The death of Whitney Houston has sparked all sorts of interest, outrage, and second-guessing. Yet even after the singer/actress had been lain to rest the speculations were not finished seeping out. News broke across the intertubes yesterday that there was a sign of capitalistic avarice involving the deposed diva, however after applying calm introspection to things it turns out – those tales of corporate greed and profiteering off of the dead were incorrect. Imagine; the internet got something wrong!
The story as it was initially told was that Houston’s landmark cinematic achievement – The Bodyguard – had been suddenly banished from streaming on NetFlix. The reason behind this being Warner Brothers, the rights holders of the film, intends to dash out copies of her film onto Blu-Ray to make a hasty profit off her renewed interest. This story was all too convenient not to be true for many. After all, we had just witnessed how Sony Music had to apologize when it was discovered to have spiked prices on Whitney’s songs immediately after her death. And lately Warners has been especially proactive with NetFlix in an attempt preserving DVD sales, so this confluence of greed seemed more than plausible.
The catalyst for this uproar came from Google+, where writer Dan McDermott wrote a supposed investigative piece detailing the removal of Houston’s film from NetFlix. I say supposed not only because of the flawed content but also the lack of attributed names and/or positions within that company. His initial source was via the NetFlix comment section (where all facts go to die) as viewers there claimed the movie had been available up to the recent death of the performer. McDermott contacted the content provider. He cites a source from within NetFlix – who he refers to as “the rep” – telling him that the rights to the film had been hastily pulled, the reason being, “There was an opportunity to make really a very large amount of money [sic] on the DVD sales of her movies. So they’re going to pull all the streaming titles we have of Whitney Houston so they can make more money off the DVD sales of her movies.” Fractured PR copy aside, these are a rather easily verifiable facts.
First, NetFlix has a more concrete hold on the titles they offer for streaming. They work out contracts for specific time periods during which the titles are available. The studios cannot step in and arbitrarily declare a film off limits overnight. Additionally, looking at another title of Houston’s, Waiting to Exhale is currently is available for streaming from the site as of this posting, contradicting the “all the streaming titles” comment from the source. And currently “The Bodyguard” is still available from streaming through Amazon’s service, so Warners has not yanked all rights it seems. Turns out there are other verifiable details which take only minutes to discover. The fact is Warners had plans for the Blu-Ray release in place last December, well before the passing of Houston. This also concerned NetFlix, because the studio denied renewal of the streaming rights in anticipation of the upcoming Blu-Ray release. McDermott had to retract his initial claim and correctly notes that the NetFlix streaming contract for The Bodyguard expired on December 31, which was well before Ms. Houston herself expired.
Thus, much like sending emails while angry or calling your ex after midnight, it generally is a bad idea to rush headlong into penning a too-good-not-to-be-true tale of studio greed. Counting on Hollywood avarice is one thing, but assuming it to always be the case will be your undoing.