LOS ANGELES — On Super Bowl Sunday, Netflix threw a deep ball that few other entertainment companies have ever attempted.
During and after the game, Netflix ran two commercials for “The Cloverfield Paradox,” the sequel to the 2008 low-budget hit “Cloverfield.” The film, produced by Star Wars and Star Trek director J.J. Abrams, was made by rival Paramount, which was due to release it in the spring. Instead, Netflix had snatched it up and made it available right after the football game and its marketing blitz.
“History in the making,” tweeted the “Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay. “Gamechanger.” What was game-changing, or at least new, was the immediacy with which Netflix brought out “The Cloverfield Paradox.”
Studio releases are typically a months-long dance, in which teasers precede trailers, which precede more trailers, which lead to Comic-Con appearances, which lead to junkets. Just look at Disney’s rollout of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” on Sunday night: a teaser to a planned trailer drop on “Good Morning America” on Monday. The film arrives in theaters in May.
Netflix took a different gamble. It wanted the bang for its Super Bowl buck — estimated to have approached $10 million — right away. Commercial, then another ad after the game, then bam, movie available. It was hoping the novelty of the release would offset the absence of a marketing campaign. It was going for immediacy over anticipation.
In doing so, Netflix bet that consumers want entertainment they hear about right away. In an on-demand world, audiences can get distracted in the long lag time between the start of a marketing campaign and a product’s release.
“Netflix’s goal is disruption and you can’t disrupt the marketing window any more than they did tonight,” said one executive at a rival company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of industry relationships. Netflix declined to comment.
The sudden availability of “The Cloverfield Paradox” echoed another streaming surprise: Beyoncé’s immediate release of “Lemonade” on Tidal, the service she co-owns, in April 2016.
It’s unclear whether Netflix’s marketing gamble was enough to spark interest in a movie that Paramount had decided not to release. Paramount had been developing the movie by Julius Onah under the title “God Particle.”
Netflix for some time has been picking up packages in development that traditional studios wouldn’t or couldn’t finance: the recent Stanley McChrystal-inspired black comedy “War Machine” starring Brad Pitt , for instance, had gone from New Regency/Fox to Netflix after the streamer was willing to nearly double the budget to $60 million.
Reviewers weren’t enamored after seeing “The Cloverfield Paradox.”
“While initial murmurs suggested the studio might have avoided a cinema run because the film might be a bit too complex for a mass audience, the truth is ultimately something far more obvious: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is an unholy mess,” The Guardian wrote in its review, echoing the thoughts of many major publications.
Of course, Netflix’s goal isn’t (entirely) about critics or even a consensus of quality. Instead, it is the level of subscriber growth and retention in its upcoming quarterly earnings calls that will reveal if the gambit worked. (Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers by movie.) Netflix’s business model is based on subscribers, and fresh content is what wins them over.
The move, incidentally, was also disruptive in another regard: It implicitly challenged the long tradition of the post-Super Bowl network broadcast slot, in which a new or rising show is positioned to benefit from the massive viewer lead-in. This year, NBC was using the slot for a much promoted episode of its second-year family drama “This Is Us.”
“This Is Us” proved impervious to the disruption, however — the episode garnered 27 million viewers according to Nielsen, an all-time high for the nearly two-year-old show.