With Documentaries and Stand-Up, Netflix Edges Closer to Making Blockbusters

Netflix is already firmly on the record as a big fan of original television series such as House of Cards, which it helped to finance and distribute. Now the streaming-video service is jumping into original movies, too.

Netflix has acquired streaming rights for The Square, a documentary about the young activists who protested against the Egyptian government in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Netflix will stream the film in early 2014, and it has already garnered festival awards along with mentions as an Oscar contender—the kind of public acclaim that could set Netflix into making larger-budget movies.

The company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, said on Monday that Netflix is “keeping our minds wide open in terms of what these projects will look like” and that there is no “short list yet” for any films the company will support. But the expected push into feature films is part of an evolution beyond the traditional television series and into new formats.

On Friday, for example, Netflix released its first original stand-up concert, Buried Alive, from comedian Aziz Ansari, a regular in NBC’s Parks and Recreation sitcom (which itself has become popular with Netflix users). In August, Ansari told the New York Times that he chose Netflix for his stand-up special because of the company’s willingness to experiment with distribution models. “You can do all types of things,” Ansari said. “At this moment, it really seems like Netflix is the way to go.”

“We have always said that live action isn’t something we will do because it doesn’t fit into our click and watch anytime model,” Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said in an e-mail. “So we won’t do news, sports, weather or things like The Voice.”

That leaves open the possibility of, say, a huge special effects extravaganza—and the likelihood that a Netflix-bankrolled blockbuster could possibly be released in movie theaters at the same time Netflix streams it. In an interview on Monday with Bloomberg West, Sarandos said the current model of a “window” several months between a movie’s theatrical release and its availability at home gives television a more immediate, prominent place in the culture than cinematic features. “I think there’s a better business in giving people what they want than creating artificial divisions between the product and the consumer,” he said.

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