Now that Netflix has released a stable of well-received original television shows, the company is taking aim at the silver screen. The streaming service will distribute The Square, a documentary film about the political unrest in Egypt since 2011’s Arab Spring, exclusively in the 41 countries where Netflix is available in early 2014.
The deal is the latest step in Netflix’s bet that original content will help to attract new subscribers. The current slate of original shows, which include House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, helped Netflix gain more than 7 million subscribers in the first nine months of 2013 and boosted its stock price beyond $300 per share for much of the year. The service now has more than 40 million subscribers globally.
Netflix sees the movie industry as a new sector that is ripe for disruption. In a keynote address at the Film Independent Forum last month, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said that movie theaters “stifle innovation” in the film world because of distribution guidelines that keep most movies from being seen outside of theaters for months. “What we’re trying to do for TV, the model should extend pretty nicely to movies,” Sarandos said in the keynote. “Why not premiere movies on Netflix the same day they’re opening in theaters? And not little movies…Why not big movies? Why not follow what the consumers desire, to watch things when they want?”
The Square, which won prizes at the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, is currently on a limited run in New York and Los Angeles and will qualify for Oscar consideration, according to the Los Angeles Times. An Academy Award would be a nice complement to the Emmys Netflix took home in September for House of Cards.
Netflix has already said it plans to double its investment in original programming, so it’s unlikely that The Square is a one-off affair. Expect more Netflix-exclusive movies in the future.