Don't Show Again Yes, I would!

Why Netflix will never pull a surprise like ‘Cloverfield Paradox’ again

“#FilmTwitter is going to explode tonight,” director Ava DuVernay tweeted on February 4, 2018, just minutes before Super Bowl LII kicked off. “Something’s coming I can’t believe it. Lud. In making history.”

A little over an hour later, the world found out what the famous director and producer was referring to. During a commercial break, Netflix premiered footage of “The Cloverfield Paradox,” a sci-fi thriller that originally had the ambiguous title “God Particle,” sparking online speculation about its possible ties to the “Cloverfield” franchise. What’s more, the hilarious ad was capped off by a drop mic moment — the movie will be available to stream right after the match.

Super Bowl commercial breaks are the infamous real estate leader in the ad market (in 2018, a 30-second stretch was said to be worth in excess of $5 million). It has become an annual tradition for studios to use the event to present their next blockbuster ambitions to the public. This year, big trailers for “Fast X,” “The Flash,” “Air,” and many other titles tie in to football’s biggest night.

But Netflix has taken that tradition a step further with “The Cloverfield Paradox,” drawing viewers in with brand curiosity and the promise of near-instant fulfillment. There was no need to brainstorm an activity to quiet down a Super Bowl party — Netflix has you covered.

The Cloverfield Paradox followed in the cryptic marketing tradition of the original 2008 found footage “Cloverfield” (which filmed a teaser before main production began) and its 2016 sleeper sequel “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a single-location thriller announced publicly. It is true that entering Cloverfield can come in almost any form. The Super Bowl teaser played out as a series of callbacks to the first “Cloverfield,” along with space station disasters and an ominous distress call by an astronaut played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

The commercial was quite malleable to Netflix, the dominant player at the time.

“This was the point at which some studios started to look very seriously at launching their competitive services,” says Richard Cooper, director of research at Ampere Analysis, a market researcher.

However, the release of “The Cloverfield Paradox” was reported as a mixed success at best. According to Nielsen data at the time, “The Cloverfield Paradox” was watched by about 785,000 people on the night of its debut, with approximately 2.8 million viewers during its first three days. It’s a huge audience, but it was far from reaching the level of “Bright,” the evil crime fantasy starring Will Smith, which garnered 11 million viewers on Netflix in the same three-day launch period just two months ago.

The largely negative critical reception didn’t help. There were plenty of reasons to be excited about “The Cloverfield Paradox,” an entry in a hip franchise with a reputation for creative surprises. Besides Mbatha-Raw, the film featured a variety of well-known but under-the-radar talents, including David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, and Zhang Ziyi. The film also represented a major feature for an up-and-coming black filmmaker, Julius Onah, who garnered public support for figures like DuVernay and JJ Abrams. Critics, however, considered the entry a forgettable disappointment. in miscellaneous In a review, chief film critic Owen Gleiberman was completely dismissive, saying that “it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not, and hard to care about.”

Paramount, which produced the first two Cloverfield films, had initially scheduled a theatrical offer for the follow-up. But the film’s $40 million production budget left questions about its potential profitability. The Paramount issue presents a unique opportunity for Netflix, which paid over $50 million for the streaming rights to the film.

With a brief announcement planted in front of the year’s largest TV audience, the streamer effectively turned a project most audiences hadn’t heard of into an exclusive event. The ad reaffirmed the clout Netflix held among consumers – an achievement more valuable than the successful promotion of the movie itself.

“It was a bold statement by Netflix that they can still have fairly important titles, major franchises — and that they can release movies while still being a hit,” Cooper says.

While surprise drops are fair game in the music industry — a Beyoncé album can suddenly pop up when it wasn’t on anyone’s radar one week ago — it’s not a common move in the film industry, which relies on building up buzz over weeks or months. Netflix has engaged in rapid turns in the years since then, particularly last year, when a secret bonus episode of “The Sandman” was released weeks after the show’s debut. But feature films represent huge financial investments that need to generate enough buzz to justify their prices.

“There needs to be more awareness in order to build anticipation. That’s something that drives subscribers to a service—an expectation that they’ll be able to watch these things,” says Richard. “Even dropping ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ the way they did doesn’t fuel that level of expectation.”

For a streaming service, an unreleased movie can have more value than what’s available. By planting a flag on the release date, streamers provide an incentive for users to stay subscribed to their service. Last year, Netflix reported its first-ever subscriber loss in a fiscal quarter, effectively sending the industry into a tailspin as its long-term streaming potential was reassessed. Now, subscriber retention is more pressing for these services than ever — release dates and teasers give users a reason to stick around.

“It’s very unlikely that streamers will do this again with the features,” Cooper says. “You have to make as much noise as possible.”

Five years later, “The Cloverfield Paradox” isn’t just an image in the rearview mirror of the industry. Netflix has continued to advertise during the Super Bowl, though its commercials serve more as branding exercises than promotion of individual productions. Most recently released in the past year are films like “The Gray Man,” “Me Time,” “The School for Good and Evil” and highlighting “The Adam Project.”

Una effectively rebounded with the hit 2019 Sundance drama “Loss,” and Marvel Studios has since picked him up to helm “Captain America: New World Order” starring Anthony Mackie. Meanwhile, after a period of dormancy, a new “Cloverfield” movie is in the works at Paramount.

It’s been half a decade and the Philadelphia Eagles are in the Super Bowl again. But “The Cloverfield Paradox” is still available to stream on Netflix. He didn’t go anywhere.


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