It wasn't the Oscars night Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) wanted.
The streaming giant came into the 92nd Academy Awards with 24 nominations, more than any other studio, but Netflix left with just two trophies. The categories it won were Best Documentary for American Factory, and Laura Dern took home the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Marriage Story.
The Irishman, the Martin Scorsese-directed crime story that cost a reported $160 million, had garnered 10 nominations, but went home empty-handed. Meanwhile, Netflix had campaigned aggressively to take home some serious hardware. According to some estimates, the streamer spent as much as $70 million on things like advertising and consultants to promote its movies and win awards. Despite the nominations haul Netflix scored, those efforts clearly came up short at Oscar time.
Nonetheless, the night wasn't all a bust for Netflix. In fact, the big winner of the night could portend some momentum for the leading streamer.
A changing of the guard
Unquestionably, the night belonged to Parasite, the underdog Korean film that took home awards for Best International Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and (most importantly) Best Picture.
The win marked the first time that the Academy had chosen a foreign film as Best Picture, and the decision could be a watershed for international movies, showing that Hollywood sees itself as a more global platform. Parasite did not have a major studio behind it. It was produced by a local company and distributed in North America by Neon, an independent studio.
That's all good news for Netflix, which has developed a rich pipeline of international content in both television and movies, an area its rivals have traditionally been lacking.
You may recall that a year ago, Roma, a Netflix drama about a family in Mexico City, won Oscars for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film. Netflix's first original film, Beasts of No Nation, followed an African teenage soldier. Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Parasite, had previously made Okja for Netflix, a film that also won critical acclaim. Google searches for Okja have spiked in the past week, likely because viewers were interested in seeing another of Bong's movies.
Netflix did not win any nominations for Best International Feature this year, but the category is likely to be a strong suit for the company as its international audience now makes up more than 60% of its subscriber base, and Netflix has committed to a local content strategy, developing in local languages by local directors. That's much different from Hollywood's historical method of making content for the American market first, and distributing it internationally. In television, Netflix has touted a number of international hits in recent years, including The Naked Director in Japan, Sacred Games in India, and Money Heist in Latin America.
Playing the long game
The streaming stock actually finished up 1.2% on Monday, a sign that Wall Street isn't bothered by the lack of big wins at the Oscars. Though $70 million is a steep price to pay for just two statues, Netflix will no doubt be back next year.
The company is expected to spend more than $17 billion on content in 2020, much of it on originals, which is up from around $15 billion in 2019. Netflix has historically emphasized television over film in its original content, but it's stepped up efforts in original films recently. Not every movie will be Oscar bait as the company also recently released the Michael Bay-directed Six Underground, and will soon begin filming Red Notice, starring Dwayne Johnson, but the company very much wants to demonstrate its success at the Oscars and show top talent it can get them the big awards.
Netflix may have come up mostly empty-handed at the Oscars this year, but the company is only just making its presence felt at the most prestigious awards ceremony. After all, Netflix only began making original movies five years ago but is learning quickly, and forging relationships with top directors. After Parasite's win, look for Netflix to capitalize on that momentum by promoting and investing in more international movies, an area where it has a clear advantage. Winning an Oscar is never easy, but by coming in No. 1 in nominations, Netflix showed it's clearly on the right track.