Netflix just made a bold move forward in its bid to expand into high-profile films: the purchase of the Paris Theatre in New York City. The unexpected purchase raises questions of whether Netflix will keep buying more theaters, or if this was just a one-time deal to save a historic venue from almost certain destruction. Right now, it's very much up in the air, but it seems pretty plausible that this could be a test to see how Netflix can fare if it moves into options beyond at-home streaming.
The Paris Theatre is the last remaining single-screen theater in New York City, and it had shuttered this Fall, with its future uncertain. Now, Netflix has announced plans to permanently take over the theater and reopen it, largely as a venue for its own original films.
"After 71 years, the Paris Theatre has an enduring legacy, and remains the destination for a one-of-a-kind movie-going experience," Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, said in an official statement. "We are incredibly proud to preserve this historic New York institution so it can continue to be a cinematic home for film lovers." According to the same statement, Netflix "plans to use the theater for special events, screenings, and theatrical releases of its films," although precise details are not available at this time.
In many ways, it makes sense for Netflix to make this move. On the one hand, it means that the streaming giant now has a confirmed home for its prestige original films like The Irishman, The King, and last year's Roma, which require traditional theatrical releases in order to qualify for consideration for top industry prizes like the Oscars. Since Netflix is attempting to bolster its original movies, it's a huge advantage for the company to own a theater where they can present qualifying runs for awards hopefuls. It's also a smart move in the ongoing streaming wars. With so many new streaming services popping up — and, in many cases, taking back the rights for classic shows and movies that had become staples of Netflix — Netflix needs to evolve in order to survive. Breaking into the movie theater game makes sense for a media company that needs to shake things up.
In fact, there are at least two other movie theater deals potentially in the works at Netflix. Back in April, the Los Angeles Times reported that Netflix was in talks to take over and preserve the historic Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Variety added that, rather than use it for qualifying runs, "Netflix's primary use of the theater will be for weekday and evening premieres, screenings, panels, and other special events for its films and TV series." Variety also noted that Netflix has considered buying a small theater chain such as Landmark Theatres, which is one of the companies through which Netflix has previously booked qualifying theatrical runs of its top-tier movies. Their purchase of the Paris Theatre seems to suggest that, one way or another, Netflix is turning its focus on expanding into "real" theaters — it's just a matter of how and when.