After You Watch This on Netflix, You'll Never Go to SeaWorld Again

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) has had a devastating impact on many businesses, most notably Blockbuster, and to some extent cable TV. But its next victim might not have anything to do with the film industry.

The documentary Blackfish became available on the service earlier this month. The 80-minute take-down of SeaWorld (NYSE: SEAS  ) has been available for viewing in various capacities for nearly a year (at film festivals, in movie theaters and even on CNN), but its addition to Netflix's streaming lineup seems to have pushed its message over the edge.

SeaWorld has shifted into damage-control mode, and its management is firing back. After viewing the film myself, I believe SeaWorld and its shareholders should be highly concerned.

Blackfish will pull at your heart strings
To put it simply, Blackfish is a film that will disturb you. I'm far from a card-carrying PETA member (I hunt regularly), but I couldn't help beinfg affected by the movie's portrayal of the plight of captive killer whales.

The footage of a mother whale crying out when separated from her baby will haunt you, while the image of the male whale's droopy dorsal fin stands out as a symbolic representation of the unfairness of keeping whales captive.

Perhaps after watching the film on Netflix, a number of musical acts that were set to perform at SeaWorld's parks have backed out of scheduled appearances. Country stars Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride cancelled upcoming shows, as did the rock group Heart.

Can a documentary take down a corporation?
SeaWorld, of course, calls the movie "inaccurate" and has responded with a newspaper advertising campaign and an open letter. Unfortunately, SeaWorld's response seems hollow -- it hasn't offered a direct refutation to many of the points raised in the film, nor is its letter nearly as emotionally compelling as the footage it seeks to rebuke.

SeaWorld's CEO Jim Atchison told Bloomberg that it was "not worth watching," but I don't think Atchison's word will prevent his potential customers from seeing the movie.

Documentaries have, in the past, had an effect on corporations. The 2004 film Super Size Me led McDonald's to pulling super sized-fries and drinks from its menu, while 2005's Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices changed Wal-Mart's public-relations strategy.

But Blackfish could ultimately be far more damaging. Super Size Me demonstrated just how unhealthy a diet rich in fast food truly is, but I don't think the film taught anyone anything they didn't already know. Likewise, far too many Americans are far too dependent on Wal-Mart to significantly change their shopping habits.

But SeaWorld? As an amusement-park operator, it is the definition of a company dependent on discretionary income. Its customers may only visit its parks a few times in their entire lives -- destroy its image, and many of them could very easily take their vacations elsewhere.

Netflix's ability to spread a message
With about 31 million U.S. domestic subscribers, Netflix could easily spread Blackfish's anti-SeaWorld message among the broader U.S. population. Perhaps after reading this very article, many Netflix subscribers will log onto their accounts and view the film.

Netflix's influence is already apparent in the PR disaster that's arisen in just the past few weeks -- if SeaWorld's attendance begins to drop noticeably, it will further proof of how Netflix's platform has ingrained itself in Americans' entertainment habits.

I can't say for certain that will take a toll on SeaWorld's attendance, but after watching the movie, I'm certainly in no rush to visit a SeaWorld park. At the very least, I think SeaWorld's shareholders owe it to themselves to watch the film -- they might not be so comfortable with their holdings afterwards.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 22, 2013, at 8:01 PM, junerose621 wrote:

    I was born and raised in Orlando and have been to Sea World countless times. This is a theme park, and is there to make money...lots of money. I recently viewed "Blackfish" and although there was not much in it that surprised me, save for the mother whales screaming for their babies that had been taken from them, I can't see how Sea World is going to suffer, to be honest. This is a theme park and people flock to it to see animals they never would be able to see otherwise. I'm very glad the documentary was made because it is sickening what these poor animals go through at our expense. Sea World is all about making money and lots of it, and they'll never admit to any wrong-doing. Sad.

  • Report this Comment On December 22, 2013, at 9:16 PM, mbivy wrote:

    In the documentary not only was the plight of the whales depicted but also the trainers. It was quite horrifying.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 12:31 AM, cdgib wrote:

    Why would anyone believe this crap? I worked for Sea World a long time ago & their animals are VERY well taken care of. Take a baby away? Who the hell is going to FEED that baby? Further, those animals were born in captivity & have no clue how to feed themselves in the wild. I really DO despise liberals.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 2:56 AM, onemanbukkake wrote:

    Does Netflix carry "2016"? 'Cause THAT's what Americans needed to see.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 3:12 AM, stockanal45 wrote:

    " I worked for Sea World a long time ago & their animals are VERY well taken care of."

    Your comment is void due to your affiliation with Sea World.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 10:37 AM, Hokie33 wrote:

    Did you ever think this film and the people behind it have an agenda and use this to make Sea world look horrible. Pretty sure with good editing, well timed sad music, and less than truthful knowledge on animal behavior you can make anything look terrible.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 5:30 PM, RonnieP wrote:

    My husband and I just watched this movie 2 nights ago. We both continue to discuss it and it truly haunts us. We saw the fishes they were talking about when we went to SeaWorld. I was petrified for the trainers - how terrifying for those that have been attacked. We also couldn't understand why they kept using the one attacking as a breeder!! of course, other than $$$$. We felt bad for the fish as well - the description of their living quarters - where they are packed into a small area on top of one another was heart-wrenching.

    I couldn't understand why there were so many protestors outside of SeaWorld when we went. That is much clearer now. Will it keep me from going again...possibly. If we do, I do know it will be with a new look at it all.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 6:40 PM, maxo789 wrote:

    Not really sure what makes this a political issue. It certainly is not a liberal issue as many of my conservative friends don't think keeping such large intelligent animals in those tiny pools and having them do tricks for food is the right thing to do. We know to much about this animals behavior now to accept such things.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 7:29 PM, BleedingMoney wrote:

    I watched Blackfish, and was stunned. SeaWorld's capture and treatment of these animals is a disgrace. Anyone who visits SeaWorld should be ashamed of themselves. Just watch the movie and you'll be appalled.

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 7:39 PM, Kudzuky wrote:

    Once I caught a snippet that this documentary was about to be released, I kept a close eye out. Was all set to order the DVD when CNN ran it. I've been around the ocean almost all of my life, and I went to SeaWorld a few decades ago. For one reason and another, never made it back, and I've now lived within 2 hours' drive of Orlando park for nearly another decade.

    This information was grotesque, and all too believable, especially if you have the opp, as I did, to view / hear the interview with the woman who made the documentary. I know the corp. owner has deep pockets, but it still stuns me that this animal abuse, and trainer endangerment, went on for so many, many years before seeing the light.

    Was delighted to hear that protestors were outside the park just a few days ago (it's just before Xmas, 2013, as I write this). It was fun, as I recall, to see the animals I couldn't have seen anywhere else ... but definitely not worth it in hindsight.

    No more capturing and keeping these killer whales ... let those already in captivity live out their lives with as much quality of life as possible (e.g., no more shows and training; as much physical space as possible; etc.). Make it illegal to bring any more out of the ocean, period, with hefty fines (as in, millions and millions of dollars).

    Free Willie, indeed!

  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2013, at 8:04 PM, FoothillsGal wrote:

    Thank you for this article. I have been reading your posts about SeaWorld since I saw Blackfish in October (CNN played it over and over again that month, now Netflix is adding a second wave).

    I grew up thinking it would be amazing to be a dolphin trainer. It never occurred to me what a money mill this corporation is, and how horrendous the conditions are for the animals (even if the conditions were better, it will never be the ocean)... now that I know, I feel a fool (and not in a motley way) for ever imagining that such an awesome creature could be satisfied serving as a circus act for human entertainment.

    I could go on and on, but I simply wanted to say thank you for not mincing words. This idea of enslaving highly intelligent animals has seen its day.

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