Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Will Netflix Kill The Indie Film Market?

The death of Hollywood has long been predicted and long avoided, but I believe it might finally be at hand.

I feared piracy would destroy the movie business the same way it destroyed the music business.  And piracy destroyed the music business -- make no mistake about that.  Illegal downloading and file sharing deprives recording artists of a large percentage of their income.  The self-justification of the people who enable this activity is pathetic.  They claim to be striking a blow for the common man by the sticking it to evil corporations who deserve to be robbed.  In the end, however, they are only stealing from the artists they claim to admire.  Sickening.  They should be ashamed of themselves.*  I wrote songs long before I wrote movies.  I'm glad my talents took me in the direction they did.  I would hate to be in the music business today.

Movies, I feared, would follow the same fate once high-quality compression technology made feature films files small enough.  A number of webpages allow you to stream films currently playing in the theaters online.  Personally, I never found those pages too much of a threat because of the poor image quality.  You cannot duplicate the theater experience by watching a cruddy, postage stamp sized picture on your computer.  One day, however, someone will tie streaming video to your high-quality home theater, and streaming will become a real threat.

That day has come.  Thanks, Netflix.

I long resisted Netflix.  I was a loyal Blockbuster man.  I liked walking down the aisles and looking at the DVD boxes and artwork.  I often found intriguing films this way that I would have never sought out on my own.  Sadly, Blockbuster, which once wielded unbelievable power in Hollywood, is now dying.  Killed by Netflix and Red Box.  I will miss it.  The same way I miss record stores.

After my Blockbuster closed, I had no choice but to give Netflix a chance.  Friends and relatives have been singing its praises for years -- especially since the advent of their streaming instant view.  Having made the conversion to HD and Blu-Ray, I was somewhat revolted by the idea of watching streaming movies on my television.  I didn't want to take a step backwards in quality.  But, after I hooked up my Roku box, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of their movies.    And the quantity.

Some friends have told me that they canceled cable after getting NetFlix.  I can't see myself going that far, but I am considering canceling some of my beloved, and tax deductible, movie channels.  In the past, I spent most of my time in front of the tube watching films on HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz or The Movie Channel.  Now, I would have probably canceled all of them already if I didn't want to miss some of their original series.

Netflix has definitely affected my DVD and Blu-Ray purchasing decisions.  I simply will not buy a movie that I can watch streaming on Netflix.  It just seems absurd.  Why buy something when you have complete access to it 24/7?   This is a much larger threat to DVD sales than the traditional movie channels.  On cable, you have to wait to see a movie until the network chooses to show it again.  If I knew I would want to watch a movie repeatedly, I went out and bought a copy.  I have hundreds of DVDs.  That said, I find it easier to pick up the remote and turn it on via Netflix than it is to go over to my shelves, find the DVD, and put it in the player.  (When given the opportunity, I will always choose Blu-Ray over instant view.)

On the bright side, I suppose this is suppressing piracy too.  Why would you waste the space on your computer to download an illegal copy of a movie when you can stream it anytime you want legally?  Why buy an illegal DVD?  It doesn't make sense anymore when you can get Netflix Instant view for eight dollars a month.

Hollywood doesn't seem so worried right now.  They have been giving Netflix and some of the other services pretty good deals on streaming rights.  Now that the practice is proving very profitable, they will start charging Netflix what they charge the cable networks for rights to their movies.

But what about the independent filmmaker?  We're the ones who will be getting hurt.

DVD sales have been the main source of income for independent filmmakers.  Local broadcast stations buy very few movie packages anymore.  It's all network and syndicated programming.  And, there is so much product available today that it is very hard to get a small indie films on cable television unless you have some big name stars.  DVD was all we had.  And DVD sales are dropping through the floor.  Part of it is the general state of the economy.  Part of it is streaming.

Two of my films have been available on Netflix instant view:  "21 Eyes" and "Hidden Secrets."  How much did they pay for the rights?  Discretion prevents me from reporting the details here, but, let's just say I would rather people buy the DVDs!

Okay, okay.  I might be a little premature.  Hollywood might survive online streaming.  They've survived everything else, but streaming is no friend to the independent filmmaker.

Heaven help us!

The grave of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
There might be enough room there for some indie filmmakers.

*Before anyone busts me for being a hypocrite, I do occasionally "borrow" photos and artwork from other internet sites for this blog.   And, yes, I am ashamed.


  1. This is funny - I'm seeing this entry a week after you posted it. It's funny timing because I've been pondering the viability of Netflix (or some other service) streaming first-run indy movies on a regular basis. For example, anything that would run in an art-house theater or even something released in a limited run - so anything from "Win Win" to "The Beaver" to "Soul Surfer" to Pureflix offerings - make it available as a streaming offering at the same time as it's out in the theater and charge $6 for it. I would pay. More importantly, I think people living in areas where those films wouldn't even make it into a theater would pay. I don't know if there's eough like-minded people but I do know a lot of people are finding it harder and harder to justify going to the movies where they have to pay between $10 to $15 a ticket if the film is not "spectacle-worthy." I think they are skipping more and more "smaller" films in theaters as a result. Just some thoughts...

  2. I wish that would happen. There are people trying to build a service like that. However, I think the presence of Netflix will undercut that too. It is a pity.

  3. I can see it possibly also working for films that have a wider theatrical release but are still "niche" audience films - like the Tyler Perry films, for example. It may have a practical application. Of course, we're huge Netflix streamers in our house so maybe we're part of the problem...