Netflix vs. Cannes is the tip of the disruption iceberg for re-defining TV and film

Blue Ruin - Cannes and Netflix
Outstanding indie 'Blue Ruin' (2013) was helped by a strong showing at Cannes.

What is TV?

It’s 2018 and I’d say the term is pretty much antiquated. After all, juggernaut Netflix premiers big budget original films on its platform. Some people watch them on televisions. But many more watch them on laptops, smartphones and other streaming-compatible devices. So is it “TV” or a “film” or just “streaming content”?

Of course definitions are important. Especially for top tier, influential film festivals like Cannes. A good showing in France for an indie film typically results in good distribution deals, and, ultimately, positive box office awards; not to mention that all-important element of prestige that only Cannes (and possibly TIFF) can bring these days.

By now, we all know that Netflix has pulled out of Cannes 2018. The move is in retaliation for treating Netflix films — and they’re definitely films, ones with directors and actors and writers and producers — essentially as second class citizens. Cannes ruled Netflix films would not be eligible for competition. Because they aren’t released theatrically in France, they’re not able to compete for the Palm d’Or or other prizes. Antiquated thinking? I’d say so. But given the influence and history of Cannes it’s no surprise that its organizers what do what it can to prevent the inevitable re-definition of film… and TV, from shaping their festival on their own turf.

It’s not much of stretch to suggest the war between Netflix and Cannes is emblematic of a larger shift. That is the one away from traditional theatrical release cycles — the one that’s driven Hollywood for decades — to one that is streaming-based and on demand. There’s many players here including Amazon, Google (YouTube), Hulu among others. Just that roster of names likely warrants a nose in the air response from French aristocrats.

Ultimately, though, its small-time filmmakers who lose. Why hurt their chances at distribution and viewership just because their release platform of choice (and, likely, only choice) was a streaming service like Netflix?

I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg known as disruption. Negotiations will happen. Eventually something will happen to placate all parties. At least I hope. After all, shouldn’t it be the art form itself that is celebrated and critiqued, and not the technology behind getting it in front of audiences?

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