I am wondering if Netflix is considered a movie studio or a movie distributor. I've done my research defining the two within the context of the film industry.

The reason why I'm asking this question is because in 2018, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animated series by Nickelodeon (2005), announced on Twitter and Tumblr that they're in talks with Netflix to do a live-action remake of the series. However, two years later in March 2020, one of the creators said on their social media (Instagram or Tumblr) that they haven't cast the show yet and they're still in pre-production.

But regardless, does Netflix look for a movie studio to actually make the show happen or can they make the show happen by themselves?

  • 1
    Because of coronavirus, anything in pre-production is going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. The TV/movie industry is pretty much closed for now. Even live TV has cut back on staffing to maintain social distancing. News presenters are even doing their own hair & make-up. – Tetsujin Mar 31 '20 at 7:53

Think of Netflix like a TV station, BBC, NBC, Disney[1] etc.

They're a 'broadcaster' - they run a TV network. Just because their distribution model is different doesn't mean everything else is.

They make their money from broadcasts.
They spend it on content to make people want to pay for that service.

So, they buy a TV show or movie.
They hire a director, producer, work with script writers.
They rent studio time, hire actors, technicians, the hundreds or thousands of people it takes to actually make a show.

They may in fact simply pay an entirely different production company to handle everything on their behalf[2].
This is for two simple reasons.

  1. Convenience. The production company has 'people' to go to in order to get everything else in place quickly and

  2. Cynical commercialism. It's a financial distancing model in case the whole thing goes bust. Some TV shows change the 'legal company' financially responsible every season to keep the money separate and safe.

In extreme cases a 'broadcaster' will rent an entire studio complex for a long period. Disney, for instance, has just rented Pinewood in London for ten years.

A 'movie studio' is a place to film, it is no longer a single entity who owns everything from top to bottom. Pinewood is a studio - actually many physical studios and the lot itself is home to many related companies; production, lighting, props, action vehicles etc.
Warner is a movie production company, but also a studio owner. All the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts etc were filmed at Warner Leavesden, but many other productions use it too. It's not a single entity used exclusively by Warners. There is a constant stream of productions using the facilities [well, in normal times, right now they're all pretty much closed].

Once all those people have worked together for the 6 months to 2 years required to produce a finished product - movie or TV series - then Netflix steps back in and arranges its distribution; which on their model is to offer it to their subscribers to stream to their TVs.

If everything goes well, Netflix will offer to buy the next season or a follow-up movie. If it doesn't go well, everybody who made that production still got paid, and Netflix have to absorb the cost. Next time, they'll buy something different… the show must go on, even if it's somebody else's show ;)

[1] Disney is a perfect example for this. Once a 'top to bottom' movie studio in the old style, now a major player in the broadcast industry too.

[2] It would take half a book to properly describe this setup in its entirety. This is a massive simplification.

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