Cinemas warn that Netflix is a threat to mid-budget films

David Seargeant.

The chairman of the National Association of Cinema Operators (NACO) has warned that Netflix and other streaming companies are endangering medium-sized films that can gross $5 million-$8 million in Australia.

In his opening address at the Australian International Movie Convention on Monday David Seargeant reiterated his criticism of a handful of Australian cinemas that have booked Netflix productions The King, The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes despite a three-week theatrical window.

Seargeant expressed his disappointment at these exhibitors’ decision “to take a film on the basis of a technical release for short term gain and not giving the film the benefit of a theatrical season.”

He did not name the cinemas, which IF has identified as Dendy Cinemas, Eddie Tamir’s Classic, Lido and Cameo Cinemas in Victoria and Randwick Ritz, the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, New Farm Cinemas and The Elizabeth Picture Theatre in Brisbane and The Backlot in Perth.

While Seargeant noted Australian BO takings edged up by 3.6 per cent to $1.245 billion last year, he said: “The dominance of blockbuster movies and a seemingly lower output of theatrically released mid-budget titles remains a major concern to us as exhibitors and our drive to achieve ongoing growth of a moviegoing culture – that movies are made to be seen and experienced on the big screen.”

He acknowledged the need for exhibitors to work closely with distributors to ensure that mid-budget films continue to obtain a full theatrical release, rather a US cinema platform followed by global streaming.

“Losing these $5 million – $8 million films will have a dramatic impact on our box office and a direct impact on our profitability and sustainability as an industry,” he said.

Seargeant noted the Global Cinema Federation is continuing to work with the world’s leading filmmakers and creative talent to support the release of movies on the big screen. The federation also argues films must have a theatrical release to be eligible for award consideration.

According to Jane Hastings, Event Hospitality and Entertainment’s CEO, who serves on the body’s executive committee, it has commissioned a study on the loss or unrealised box office income when titles are released direct to streaming without the benefit of a theatrical release.

In his address, Joel Pearlman, Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia chairman and CEO of Roadshow Films, paid tribute to the work of Marc Wooldridge, Fox Film Distributors former MD for Australasia, and Jo Bladen, formerly the Walt Disney Company’s general manager, studios and live entertainment.

Both were among the casualties of Disney’s acquisition of most of Fox’s assets.

Pearlman hailed the success of original films including Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born, Peter Rabbit and Crazy Rich Asians in the past 12 months as well as local hits Ride Like a Girl, Palm Beach, Storm Boy and Hotel Mumbai.

Emphasising the common interests of distributors and exhibitors, he concluded: “Our customers don’t care about our differences or concerns over windows or terms or session policies. They want to see great films in a comfortable setting with amazing picture and sound.”

The recipient of this year’s NACO scholarship is Mhari Bain, Event Cinemas’ assistant manager in Brisbane, who came up with the concept of a cinema club modeled on a book club.

She wins a trip to the South by Southwest Digital Media Festival in Austin, Texas in 2020 and a one-week masterclass in social media.