Netflix Spent as Much as $60 Million to Win ‘Roma’ a Best Picture Oscar—and Still Lost
Sunday night’s Academy Awards broadcast wasn’t short on surprises: For starters, the show managed to clock in at under three and a half hours long, a fact that no doubt helped increase its ratings. And there were plenty of twists when it came to the awards themselves, including The Favourite’s Olivia Colman winning Best Actress over Glenn Close, who nearly all the awards-pundits had agreed was a sure thing.
But the night’s biggest shocker may have been the sixties-set drama Green Book taking the Best Picture trophy over Netflix’s black-and-white family-saga Roma. Not only had Roma nabbed statues in the Cinematography, Director, and Foreign Language Film categories earlier in the night, it had widely been considered the front-runner for weeks. That confidence was aided in no small part by the streaming giant itself, which had mounted a lavish multi-million-dollar marketing campaign to sway voters.
On Monday, it became clear just how lavish that effort had been. While previous reports had pegged Netflix’s Roma spending at around $25 million, a new Vulture story claimed the company might actually have shelled out as much as $60 million in its campaign. That’s about four times the cost of Roma‘s production budget, and a remarkably high figure for an awards campaign: In 1998 and 1999, Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein was rumored to have spent as much as $15 million to bring Shakespeare in Love a Best Picture award, a sum that was considered outrageous at the times.
But Netflix has deeper pockets than the major Hollywood studios—as was evident to anyone living in Academy-centric Los Angeles, where signs and billboards for Roma had all but taken over the city in recent months (the company bought its own billboard company last year). And the company’s efforts to win a coveted Best Picture, an achievement that’s eluded all of the major streamers so far, might have actually turned off some voters, according to Vulture. One anonymous Academy member told the publication that some of his or her peers had refused to put Roma too high on the awards’ preferential-vote ballot. The reason? They didn’t want a win for Netflix, a company that’s forced the industry to re-think how movies are distributed and marketed. The company’s success has irked some exhibitors—who want the audiences to go to the theater, not stay on the couch—and worried studio execs, who can now be out-spent and out-maneuvered by a company that, just ten years ago, was sending out DVDs in red envelopes.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that oversees the Oscars, doesn’t release voting data for the awards, meaning it’s impossible to know just how close Roma came to besting Green Book. Still, despite Netflix not taking home the top prize, don’t expect its awards-spending to die down any time soon. During the Oscars telecast, the streaming company debuted a brief teaser of its next big prestige project: The Irishman, a decades-spanning crime story directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci—all past Oscar winners. The movie premieres this fall; expect its awards campaign to begin before the credits can even roll.