchester By The Sea.’ Sundance Film Festival

In playing nice with theatre owners, Amazon Studios has found more success when it comes to getting its titles into the awards season talk. Last year, its title “Manchester By The Sea” was nominated for six Academy Awards, became the first-ever streaming title to receive a best picture nomination, and took home two Oscars for best actor (Casey Affleck) and best screenplay. Netflix has been nominated numerous times for best documentary, but hasn’t been able to crack the big Oscar categories.

Netflix’s only attempt to go for the brass ring was 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation,” the first original movie released by Netflix. Because of Netflix’s day-and-date model, the movie didn’t get the big release it should have gotten, and on top of that it angered many in the industry. This lead to zero Oscar nominations (though Idris Elba should have gotten one).

“I do think ‘Beasts’ is one of the most mischaracterized releases,” Sarandos told Variety. “The mistake was putting it on 30 screens. And I say mistake because every time you read anything about ‘Beasts of No Nation,’ it starts with the fact that it failed at the box office. If it had been on two screens, the behaviour of a couple hundred people in six major cities would have made it a success.”

The release on 30 screens was the compromise Sarandos made with the movie’s director, Cary Fukunaga, who pushed to get his movie in theatres.

And that’s the true rivalry Netflix and Amazon have, currently. Everyone from Martin Scorsese (Netflix) to Woody Allen (Amazon) are working with the companies. And one of the deciding factors for many of these great talents is still the question of the theatrical release.