Amazon cracks Hollywood code before Netflix

Both companies brought home awards last night, but here's why Amazon was the big winner...

Amazon cracks Hollywood code before Netflix


Away from envelope controversies - two actors made history last night as Amazon and Netflix picked up the first Academy Awards for pictures distributed by streaming companies.

The Amazon-backed Manchester by the Sea scored the marquee best actor gong, best screenplay, and four other nominations - while Amazon Studio's The Salesman, picked up the best foreign language film award. 

Netflix's The White Helmets, took the best short documentary award (the piece looks at the lives of rescue workers in Syria). The company has signalled in the past its intention to become a leading force in the booming online documentary industry - it's also secured Oscar nods for, The Square, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and Winter on Fire.

However, there is a notable absence in this list of nominated titles, the Idris Elba fronted Beasts of No Nation feature film, which offers a vicarial exploration of child soldiers' role in a west African civil conflict.

It received no love from 'the Academy' - securing zero nominations (Elba did receive a Golden Globe nomination - but went home empty handed). Analysis of social media reaction to the nominations showed that the film's omission provoked the largest online backlash against the 2016 award ceremony (Creed and Concussion were the other two big losers).


It could have been the film's distribution model which unsettled voters. The company has committed to streaming its original titles on the same day that they are put on (very) limited theatrical runs - a move which has worried cinema owners and other industry interests.

Netflix paid $12m for Beasts of No Nation - that's $2m more than Amazon shelled out for the rights to Manchester by the Sea, it also campaigned as aggressively as anyone else during voting season (according to Variety).

The big screen

While Netflix believes in its model - Amazon has decided to partner with Roadside Attractions to give its feature titles full-hog theatrical releases.

This call is not a no-brainer, for instance, it backed Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, which went on to have a disastrous run at the box office. It brought in some $2.6m against a $15m budget according to Wired and was passed on by all major award ceremonies.

With Manchester... the model paid off - it's grossed almost $47m and was filmed for just $8.5m and took home two Oscars.

When this strategy works Amazon wins in multiplexes while still offering exclusive access to its streaming audience ahead of the rest of the market.

This model engages with the traditional film business - which may curry favour in the industry - while maximising earning power and reaching the greatest number of eyeballs. 

With Netflix poised to release Martin Scorsese's $100m The Irishman (although this has not been confirmed) it is believed that it will stick to its existing model offering the film to all of its subscribers - regardless of the sums involved and the potential political fallout.