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Netflix Entering the Theatrical Window

29 Sep, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

CCO Ted Sarandos’ wish to upend the theatrical window to come true next year with sequel release to ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’

Netflix Sept. 29 announced it is partnering with The Weinstein Co. to finance next year’s theatrical sequel to 2000 Oscar-winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The subscription streaming pioneer reportedly plans to offer Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend to its members concurrently with the film’s Imax release in 2015.

The sequel, in which Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as the warrior Yu Shu Lien, is set 20 years in advance of the first movie. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon introduced the martial arts-themed backdrop to movies and made a name for then-unknown director Ang Lee, among others. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning four.

The collaboration between Netflix and TWC marks the first time a major theatrical release will coincide with its SVOD launch — a move CCO Ted Sarandos foreshadowed almost a year ago during a blistering keynote denouncing theater operators at the Film Independent Forum in Los Angeles.

Sarandos said the industry’s failure to launch premium VOD was due in large part to theater owners’ stubborn refusal to abridge the three-to-four month exclusive distribution window they have controlled for decades.

The executive argues that technology has rendered the theatrical window obsolete.

“Theater owners stifle this kind of innovation at every turn. The reason why we may enter this space and try to release some big movies ourselves this way, is because I’m concerned that as theater owners try to strangle innovation and distribution, not only are they going to kill theaters — they might kill movies,” Sarandos said last year.

The Netflix executive’s remarks at the time not surprisingly brought a sharp rebuke from theaters. And as a result, the nation’s largest theater chains — Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark, will not distribute The Green Legend, or any other major studio release that attempts to circumvent traditional release windows.

“What I am hoping is that [the Green Legend release] will be a proof point that the sky doesn’t fall,” Sarandos told The New York Times. “These are two different experiences, like going to a football game and watching a football game on TV.”

BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield agrees it will take a major outsider such as Netflix to upend a theatrical window he says is out of whack with evolving technology and consumer trends.

“Netflix already changed the TV business [model] in a very, very significant way. The movie business is teed up next,” Greenfield told the Times.

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