Streaming services do some binge spending at Sundance

The marquee at the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street is seen during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Turns out when Netflix shocked the movie industry last March by paying $12 million for "Beasts of No Nation" -- the critically acclaimed film about child soldiers starring Idris Elba - it was just getting started.

Netflix and Amazon didn't spend a dime on films at the Sundance Film Festival last year, but reached deep into their pockets and did some binge spending this time around. The streaming services are sending shockwaves through Hollywood by outbidding traditional studios for many of the most coveted films, reports Vladimir Duthiers of CBS News' digital network, CBSN.

"Netflix and Amazon have really dominated the festival. They've come in here, they've targeted the good movies, and have really gone on a buying spree," said Ramin Setoodeh, New York bureau chief of Variety.

This week at the Sundance Film Festival, Netflix snapped up "Tallulah" starring Ellen Page for $5 million and "The Fundamentals of Caring" with Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez for $7 million. It also bid $20 million for the rights to "The Birth of a Nation," a highly anticipated film about Nat Turner's slave revolt, which ended up at Fox Searchlight for almost $3 million less.

Amazon beat out Fox, Universal and Focus Features for the buzzy drama, "Manchester by the Sea," featuring Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck. It also purchased "Love & Friendship" with Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale.

"The movie studios are at a disadvantage because when they go in to bid on a movie, they have to take into account how many tickets they are going to sell. Whereas with Netflix and Amazon, when they bid on a movie, they have deeper pockets, and they don't have to really worry about selling tickets. They just have to worry about offering original content to their subscribers."

Amazon is expected to roll out its acquisitions the same way it did with Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq," which was debuted to subscribers just a few weeks after its theatrical release.

Netflix's model is even more radical. "Beasts of No Nation" was released in theaters and streamed to viewers on the same day.

"Netflix and Amazon have really upended the movie business by coming in here and trying to get original content, and trying to cut out the middle man, which is really the movie theater owners," Setoodeh said. "I think we're moving closer to the day when you can have a big movie, and not necessarily release it in movie theaters."

But the movie studios still have the prestige that comes with releasing movies in theaters. Variety said the filmmaker behind "The Birth of a Nation" turned down the higher bid from Netflix in favor of a Hollywood studio with a track record of mounting successful Oscar campaigns.