Christmas used to be a sleepy time for splashy new movie and TV releases.
By the time the holiday rolled around, Hollywood had pretty much packed up and headed off to Maui, Cabo, or Aspen, having unleashed their biggest winter movie releases over Thanksgiving—the end-of-year equivalent of Labor Day weekend for launching big, splashy tentpoles. By late December, movie executives’ only job was to check their phones periodically from the side of the pool to monitor box-office grosses from those films as they continued to trickle in.
Then came Netflix.
The streamer pioneered the idea of dropping not just one big movie while people were cooped up over Christmas break looking for things to do, but a relentless fusillade of movies and TV shows in December. In 2018 there was Bird Box, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and the Taylor Swift concert film, to name just a few. The effect was to transform the otherwise parch-dry entertainment season—when most people resorted to watching Frank Capra classics on TCM—into an all-out movie and TV-show bonanza that will induce days-long binge sessions on a multitude of streaming services.
Because, yes, now it’s not just Netflix. This year, its would-be rivals in the streaming wars have caught onto the act, in effect turning Christmas into a showdown between streaming companies looking to build buzz and drive up subscription numbers before the end of the quarter.