You may think that Netflix is taking a big chance with its just-made deal for global rights to Beasts Of No Nation, the new film by True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga about the experiences of a child soldier fighting in a civil war in an African country. But the streaming company seems relaxed, even though many theater chains won’t present the release.
After making deals with Adam Sandler and Pee-wee Herman, the gritty drama — said to have been licensed for about $12 million — “balances out” Netflix’s line up, CFO David Wells told investors today at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. “We’d like to have something that fits the popular taste” and also blends “great documentary storytelling with high drama storytelling. You can call it an experiment.”
And the firm doesn’t seem to mind that most theater owners refuse to present a film at the same time it’s available online. Netflix didn’t pay for the rights “because we’re counting on a theatrical release,” the CFO says. “We take something because it’s a great piece of content, and a great story. We think that’s going to match well with most Netflix members.”
The strategy is similar to the one Netflix will use with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend — another film that theaters rejected because they wouldn’t have it exclusively. “There are great films that are absolutely better enjoyed on a big screen,” Wells says. “But we also think there’s room for films that can go direct to Netflix in terms of a distribution platform.” That’s particularly true for documentaries and films that deal with serious subjects. “They do very well with people who are not necessarily willing to go and sit at an independent theater. They are willing to do it in the house.”
Netflix also wants to bulk up on original and exclusive content. “We know that the overwhelming convenience of Internet-delivered is not a sustainable advantage. We need to have a differentiated content offering.” And since Netflix makes money from subscriptions, it can afford to make some seemingly risky bets. “At this point it’s about finding a show, and getting it to the right audience,” Wells says. “We don’t have to have a show that has 20 million viewers. A success for us, relative to its cost, might be a show that’s got 2-to-4 million…We don’t have to have a home run. As long as we’re finding doubles and triples, we’re good.”