The discord between movie-theatre owners and streaming giant Netflix has spilled over into the Toronto International Film Festival.
On Saturday, Canada’s Cineplex Entertainment and TIFF separately confirmed to The Globe and Mail that, due to Cineplex’s long-standing disagreement with Netflix over how long the streamer keeps its films in theatres before they are made available to subscribers at home, none of the nine Netflix titles playing the 44th edition of TIFF would screen in the company’s Scotiabank Theatre. The 14-screen, 4,500-capacity venue is a key one for TIFF, which books both public and press and industry screenings at the downtown complex during its 11-day festival.
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This is the first time that Cineplex has exercised such power over what can and cannot screen at its theatres during TIFF. During last year’s festival, for instance, the Scotiabank multiplex played host to screenings of such Netflix productions as Quincy, The Kindergarten Teacher, 22 July, The Land of Steady Habits and Outlaw King, the latter of which was TIFF 2018′s opening-night film.
“Cineplex has been a great partner of TIFF’s for many years. This year, new restrictions were put in place on our use of their Scotiabank Theatres during the festival. As a result, TIFF scheduled films that do not comply with their traditional theatrical windows, in other venues,” TIFF said in a statement to The Globe on Saturday.
This means that nine TIFF selections associated with Netflix – Marriage Story, The Laundromat, The Two Popes, Dolemite Is My Name, American Son, Atlantics, 37 Seconds, Uncut Gems and the documentary Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator – are playing in non-Cineplex venues, including the festival’s year-round home, the five-screen Bell Lightbox. Four TIFF movies from Amazon Studios, which is currently experimenting with the time it takes for its movies to go from the big screen to its streaming subscribers, are also not playing the Scotiabank.
However, two TIFF titles from the Bell Media-owned Canadian streaming service Crave – David Foster: Off the Record and this year’s opening night film, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band – are scheduled to screen at the Scotiabank later this week.
After initially referring questions from The Globe to TIFF’s programming team, Cineplex released a statement Saturday night confirming the programming absences were intentional.
“There are hundreds of fantastic films screening as part of this year’s festival and with all those options we asked that our screens feature titles from studios who understand and appreciate the importance of the theatrical-release model,” said a statement from Cineplex, the owner of Canada’s largest chain of movie theatres. “We have a strong and long-standing partnership with TIFF and are proud of our role in creating memorable theatrical experiences for festival goers, now and for years to come.”
The tension between Cineplex, whose chief executive Ellis Jacob sits on the board of TIFF, and streaming services such as Netflix stems from the increasingly heated battle over “theatrical windows” – that is, the number of days between when a feature film opens in a theatre and when it becomes available for downloading or streaming.
Cineplex and other U.S. exhibition giants such as AMC and Regal want to maintain the traditional window of about 97 days – the average time between traditional and digital platforms, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners. Netflix, and now Amazon, want to make their movies available to subscribers about three weeks after they play theatres, or sometimes on the same day, a turnaround that theatre owners believe cannibalizes their business.
When asked to comment on the TIFF situation, Netflix referred The Globe to TIFF’s statement, while Amazon did not respond to queries on the weekend.
The debate over windows is seen as increasingly critical to the survival of large-scale exhibitors, given the proliferation of content being produced by Netflix – including this November’s costly Martin Scorsese epic The Irishman – and the forthcoming arrival of such streaming services as Disney+ and HBO Max.
Meanwhile, TIFF has played host to engagements of several Netflix films over the past two years during year-round programming at the Lightbox, including this past March’s Ben Affleck-led action film Triple Frontier, which opened at the theatre a week before becoming available to stream, and June’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, which opened at the theatre a day prior to streaming.
The 44th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15 (tiff.net)