Netflix’s lack of transparency about viewer information has been met by howls of protest by competitors, who say there is no credibility to the data that does seep out, because there is no independent verification or context. In particular, Netflix has enraged art film distributors by keeping box office figures for “Roma” under wraps: Why should we have to withstand public scrutiny when they don’t have to?
One person who has been publicly critical of Netflix is John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theater Owners, who has contended that the company is only giving “Roma” a theatrical run as part of disingenuous effort to court Oscar voters and make Mr. Cuarón happy. “In its pursuit of prestige films and filmmakers, Netflix has had to turn to the theatrical space that it has too often denigrated,” he wrote in a recent column in Variety.
The theatrical footprint for “Roma” is tiny by blockbuster standards. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen biopic, rolled out on 4,000 screens in North America in November and has played more than 10,000 locations worldwide over the course of its run.
But “Roma” is not a Hollywood movie. It is an unhurried black-and-white film with characters who speak Spanish and Mixtec. By foreign-language film standards, its theatrical release has been respectable.
The Polish period romance “Cold War,” for instance, has played in 217 theaters in the United States since arriving on Dec. 21, generating $2.1 million in ticket sales. The film will expand to roughly 275 locations on Friday. (“Cold War,” nominated for three Oscars, comes from Amazon Studios, which adheres to traditional Hollywood release patterns; it will not be available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video until March 22.)
Netflix cobbled together a theatrical run for “Roma” despite opposition from the biggest theater owners, including AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas. Most movies still arrive in the same way they have for decades: first in theaters, for an exclusive run of about 90 days, and then in homes. AMC, Regal and other theater companies worry that shortening that period will hurt their already-fragile business.
Why trek to theaters and buy tickets if the same film will be available at home (or in your pocket) just a few weeks (or days) later?