How Netflix is about to limit choices for indie movie fans (Updated 12/30/09)

 

TAINTLIGHT 72 dpi.jpg

Update 12/30/09: Thanks to everyone who added TAINTLIGHT to your queues, we finally received a buy on the title from Netflix yesterday so the title should be available from them shortly after the first of the year. You guys are my heroes!

So tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 17) is the street date for Tempe’s Splatter Rampage release TAINTLIGHT. It’s the latest horror parody from MULVA: ZOMBIE ASS KICKER! creator Chris Seaver, and as you can tell from the artwork above, it’s a parody of the book/film TWILIGHT. If you buy your DVDs, it’s available now at Tempevideo.com, Amazon.com, DeepDiscount.com and all the usual suspects.

If you choose to rent, then unfortunately your options are now quite limited. Here’s why.

Almost immediately upon announcing TAINTLIGHT, I got a screener request from the folks at Netflix. This almost never happens, since historically they just buy a small quantity of every release and, if demand warrants, they reorder as necessary. So I was a little alarmed at their screener request, since I have offered screeners in the past and was roundly ignored. (I don’t blame them, they are buying hundreds of new movies every week, so it’s impossible to watch them all.) I presumed that their interest in TAINTLIGHT was based on the cover being such a close parody of TWILIGHT, and maybe they just wanted to see what the flick was like in case it warranted a larger (or smaller?) buy.

Turns out, the TAINTLIGHT release basically corresponded with a new policy now in effect at Netflix: they’re no longer buying every title. This news wouldn’t have been so shocking in the current economy, except for the fact that they had just reported a record profit for the quarter and a record number of new subscribers, which means they are flush with cash and eager viewers.

So why choose now to start cherry-picking which titles get in? It smacks of a Blockbusterian thing to do — except in Big Blue’s case, they have limited shelf space and there’s no doubt that their customers are mostly looking for the latest & greatest Hollywood… er… “blockbusters.” Netflix has always been the “anti-Blockbuster,” the place where film buffs could discover new gems, little movies from obscure labels like Tempe that Hollywood has mostly ignored. But with this new policy change, it’s looking like Netflix will fall into line with the rest of the video retail world and start limiting your choices.

That’s a disappointing turn of events, for at least two reasons.

It goes without saying that it’s going to affect my company’s bottom line moving into 2010, since Tempe counts on Netflix to buy at least a few copies of every title. They’re one of the few vendors we have who don’t return product and who pay on time without fail, and their buy helps justify the existence of some titles that might otherwise never see the light of day. While I have already cut back significantly in the last couple years on how many titles Tempe releases, moving forward it seems I’ll have to reduce that number even more (assuming I can stay in business in the first place) and hope that the titles I do choose to release are deemed “worthy” of a Netflix buy.

The other reason this is disappointing is that I’ve been a longtime fan of Netflix, and not just because they helped keep food on my family’s table. Even when I lived in Los Angeles, it was just the most convenient way to get movies, and to be able to choose almost anything from their infinite shelves, rather than being limited to Hollywood’s “finest” at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video (or now, Redbox).

I guess in hindsight, I should have seen this coming. Netflix’s streaming division essentially hung us out to dry in mid-2008, when they started investing all of their money into a deal with Starz and other studios, in an effort to bring Hollywood’s “finest” to you via the Internet. Hey, I can’t blame them… I watch a lot of that stuff too, and streaming makes it even easier than waiting for it in the mail. Tempe had its foot in the door with Netflix streaming well before the majors, and when the service launched in early 2007, we had a pretty nice year as a result. But, as I’ve learned time and time again, the minute the majors finally board the gravy train, the little guy will get hung out to dry. When the streaming buys stopped in 2008, it contributed to that year being one of the worst we’ve ever had. (Not totally blamed on Netflix, it was just a bad year for Tempe — and most everyone else in DVD — all around.)

2009 has thus far been much better, and just prior to learning of the new policy change on the DVD side, we actually got our foot back in the door with the streaming division thanks to PLATOON OF THE DEAD, which wound up being something of a minor hit for us this year. So I was looking forward to keeping the good vibrations echoing into TAINTLIGHT, which seemed like kind of a no-brainer for them to buy given what it was. But you can probably guess how this story ends, since the street date arrives tomorrow and there’s no TAINTLIGHT to be had at Netflix, either on DVD or streaming. (The streaming division tends to base their buys on the DVD side, so you won’t see one without the other.)

Although, that’s not entirely true. TAINTLIGHT is, in fact, listed on their site, but the “Add” button has now been replaced by a “Save” button, and the availability date has been changed from November 17 to “Unknown.” It seems the buyers have decided to wait for some magical “queue metric” number to arrive before they’ll order even a few copies of the movie, so with any luck you might see it from them on DVD before year’s end. Or, maybe never… who knows?

This is a double-edged sword for Tempe. Our other sales for TAINTLIGHT haven’t been huge, but they’ve been decent enough considering the movie’s modest budget, and reorders are coming in, which is always a good thing. That means that people are slowly discovering the title, and maybe buying it out of curiosity instead of renting it (since that option has largely been taken away from them). I’ve always held the theory anyway that by selling to Netflix, some chucklehead out there is getting the disc, ripping it, returning it and posting it as a torrent file for all of his loser friends to share, all without any money leaving his pocket… mostly because all of our new release seem to wind up as torrents within a few days of street date. At least if those jokers have to actually buy a copy, it might slow the tide of illegal downloads of the movie for a change, which has become a disturbing trend in recent years.

Anyway, in the words of SPINAL TAP’s Marti DiBergi, “Enough of my yakkin’.”

If you happen to be a Chris Seaver or Tempe fan, head over to Netflix and throw TAINTLIGHT in your queue. If enough people do this, it might help encourage them to buy and make it available to the cheaper SOBs among you. And even if you’re not a fan of us, you might consider doing it anyway (you can always remove it later!), because Netflix appears to be on the path to limit your viewing choices, and that’s a disturbing trend that’s not good for anyone…

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 12:27 pm and is filed under Complaint Department, Movies, Tempe Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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