Most of us had a bad year in 2020, but Netflix had an excellent year. While most of the world’s population stayed at home, Netflix served us with entertainment. Having a semi-captive audience always helps when you work in the entertainment industry, and so it proved to be the case with Netflix. They came into 2021 with more than two hundred million subscribers and a lot of money in the bank. If the rumours we’ve heard in the past month or so are to be believed, they’re going to use some of that money to break into the video gaming industry. As for the rest of it – they’re using a chunk to pay for an exclusive contract with Steven Spielberg and his production company, Amblin.
This new union marks a surprising turnaround for Spielberg, who didn’t appear to be a fan of Netflix or its business model as recently as two years ago. We’re not sure what’s changed in that time. The 2020 lockdown experience might have made Spielberg think again about the way that people consume entertainment – or maybe this has more to do with the size of the offer that Netflix made to him. After one of the longest and most successful careers in Hollywood history, Spielberg doesn’t need money – but huge offers are still hard to turn down. Spielberg used to think (and we’re paraphrasing his own words here) that Netflix “damaged the theatrical experience” by failing to release its films to movie theatres. Going further, he said Netflix productions shouldn’t qualify for the Oscars because they’re TV movies. Now he’s going to help them do more of that damage and perhaps win more Oscars.
Somehow – we don’t have all the specific details on this yet – the deal is going to co-exist with another exclusive deal Spielberg and Amblin have with Universal. The impression we have from the information available is that Amblin will develop a certain number of films each year for Netflix and a certain number for Universal. That sounds like a heavy workload – heavier, perhaps, than Spielberg’s workload has been for several years. At one stage in the early part of this century, he almost appeared to be in semi-retirement from the movie business. He suddenly started to take on more work again in 2016 and now might be about to become busier than ever at the age of 74.
Netflix didn’t necessarily need yet another string to its enormous bow, but the company has decided to take action after seeing a number of competitors enter the streaming wars in recent months. Until recently, the only competitor likely to keep Netflix awake at night was Amazon Prime. Disney Plus came along in late 2019, and now there’s Paramount Plus and HBO Max to worry about, too. The plethora of choices is beginning to look a little like the battle for supremacy between the various online slots websites. With online slots, just as with streaming platforms, money is made by compiling as much content as possible in one place and then inviting customers to come and pay for it. Each online slots website tries to attract better slots and developers than its rivals. When a site does well, it expands across the world. The popular Rose Slots brand recently extended into Canada with Rose Slots CA, for example. When a site doesn’t do well, it folds quickly. The same will be true of streaming services. Netflix was never at risk of folding – in online slots terms, it would be a jackpot winner – but the signing of Spielberg is a definite “statement move.” It sends a message that they’re still the top dogs in the business.
The terms of the deal are unknown. The financial side of it must have been enormous for Spielberg and Amblin to be interested, but we’ll probably never hear a precise figure. Thus far, we haven’t even been told how long the contract runs for or how many films Amblin is expected to make. Some sources have the number as low as two, but others say five. Five sounds like too many, and two sounds like too few, so the answer is probably three or four. What we can say with certainty is that the deal won’t include anything that Spielberg is working on at the moment. His biggest current project is a remake of “West Side Story” – ironically made in partnership with Disney – and is expected to be released in time for Christmas 2021. Another film called “The Fablemans” is also in pre-production, but that’s been promised to Universal already. With those factors in mind, it’s unlikely we’ll see this new partnership bear any fruit until 2023.
It’s worth remembering that Spielberg doesn’t work on everything that Amblin does. While we’re sure that Netflix will want Spielberg’s hands on as many projects as possible for prestige purposes, Amblin is more than capable of providing great content without him. The next “Jurassic World” film will be an Amblin movie without Spielberg in the director’s chair, and Matt Damon’s “Stillwater” also comes through Amblin without involving Spielberg at all. No matter how fit and healthy he is right now, Spielberg is human. At some point – probably not too many years from now – he’ll want to retire. That issue must have come up in negotiations and is presumably dealt with by the contract. Nobody knows what kind of films Spielberg, Amblin, and Netflix will end up making together. Spielberg doesn’t often revisit his past works (he’s famously refused permission for anyone to remake “Jaws” for more than a decade), so it’s more likely that we’ll get something new than something we’re already familiar with. Whether we know the intellectual property or not doesn’t really matter. All that’s important is that we get quality films. Spielberg has been making quality films for his whole career, and we don’t expect him to stop doing so now. Everyone involved in this deal knows how to make fantastic movies, and fantastic movies are what we love. Here’s hoping for a long and fruitful partnership for everyone involved.