A Netflix movie (“Roma”) won the company’s first Oscar this year, sowing disruption in the film world. The streaming giant has also helped engineer an even more complete rejiggering of the TV/video ecosystem.
But the really shocking moment — perhaps signaling Netflix’s ascendance over HBO and other cable channels — came in April, with the announcement that it would now sponsor Bryant Park Movie Nights, an outdoor summer film festival.
That may not mean much to anyone else, but the festival is a seasonal institution for many New Yorkers — and a great branding tool for HBO. The cable giant sponsored it for 25 years, through 2017. Bryant Park, at 42 Street and Sixth Avenue, is across the street from what was HBO’s headquarters. (The company plans to move south, from midtown to Chelsea, to parent WarnerMedia’s new facilities at Hudson Yards.)
The 2019 screenings kick off June 10 with "Big."
For 25 years, each Monday night film was preceded by a cartoon from sister company Warner Bros.’ library. Before the feature, audience members participated enthusiastically in another pre-movie ritual: the HBO Dance. A circa-1980s HBO promotion played onscreen and everybody got up to jump around happily.
This is a serious issue that Netflix must address: How can it ever replace the HBO Dance? Unlike HBO, Netflix has never had its own theme song.
The list of 10 movies to be shown in the Netflix-sponsored 2019 festival includes a variety of older favorites, ranging from “Big Daddy” to “Goodfellas.” A Netflix-produced film, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is also part of the mix, representing another first.
I don’t believe HBO ever took such a self-promotional step, running an HBO-produced movie, in all its time sponsoring the festival.
And I remember the early days of the fest, which gave me an education in older movies prior to my geeky devotion to TCM. Before watching it on the Bryant Park lawn, I’d never seen “Casablanca” all the way through!
During that viewing, I noticed the film boasted an amazing repository of iconic lines. For example, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
So I’ve got extremely mixed feelings about Netflix.
For one, I was really upset when the streamer canceled its critically acclaimed Latina reincarnation of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom “One Day at a Time.”
Plus, I think it’s weird that, to promote its upcoming season 3 of “Stranger Things,” Netflix now has corporate sponsorships with roughly 75 brands — even featuring New Coke in its story line. Back in the day, New Coke’s spokesperson was now-convicted sex felon Bill Cosby.
For me, Netflix’s sponsorship of a New York institution is not exactly the start or continuation of a “beautiful friendship.” It’s more like “How dare you?”