Why did Netflix actually license ‘Death Wish 4’?

Stephen Allen

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Truly beautiful, they should have brought a poet. Picture Credit: Angus MacAskill (Flickr)
Truly beautiful, they should have brought a poet. Picture Credit: Angus MacAskill (Flickr)

We’ve all had those days where you lay slumped on the couch, staring at a laptop screen which about four inches from your face. You toss on Netflix and really can’t seem to think of anything to watch. Suddenly you notice ‘Death Wish 4’ and wonder: ‘What is Death Wish 4 doing here?’.

You look around and see that ‘Friday the 13th part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan’ is recommended to you. You know, the one that takes place almost entirely on a rather nice boat and involves one actual scene in Manhattan.

Pictured: True horror according to someone. Picture Credit: Jack Snell (Flickr)
Pictured: True horror according to someone. Picture Credit: Jack Snell (Flickr)

Don’t worry, you’re not on the cheap, knock-off site which is probably called Natflex. This is just those crazy kids over at Netflix going through that wacky world of licensing.

However, in recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of streaming services. Most awkward is Amazon Instant, considering that Netflix uses the Amazon Web Services to deliver content to you lovely people.

This large amount of competition, leads to a large increase in the cost of licensing all those lovely shows you quite enjoy. And by large, I mean ridiculously large.

For example, the company reportedly spent $300 million per year in 2016 for access to Disney films and TV programming for a four-year period.  Another crazy high cost for Netflix is for Gotham for a reported $1.75 million per episode, you know, that show that most critics had the grand consensus of being okay.

It isn’t just newer shows which might actually break the bank, those beloved oldies hold a hefty fee as well. For example, the always confusing ‘Lost’ costs close to $45 million per year, while the always fun Scrubs will only set them back around $26 million per year.

These costs are specifically for the American Netflix because the Irish and European versions have a whole host of hurdles and additional licensing issues which just sound horrendous.

The American Netflix even has a queue. Picture credit: Mike K (Flickr)
The American Netflix even has a queue. Picture credit: Mike K (Flickr)

All this on top of the cost of actually streaming the movie which could be around 50 cents per movie. While this isn’t a huge deal for a company who just posted profits of over $6.78 billion, these costs don’t seem to be getting any smaller.

This begs the question: if licensing is so expensive, why bother with wasting money on all these schlock horror movies?

Well, the answer is surprisingly complex. Honestly, I could spend hours trying and failing to explain the complex data mining which Netflix uses to track their 62 million subscribers needs.

While it all seems so mind-boggling, it simply boils down to their data showing that a very specific style of movie is popular. By style of movie, I mean a ridiculously specific description which may not even have an actual movie filling that gap.

Oddly enough, this is the same logic which led to the creation of some Netflix Originals such as ‘House of Cards’. Having to put ‘House of Cards’ in in the same story as ‘Death Wish 4’ is just a testament to the wildly varied programming on display.

Netflix will try to cater to this oddly specific need, even if it ends up with more mockbusters being licensed at a cheaper rate. Even if that licensing ends up being the result of that company gaming their system.

Remember when these genres got their own Oscar? Picture Credit: waldopepper (Flickr)
Remember when these genres got their own Oscar? Picture Credit: waldopepper (Flickr)

It makes sense that there is more ‘Netflix Originals’ and b-movies because without them, there would be a significant drop in all their subscribers. Ultimately, these terribly movies still fill a hole in the Netflix content which might have a decent sized audience.

So, don’t be afraid that Netflix is going to the dogs the next time you see ‘Death Wish 4’ being recommended to you. It’s just Netflix trying to give you some form of entertainment, with varying results.

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Stephen Allen