Theater Association Boss Reminds Theater Owners, Netflix To Stay In Their Own Lanes

from the don't-gingerly-nibble-on-the-hand-that-feeds-us dept

Guess who’s bringing back “broken windows” policing!

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) is sounding the alarm over a recent deal between Netflix and iPic, in which the luxury-theater chain will screen 10 movies simultaneously with their release on the streaming service.

You would think that a theater owners’ association would represent theater owners first, rather than the studios that have long battled any sort of innovation/disruption in its windowed release schedules. Of course, theaters are first on the food chain traditionally, so that probably explains the NATO head’s statement, which comes across as a strange mixture of veiled threat and Stockholm Syndrome.

In a statement, NATO chief John Fithian warned that while iPic was free to make its own decisions, “We all should tread lightly and be mindful that over the years, the film industry’s success is a direct result of a highly successful collaboration between film makers, distributors and exhibitors.”

Yes, let’s tread lightly and be mindful that creating artificial scarcity is a fool’s errand, but creating an experience that people will leave the house for is something that can’t be delivered over an internet connection. This defense of the way things have always been done — phrased the way it is here — sounds like NATO distancing itself from iPic, the way one distances themselves from close relatives with multiple indecent exposure arrests.

NATO head Fithian goes on to claim that day-and-date releases won’t work because they’ve never worked in the past.

“Simultaneous release, in practice, has reduced both theatrical and home revenues when it has been tried,” Fithian said in a statement. “Just as Netflix and its customers put a value on exclusivity, theater owners and their customers do too.”

Conveniently ignored is the fact that past day-and-date releases have never been fully embraced by studios and, as a result, have been handled ineptly and cluelessly. These have been done on an extremely limited basis and almost always with an exorbitant price tag attached.

There’s probably a tad more defensiveness than usual in NATO’s statement. Now that there’s a group containing respected directors and producers backing a day-and-date release startup, the “threat” is more substantial than a few streaming providers whose libraries have been stripped to nearly nothing by major studios over the last few years.

Theaters aren’t going to go away completely. Under-performers who can’t offer an experience worth leaving the house for will fall by the wayside, but day-and-date releases will only slightly hasten their demise. If there were more experimentation, everyone involved might find new ways to make money. But as long as people like Fithian are in charge, nothing will move forward. It a small roll out of Netflix films to theaters — solely for the purpose of allowing the streaming company to get some entries in the Oscar race — results in these sorts of statements, any chance of studios and theaters moving on from traditional windowed releases is still a long way off.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: ipic, nato, netflix

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Theater Association Boss Reminds Theater Owners, Netflix To Stay In Their Own Lanes”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
MDT (profile) says:

Creating an experience to leave the house for...

…is something the big chain theatres don’t understand.

They refuse to kick paying customers out for misbehaving. Phones out texting, talking, disrupting the movie, no problem. The only time they kick anyone out is if they take bad video of the movie on their phone.

There’s a local chain in Texas called Alamo Drafthouse (Google it). They offer very comfortable seats, food and drink, alcahol, showings with no kids allowed so adults can enjoy the movie (showings with kids allowed for families), and will absolutely throw people out if they talk or text during the movie (and no refunds!). Actual commercial by Alamo playing a voice message left by someone they kicked out of the theatre. Warning : Crude language and cursing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Creating an experience to leave the house for...

I go to Alamo a lot (my wife and I are in the top tier of their reward program because we see more than 50 movies per year). It’s by far my favorite theater chain, but they aren’t perfect.

I’ve never seen anybody get kicked out of an Alamo for talking or texting. We’ve raised an order card to complain about talking and nothing ever happened other than a whispered “I’ll take care of it” followed by nothing. Obviously for kids movies the no-talking-rule isn’t enforced and I’m okay with that.

Generally I’m not sure it really matters though when most of the talking you do hear is waiters talking to people about the food.

My number one complaint, though, is the nachos. They are very popular and in any theater there is always at least one person that cannot or will not eat with their mouth closed. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH …. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH …. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. I wish they would take them off the menu.

All that said, there’s a lot that the bigger chains can learn from Alamo.

MDT (profile) says:

Re: Taking my Ball and Going Home

The same logic that a 5yo has when he takes his ball and goes home to sulk. Nobody is playing ball unless they play ball the way he wants to play ball.

NATO feels that if people don’t want to watch movies the way they want them to, then nobody should watch movies at all. And people will be really sad when they are gone! They’ll appreciate them then!

PaulT (profile) says:

“We all should tread lightly and be mindful that over the years, the film industry’s success is a direct result of a highly successful collaboration between film makers, distributors and exhibitors.”

True, but only half of the story. I’d also correct the wording – deals between studios and distributors very, very often get in the way of the needs of actual filmmakers. Film-makers are often left out of the conversation entirely. Please guys, stop pretending you’re dealing with anyone other than the marketing and distribution departments with something that’s often out of creative hands before you screen the trailer.

As for this issue, on the one hand the industry has got into a fair amount of trouble when they “collaborate” too closely, especially when the studios owned the theatre chains, etc. It was very bad for consumers. You had to be forced to stop colluding.

On the other hand, all of those terms have very, very different meanings to what they used to. Especially the exhibitors. Nowadays, the exhibitors are the outlet via which the customer is accessing the movie. Traditionally, sure, this was the cinema. This has quickly changed. Now, it can be a cinema, or TV, or the VCR store, or the DVD sales outlet, or YouTube, or iTunes, etc. All of which, it should be noted, the industry has fought against tooth and nail until forced to compete.

While the needs of a single distribution/exhibition outlet are significant, if you have to protect them by removing choice, you are by definition negatively affecting the customer. If the only way you feel you can compete with the other exhibition methods is by removing them from the market as a choice, however temporarily, you are not addressing the needs of the public. Especially in a case like the Netflix/iPic deal, where huge numbers of people couldn’t come and pay money to the cinema if they want to due to the small number of locations (hence the Netflix deal to ensure everyone who wants to see them can do so).

“Simultaneous release, in practice, has reduced both theatrical and home revenues when it has been tried”

Citation needed for how this is calculated, especially given the tendency for studios to bully theatres that do this, or for theatres to pull such movies partway through their run. There needs to be a trend shown as well, not just a cherry-picked couple of “experiments” that prove as much as Gods Of Egypt’s box office number prove about the profits in big budget effects films.

“Just as Netflix and its customers put a value on exclusivity”

Their customers do no such thing. Most would prefer it if Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and all their competitors had access to the same catalogue so they can choose the service that’s best for them rather than being forced to subscribe to all of them to access the “exclusive” content. Netflix customers neither love the fact that Daredevil is only on Netflix nor like the way they can only watch Man In The High Castle on Amazon and so pay twice. The sign of someone who’s spent too much time in the marketer’s fantasy world is when they can tell themselves people like paying multiple times for a product they want to pay for once.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Value Exclusivity?

I don’t get that either? What customer values exclusivity? I’m trying to understand the context in which that might be true.

On Sunday I went to see Birth of a Nation and the 10 screen theater I went to was showing the Presidential debate on 4 screens! I wonder if this guy would be pissed off at that – a theater selling food and drinks to people that essentially want to watch TV together.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Value Exclusivity?

“I don’t get that either? What customer values exclusivity? I’m trying to understand the context in which that might be true.”

It’s simple marketing doublespeak. You hear it all the time from people who are trying to defend the indefensible and/or are so far into a certain type of culture they can’t understand another genuine point of view. Their culture is to try and spin anything that’s good for profit as something that helps customers.

Same as with the people who defend DRM, capping or region restrictions, pretending it benefits consumers – they seem to genuinely believe that whatever benefits their industry benefits the consumer, even as the tactics are proven to massively and negatively impact them.

Anonymous Coward says:


I think it’s funny that they choose a name that they could abbreviate to make themselves look like something else. It reminds me of the way one of the characters in the series “Silicon Valley” insisted that he be give the company title “Chief Evangelism Officer” because he liked the way it could be abbreviated.

HistoryRepeatingItself says:

United States vs Paramount all over again

Movie theaters are now in the popcorn business because of how Studios treat theaters. Studios take the money, theaters rely on popcorn sales.

Remember the digital upgrade cost theaters around $75k per screen and without digital, no movies…

The Supreme Court on May 3, 1948 agreed with the district court affirming the prohibition against price-fixing, joint ownership, major franchises and block licensing.

Sounds like the Supreme Court might want to toss a note towards the National Association of Theater Owners…

If you haven’t kept up with the industry, keep in mind the studio lobbies have been for years pushing to own theaters again, this time claiming it would mean release to DVD near as quick as release to theater.

Anonymous Coward says:

In the long run, with everyone able to make and offer their content to various services and various services making their own original content, it doesn’t matter that much.

Heck, I just read an article entitled “Netflix Now Only Has 31 Movies From IMDB’s Top 250 List”

and the reason for this is that

“Earlier this year, David Wells, the streaming company’s chief financial officer, said Netflix wants half of its content to be original productions over the next few years.

“We’ve been on a multiyear transition and evolution toward more of our own content,” Wells said in a conference call in September, as reported by Variety.”

Competition is going to kill the old model either way.

The only thing that really needs to be fixed is the the government established monopoly that ISPs have on content delivery.

David says:

Re: Re:

Which does show that consumers do accept exclusivity, if done at the reasonable price and delivery model. The theater owners now have to compete in this space as well by offering a balance between availability, price, service, convenience, and experience. As noted by another commentor, Alama Draft House works to provide better service and experience, while trying to keep the price and convenience in line with others option people have for going out.

I like Netflix, but sometimes I really want to leave the house. Will it be to a theater? That’s the market the theaters really need to concentrate on.

DannyB (profile) says:

Stay in your lanes

In the past . . .

The horses and buggies need the most lanes. Because they predominate our roads.

We can dedicate one puny lane for these upstart automobile things. They won’t ever amount to much. But their owners are loud about their right to drive on the roads. We’ll always need horse and buggy as a backup for unreliable, noisy, smelly, difficult to start automobiles.

The present . . .

Most cities have a lane expressly marked for the exclusive use of carpools and BMW owners. We can make allowance for self driving cars to use this lane. But self driving cars will never be any good. Self driving cars will always need a backup driver.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stay in your lanes

“Netflix will never amount to much compared to the experience of the theaters.”

By which criteria? I’ve not yet been searched on my way into a Netflix screening, had to deal with rude and unhelpful staff, bad projection, price-gouging on popcorn and drink, noisy and disruptive audience members or forced to sit through 20+ minutes of irrelevant advertisements before the film starts. Yet, those things often happen at a cinema, especially at mainstream multiplex screenings, charged at a price and time premium to boot.

Cinema screenings have many advantages, but don’t pretend they’re automatically better.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stay in your lanes

Netfilx will never compete on ‘theater experience’ features like:
* screaming children
* inability to pause the movie
* listening to other people narrate the movie
* . . . or tell their life story
* over priced limited selection of food
* being treated like a potential criminal before you can enter the theater
* 30 minutes of commercials
* . . . before the commercials that begin at the movie’s published “start” time
* cell phones ringing
* inability to use your own cell phone if necessary
* inability to rewind and see or hear something again

How can Netflix compete with that?

And if you don’t go to the theater then YOU are having a negative impact on the reproductive opportunities for bed bugs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Such bullshit!

“We all should tread lightly and be mindful that over the years, the film industry’s success is a direct result of a highly successful collaboration between film makers, distributors and exhibitors.”

Had the industry been a dud they would have been blaming the stupid fucking public for not buying.

Sorry their success is 100% due to the consumers pursuit of entertainment and their willingness to pay a good deal of money for it. Had they produced something no body wanted, they would be poor fucking street beggars regardless of how “collaborative” they were!

The Piracy movement is 100% living breathing proof that if you try to “control” content too much or charge to much you lose money!

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

What About Real Restaurants.

I went and dug up some information on iPic. I decided to see what the New York Daily News thought about their food.

And someone on Yelp took a picture of the menu:

The food seems to be rather conventional, and unimaginative, but it won’t make you sick. Airliner food, in short. SkyChef. And approximately at airliner prices. It sounds like basically the same order of food that I get at Sheetz, a regional gas station/convenience store chain, for about two to six dollars an item. iPic is charging about fifteen dollars.

“Restaurant quality” is a relative term. Howard Johnson’s is a restaurant, or at least it was, which I suppose dates me. However, by my lights, the kind of restaurant one goes out to, as distinct from eating on the run, has to have a definite ethnic identity. For example, it might be a Greek restaurant, or a Vietnamese restaurant.

For example, near me, there is a little Italian cafe, a ladies’ cafe to be precise, which started out as a frozen yogurt parlor. They serve very good salads, fried-bread sandwiches (eg. chicken-spinach-provolone), cups of soup (minestrone), frozen yogurt, cookies, coffee, etc. A salad or a sandwich might cost six or seven bucks. Additionally, they have a children’s menu consisting of a grilled-cheese sandwich (provolone optional) and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (Nutella optional). It’s the kind of place where a middle-aged woman takes her daughter and grand-daughter to show off the grand-daughter to her middle-aged cronies. Hence the special accommodation to a toddler who simply won’t, won’t, won’t eat anything unconventional. The restaurant is run by a bunch of Italian-American girls, all black hair and flashing eyes. A number of small, dark studious Jewish boys hang out there, working on their computers, and in refuge from their football-player-party-boy room-mates. When they were in the second grade, and the sixth-grade bullies, guys like Donald Trump, started in on them, they ran to the sixth-grade girls for protection, and certain attitudes linger. All in all, the place stands for something.

A place like this wouldn’t want to show movies as a general thing, but local women artists can get their work displayed in the front window. If it could be arranged, they might like to do a showing of the upcoming Italian television mini-series of Elena Ferante’s _My Brilliant Friend_ (32 hours, in Italian, with English subtitles, for greater authenticity). They might play it an hour a day, at two in the afternoon, after the lunch trade had slacked off.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: What About Real Restaurants.

w.t.f are you on about? I’ve read your comment three times out of a sheer fascination with its ability to do nothing for me or the topic. iPic food? Local ethnic hangout preferences? The eating habits of toddlers. Small dark Jewish boys. I really have no idea. I think I enjoyed myself. Not certain. Please don’t help me.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: What About Real Restaurants.

He’s saying that he’s somehow offended that a cinema chain have said they offer decent quality food, and appears to have some kind of a chip on his shoulder about that. Strangely, in him rambling pointless rant, he never suggested a restaurant that served the kind of food he fantasies about and actually shows movies, as would be the primary requirement for anyone going to one of these cinemas. I wonder why…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What About Real Restaurants.

“And someone on Yelp took a picture of the menu:

They also publish it freely on their website.

So, what’s the problem? You don’t go to those cinemas for their food, I won’t go to your restaurants for their movie screenings.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: What About Real Restaurants.

Well, when I went to the link you indicated, I got the message:;

“Welcome to iPic Theaters: Our website requires Javascript to run, it appears that you have Javasript turned off on your browser. Please enable Javascript and reload the page.”


The attitude that you can just order customers to install software on their computers. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! So I went to Yelp (via Google) as a work-around. That is what I usually do when someone is being stupid.

Homework assignment for PaulIT: write out a list of mal-ware dependent on JavaScript for its operation, starting with (I believe) “Brown Orifice,” on Netscape v.4.72 (?) back in the 1990’s. Extra credit: work it up into a proper essay, discussing themes, variations, and recurrent patterns.
The restaurant in question is the Tutto Gelato, on Chestnut Ridge Road, in Morgantown, WV, but of course that is no use to you unless you are in West Virginia.

Food does not scale very well. A Ford, or a Toyota, or a Volkswagen, is about the best car which can be built for the money, because metal manufacturing does scale. The same thing is also true of electronics. It is not true of food. Food is alive, at least until the time of cooking. Waitresses are human beings. A small proprietor can quite commonly do a better job than McDonald’s or Burger King, even at a low price point. you have to find some place local if you want good food. Parenthetically, the Sheetz convenience store chain I mentioned operates approximately from the middle of Pennsylvania to the middle of Ohio, a distance of a couple of hundred miles.

I propose to treat a movie as a book. There are occasions when a book is read aloud before an audience, eg. the Bible in church, but that is a special case, and a very old book. On various occasions, I have carried around a paper book in my pocket, and read it while waiting for my food in a restaurant. When I was traveling on airliners, I liked to take along the complete works of Shakespeare and put it in the seat-back pocket to be available in flight. If one had to choose only one book… American Airlines did not insist that I read their in-flight magazine instead. If one were to compare current Hollywood product to reading matter, one would not compare it to Shakespeare, but rather to People magazine, or the National Enquirer, both of which can be bought at any supermarket check-out. The notion of a restaurant organized around the prime directive of reading People Magazine is absurd.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What About Real Restaurants.

Wow, you really are an arrogant dick, aren’t you? If you have problems with Javascript, fine, just don’t phrase it as if they aren’t advertising their menu. Any issues you have with their web design has nothing to do with their cinemas, just as a cinema isn’t going to sell Michelin starred meals during screenings.

“Food does not scale very well.”

Yet millions of meals are sold from national and multinational chains every day. You might not think that’s good, but it’s reality. I do love that you’re attacking a small chain for having the audacity to point out that their menu is better than most other cinemas, though. Again, I’ll maintain that their food selection is better than the movie selection at most of the restaurants you love. There’s no problem with that.

Your tastes are your tastes, not everybody else will agree with them. Accept that and you’ll spend a lot less time typing paragraphs of useless irrelevant text that achieve nothing but make you look like an slightly unhinged obsessive. In fact, I have no idea what you think you’re talking about in that last paragraph, but it appears to be utter nonsense.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

“Simultaneous release, in practice, has reduced both theatrical and home revenues when it has been tried […]”

Interesting comment. I’m in the UK and I’ve not seen much in the way of simultaneous releases here. I’m only aware of two: Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, both produced by the BBC.

By all accounts, both shows were a big worldwide success for the BBC, with good cinema ticket sales and excellent broadcast ratings. I watched and enjoyed both at my local cinema and the reviews were generally quite favourable. I don’t have any idea about subsequent DVD/BR sales, but I’d be quite surprised if either one flopped.

I can’t speak to how well simultaneous releases have gone for other producers, but based on the limited evidence of my own experience, I can only guess that Mr Fithian has been sucking his own magic mushroom just a little bit too hard to be believable here. 😛

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Sell DVDs outside the cinema

I’ve often said this. Not just DVDs necessarily, but most movies have some kind of merchandise available – posters, books, soundtracks, t-shirts, toys etc.

Getting impulse purchases on the way out of the screening seems like it should be a no-brainer for a multiplex, especially with so many modern movies being remakes, sequels or based on pre-existing properties. Yet, you never see one with a merch store in the lobby. That always seems strange to me, especially for an industry so dependent on charging stupid money for drinks and popcorn.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...