Last month, when I wrote about Netflix “pulling” classic films from its streaming service, a few readers pointed out that programming decisions are often predicated on licensing agreements with rights holders, and that the “pulling” can sometimes be attributed to studios choosing to grant exclusivity to another licensee (like a cable network) for a finite period of time.
That’s a great point, and it’s an important reminder that we can’t necessarily blame Netflix when high profile classics disappear temporarily from Instant Watch. (And, for the sake of this conversation, we’re considering pre-2000 releases to be “classic.” We can argue about that topic in another post.)
Often, the period of time that a popular classic is gone from Netflix Instant is mercifully short. The ROCKY, KARATE KID, and original STAR TREK films tend to ricochet back and forth in a whiplash-inducing manner; for example, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) was pulled on September 1 and it’s already back on the service.
But what about the older, more obscure classics that vanish from Netflix and don’t return quickly (or ever), only to be “replaced” by better known, more recent titles? Did some cable network really pay extra for exclusive rights to air CONVOY (1976) when it left Netflix last month? Not likely.
Perhaps more likely: you didn’t watch CONVOY, and that may be why its gone.
“We can’t license everything, and also maintain our low prices, so we look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership, relative to the licensing costs,” Jenny McCabe, Netflix’s Director of Global Media Relations, said in a video posted to YouTube last June. “This also means that we’ll forego, or choose not to renew, some titles that aren’t watched enough relative to their costs.”
So now it’s confession time. While I often lament the lack of a robust collection of classic films on Netflix Instant, I almost never watch the ones that are actually still there because it never even occurs to me. I have so many other specialty options to feed my old movie fix: TCM’s live broadcasts, the Watch TCM streaming app, Warner Archive Instant on Roku, Hulu’s Criterion channel, a wall filled with unwatched physical media, and live theatrical screenings in New York City.
I’ve never said to myself, “I want to watch a classic film tonight” and switched over to Netflix Instant. So maybe I’m asking Netflix to be something it never was supposed to be in the first place – and something I never expected it to be: a classic film clearing house that serves as a replacement for my DVD and Blu-ray shelf.
“We remain focussed on our goal of being an expert programmer, offering a mix that delights our members, rather than trying to be a broad distributor,” McCabe says in the video. “We also use our in-depth knowledge about what our members love to watch to decide what (will be) available on Netflix.”
Then she adds what should be a call to action for me, and all classic film fans – especially if you believe that exposure on popular, mainstream platforms is key to new viewers discovering classic film: “If you keep watching, we’ll keep adding more of what you love.”
So start watching, or keep watching. Netflix’s Classic Films category has 500 films to keep you busy.
In the meantime, here are the Classic Film Comings and Goings for October. The news isn’t good, which is probably my fault:
September 30 pre-2000 GOINGs – 47
1940s – 1
A Night in Casablanca (1946) – Sept 20
1980s – 15
Hopscotch (1980) – Sept 20
Heavy Metal (1981)
The Keep (1983)
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Best Defense (1984)
Dreamscape (1984) – Sept 20
American Ninja (1985)
The Delta Force (1986)
China Girl (1987)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Three Men and a Baby (1987) – Sept 22
Eight Men Out (1988)
Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
Major League (1989)
1990s – 21
King of New York (1990)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Patriot Games (1992)
Body of Evidence (1993)
The Young Americans (1993)
The Dark Half (1993)
Blue Chips (1994)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Crimson Tide (1995)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
The Babysitter (1995)
Night of the Running Man (1995)
Blood and Wine (1996)
Primal Fear (1996)
Meet Wally Sparks (1997)
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
The Thomas Crowne Affair (1999)
The War Zone (1999)
October 1 pre-2000 COMINGs – 16
Primary source: What’s On Netflix Now