Netflix CEO Reed Hastings: Movie Theaters Haven’t Innovated Beyond Popcorn

Asked about his company’s relationship with major theater chains, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings didn’t pull any punches on Thursday. “How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it,” he quipped.

Hastings made these remarks during a Q&A session with reporters at the company’s headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., where he suggested that new distribution models could do for movies what cable networks and online services have done for TV shows.

“What Netflix wants to do is to unleash film,” he said. “It’s fundamentally about growing the movie business.”

Netflix has come under fire from major theater chains as well as organizations like the National Association of Theatre Owners for not sticking to the traditional release window model, which lets movies debut in theaters months before they transition to home video.

On Thursday, Hastings pushed back against the notion that the company aims to bypass theaters. “We are not anti-theater,” he said. “We just want things to come out at the same time.”

Shunned by major theater chains, Netflix last fall struck a deal with iPic Entertainment, a small chain with 15 theaters. Under that deal, iPic will show 10 Netflix movies day-and-date with their online releases. This won’t give Netflix movies a huge theater audience, but the deal does allow the company to qualify its titles for the Academy Awards.

Hastings also used the Q&A to comment on a wide range of other issues, including net neutrality. He didn’t seem too concerned about policy changes in this area, despite the new administration’s intent to repeal rules that require internet service providers to treat Netflix’s traffic equal to that of other streaming services. “The culture around net neutrality is very strong,” Hastings said, arguing that consumers would still expect equal access.

Asked once again why Netflix doesn’t release any ratings for its shows, Hastings joked that withholding data would give his company “mystery and intrigue.” He added: “We haven’t released ratings in 10 years, and it hasn’t held us back.”

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