A still from Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. (Source: Roma Twitter)

A Netflix Best-Picture Win Would Complete Its Hollywood Invasion

(Bloomberg) -- This Sunday, Netflix Inc. will find out if it finally has a seat at the cool kids’ table.

The company’s film “Roma’’ is the favorite to win the Academy Award for best picture, the highest accolade at Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show. “Roma’’ has a 33 percent chance of winning, according to the Hollywood Reporter, while the Gold Derby gives it a 4-1 shot.

A victory Sunday would complete Netflix’s transformation from Silicon Valley interloper to the consummate Hollywood insider, and signal the dawn of a new era in the entertainment business. “Roma” is the first nominee for best picture that was essentially a digital release -- though it had a limited theatrical run -- and Netflix would be the first technology company to clinch Hollywood’s top prize.

Whether or not Netflix wins, an online movie will certainly be crowned best picture sooner or later, said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG LLC. Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. are both spending billions of dollars on programming, and even Walt Disney Co. plans to release digital movies that won’t appear in theaters.

“This is an inflection point for the industry, showing you where the world is going,” Greenfield said.

Slow Embrace

Netflix has always relished its role as an outsider, the data-driven startup that breaks with Hollywood tradition. It drops every episode of new shows at once so people can binge, and it never says how many people watch those shows because it doesn’t have to. It also generally doesn’t release its movies in theaters before they appear online -- a source of great frustration for theater owners and some filmmakers.

But ever since Netflix traded mail-order DVDs for online TV, it has begun to embrace Hollywood norms. While its headquarters are in Silicon Valley, most employees now describe Netflix as an entertainment company. Its new chief financial officer works from its Hollywood offices, not far from Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’ apartment and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s mansion.

The company has courted stars and writers for original productions, promising large budgets and creative freedom, and pursued awards to validate those shows in the eyes of the industry. It even released “Roma” in theaters weeks before its debut on the streaming platform, a key concession. Last year, Netflix earned the most Emmy nominations of any TV network.

‘Roma’ Pitch

Yet, Netflix has never mounted a campaign quite like the one for “Roma.” The company spent $30 million on its Oscar crusade, according to the New York Times, a promotional push orchestrated by Lisa Taback, an executive whose sole job is to help Netflix win awards.

Movie-theater owners and filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg have attempted to block Netflix’s path to the Oscars. The company still insists on making most of its movies available on its service at the same time they appear in theaters, much to the chagrin of cinephiles and theater owners. The major studios release movies in theaters for months before they are available anywhere else.

‘Mild Panic’

The world’s largest movie theater chains have refused to exhibit Netflix’s films, and wouldn’t even show “Roma’’ after it received the most Oscar nominations of any picture.

“There is mild panic about Netflix possibly winning,” said Sasha Stone, editor of Awards Daily.

A victory for “Roma” would tilt the balance of power in Hollywood. Netflix is locked in a competition for talent with the biggest studios in town, including Disney, Comcast Corp.’s Universal and AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros.

These studios have wooed talent by claiming Netflix won’t promote their movies -- and that the streaming giant could never win top awards. Now Netflix can offer the easiest sales pitch of all: work at Netflix and win an Oscar.

“Let’s say Netflix does win,” Greenfield said. “What’s amazing is 60 million people in the U.S. -- and 150 million globally -- can click a button and watch it a minute later at no additional cost. That has never happened before.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.