Film executives weigh the pros and cons of selling to Netflix versus Amazon

  • Independent film production and distribution companies discuss the pros and cons of selling to Netflix and Amazon.
  • Netflix pays more for movies in general, and can give smaller films a longer time in the limelight.
  • However, Amazon has a better reputation among filmmakers for being able to handle awards-related marketing pushes and putting movies in theaters.
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Netflix and Amazon are racing to expand their original video offerings, and most filmmakers, production houses and distributors say that it's creating new opportunities — and bringing in more money — for their movies.

While there are positives for both services, several independent film production houses and distributors told CNBC Netflix and Amazon have distinct advantages that make them a fit for some films more than others. Here's what they said:

The case for Netflix

  • Netflix pays more than other film distributors for movies, according to multiple film executives.
  • However many films will not be able to go to theaters.
  • Netflix's targeting abilities could help find more interested viewers for movies. But some say the audience wanes in about two weeks because there is so much content on the service.

All the sources said Netflix pays more for distribution rights for films than its competitors. In return, most will have to forgo any additional revenue generated from being in theaters because most of Netflix's movies are on its platform only. The majority of filmmakers will probably make more money overall if they take the Netflix deal, barring the few films that become blockbuster hits, one production executive said.

But not every film will make its mark in theaters, the executive added. For example, an independent romantic comedy with no well-known actors would probably not last long in theaters nor would it get wide exposure. But that same film may have more exposure to a larger audience on Netflix.

In addition, Netflix's algorithms help target users based on taste and could theoretically get the film directly in front of interested viewers for weeks after it is release. But a couple of executives noted unless a film is a breakout hit, popularity usually wanes after about two weeks because of the volume of content being added to Netflix. Still because of Netflix's huge subscriber base, it could mean the movie gets more views than it would have if it only ran in theaters.

The case for Amazon

  • Amazon is more open to letting its films debut or run in movie theaters than Netflix, according to film executives.
  • The company currently has a better reputation for marketing movies that have awards buzz.
  • However Netflix is hiring independent film industry veterans to help with marketing efforts and is allowing more theatrical releases for films with award potential, though not before they debut on its platform.

Amazon does consistently offer one thing that filmmakers want: A theatrical run. Although it may not make financial sense in some cases, most filmmakers want to see their films in theaters.

Theatrical releases are especially important for films short-listed to win awards. Amazon currently has the most liberal policy and reputation for allowing theatrical releases, even allowing films to premiere in theaters before heading to its service, sources said. However Netflix is increasingly allowing critically-acclaimed films to have a limited theatrical release.

To win Oscars and other awards, a film needs a strong marketing team and plan to get the movie in front of the right people. Currently, the general consensus is that Amazon knows how to run an Oscar marketing campaign, and will put the money behind worthy films. Last year it took home Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film "The Salesman," as well as Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for "Manchester by the Sea." Its film division is led by notable independent film industry veterans Ted Hope and Bob Berney.

One source noted that Netflix is still seen as more of a technology-first company, rather than a media company. An executive noted Netflix has a reputation for putting more marketing dollars behind its fully-owned properties, not those it purchased from other production companies.

However Netflix has been hiring experienced film execs to convince production companies their films will have competitive distribution and marketing, including bringing former vice chairman Scott Stuber on board in March. It also garnered some Oscar nominations last year for "13th" and won the 2016 Best Documentary (Short Subject) for "The White Helmets."

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Netflix declined to comment.