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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says people will still go to theaters even if movies stream right away

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says people will still go to theaters even if movies stream right away


And don’t expect Netflix-branded movie theaters anytime soon

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Asa Mathat/Recode

Netflix’s chief executive officer has made no secret of the fact that he’d like movies to come to Netflix almost as soon as they’re released in theaters. Today at Recode’s Code Conference, he offered a rather optimistic view of how people will still have their in-theater experience and stream it, too: by likening the theater experience to going out to dinner, as opposed to cooking at home.

During an onstage interview with Recode’s Peter Kafka, Hastings said he thinks it’s “inevitable that the current window system breaks down,” referring to theatrical release systems, the time period before movies come to DVD and eventually become available as home rentals.

Typically, that window — which industry insiders refer to as the “dark zone” — can last up to 90 days. In recent years, some studios have considered shortening the window to two weeks, as the film industry adjusts to shrinking DVD sales and consumers’ binge-watching habits at home. Netflix, for its part, has advocated for movies to be available on streaming services the same day they’re released in theaters.

But if it that happens, that doesn’t mean that people will stop going to the theater entirely — at least, according to Hastings. He believes many will still pay for a communal experience. “Just like you go out to dinner even though you know how to cook,” he told Kafka.

That seems like a not-very-apt comparison, since, arguably, cooking at home is much less convenient than eating out, while home streaming is (especially for families with kids) more convenient than going out to movie theaters. Plus, on-demand home streaming allows for the kind of binge-watching that services like Netflix have helped popularize, whereas movie theaters clearly do not.

But it’s also not surprising that Hastings would attempt to offer a diplomatic response to a hard question about what the real future of distribution is. At a press event at Netflix headquarters back in March, Hastings emphasized to journalists that he’s not “anti-theater,” just that he wants “innovation and growth in the movie market” and to explore other kinds of distribution strategies.

Perhaps a more revealing remark is what Hastings said at Code Conference today when asked whether Netflix would launch its own movie theater chain: “no plans” to do so, he said, adding that TVs are getting so good that it makes little sense.