Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Streamers Strive for Oscars

Dipping bread in wine, known as Intinction, speaks to the shared Catholic traditions of Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). © 2019 Netlfix US, LLC. All rights reserved.
Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Netflix

Netflix keeps getting news that helps it bolster the case that spending $175 million on “The Irishman,” its 209 minute-long Martin Scorsese-helmed mob epic, wasn’t an erroneous decision.

Last Tuesday, Netflix announced that 26.4 million accounts globally streamed “The Irishman” (Nov. 1 theatrical release; Nov. 27 Netflix release), over the first 7 days on the platform.

Twenty-six million is relatively meaningless on its own, but the number is slightly higher than what the recent “Breaking Bad” movie notched (25.7M in 7 days), and lower than what “Bird Box” did (45M). So, maybe not Netflix’s best-ever, but “The Irishman” — a dud? Not so much. (These viewership figures also come after the nearly universal critical praise the film has received.)

But even though Netflix has reasons to be cheery about “The Irishman” at the moment, the (very expensive) film’s real test is months away: Winning the Best Picture Oscar in February.

While reaching millions of subscribers is important for Netflix and Scorsese, the real purpose of “The Irishman,” and the rest of Netflix’s late 2019 prestige film slate (including other awards bait like “Marriage Story”, “The Two Popes”) is to win awards. “The Irishman,” ostensibly Netflix’s most expensive film of the bunch, specifically needs to win Best Picture, Netflix is likely saying.

Netflix is focused on becoming the first streamer to win Best Picture — after nearly missing the honor in early 2019 — because doing so would help itself be viewed as a destination that can give top talent a real shot at winning Oscar awards, just like Hollywood’s other major film studios.

If all Netflix and Scorsese cared about was reaching eyeballs, they would have completely forgone a theatrical release, and there never would have been any quarrels with movie theaters over theatrical window lengths.

This is one of a series, 19 Trends That Defined the Media Business in 2019.