Is Netflix Hurting Indie Movies?

Ryan Anson/Bloomberg News

"There are other outlets that offer more potential for profit," says one filmmaker.


NEW YORK -- Netflix has had good relationships with indie film companies. But some smaller players are asking -- just like bigger Hollywood players have been doing -- if Netflix is friend or foe, CNET reported. "That's the question everyone is asking," said Orly Ravid, co-executive director of The Film Collaborative, a nonprofit helping filmmakers with distribution strategy.

Ellen Seidler, who made And Then Came Lola, said she likes that Netflix at least pays, but said she wouldn't distribute through the company again.

"There are other outlets that offer more potential for profit," Seidler said. "Netflix can also undermine sales in other markets where we stand to make more money." She suggested that Netflix start paying on a per-view basis instead of offering a flat fee.

How does Netflix fit into traditional film release windows?

"You can't make money on it," Tracy Balsz, who consults indie filmmakers on distribution, told CNET. "I tell clients to work through all the channels first and when you reach saturation then go to Netflix."

Balsz said the most she's seen anybody earn from streaming is $20,000.

According to Balsz, Netflix managers often require indie film companies to make DVDs available for the company's DVD delivery service before agreeing to stream them in return for a flat fee if a film performs well.

Indie film firm Gravitas Ventures has licensed 300 movies to Netflix. And its founder Nolan Gallagher said Netflix is only one part of a successful distribution strategy. "I would say Netflix is a friend to the indie filmmaker," Gallagher told CNET. "But you can't think of just Netflix. Along with them, you have to work with other important outlets, such as Comcast, iTunes and Time Warner Cable."

"We are a bastion for indie films," a Netflix spokesman told CNET. "We are a bastion for accessibility."

He noted that all indie films don't earn the same, emphasizing that Netflix must ensure there's demand for a movie before paying up.

But Ravid said indie films don't seem as key to Netflix any more. "Netflix stopped focusing on the little guys and more on the big films and I think that's why they're growing so fast," he said. "I don't think there's enough people in this country interested in indie films to make that much difference."