Today, the time period between when a movie premiers in theaters and is released on streaming platforms is shrinking. In the U.S. in 2006, windowing declined from six months to three months. In the midst of streaming fervor, companies that must abide by stricter national standards are falling behind. Take the case of the now-shuttered CanalPlay—a streaming platform owned by the French company Canal Plus Group that stumbled under French laws, which dictate a 36-month windowing period and meant the model couldn’t compete with competitors like Netflix.

Netflix, which has disrupted the traditional serialized TV schedule with its binge releases, largely counteracts the typical windowing process by avoiding it altogether and releasing movies online only—a form of distribution scarcity. As the company continues to rev up its original content production, exclusively streaming its own content online means that Netflix has not had to rely on any sort of distribution or exhibition partners, as it manages all of these tasks in-house.

But the streaming platform has started to show a handful of its movies in theaters that are released simultaneously on its streaming platform. In 2015, “Beasts of No Nation”—distributed in partnership between Netflix and Bleecker Street Media—became the first Netflix original movie to be released in theaters. Even though an in-theater showing can at best be a loss leader for Netflix—the 31 theaters that screened “Beasts” saw minimal box office success, but the platform’s approximately 125 million subscribers can watch the film anytime—it’s a way to promote Netflix as a brand and a necessary route to take for Oscar contention, which could win the company prestige moving forward. In 2018, Cannes updated its rules, banning films without theatrical distribution in France from entering and requiring nominees to abide by the 36-month windowing period, which forced Netflix to drop out of the festival.

Amazon offers another way to balance being a production house with a streaming platform that doesn’t write off film industry traditions.  

In contrast, Amazon has chosen to follow the industry standard for windowing, releasing movies in theaters exclusively, before allowing Prime members to stream the content online—another form of distribution scarcity. Following this model, the company has been rewarded with its first Oscars for “Manchester by the Sea” (2016), which was co-released with Roadside Attractions, and “The Salesman” (2016) with Cohen Media Group. For Prime members, this model isn’t much different from waiting for a movie to come out on DVD, but with added benefits: the time frame is shorter and online streaming comes with less friction.

When it comes to following traditions in the film industry, the success of Netflix and Amazon depends largely on their individual goals. If the aim is recognition from the Academy, then putting movies in theaters is necessary—Amazon paces ahead of Netflix in this regard. However, knowing that more people are likely to stream at home than go to a theater, filmmakers now see Netflix as one of the best ways to reach a wide audience. Additionally, Netflix sees the release of original content on its platform as providing subscribers with the exclusive access they’ve paid for. The sheer number of movies and television shows available on Netflix’s platform—it’s turn away from scarcity—make the platform a one-stop shop for video content for many millions of subscribers.

Today, the question is whether making a film or TV show more available online is enough to capture consumer interest in the long term. Though people are increasingly used to on-demand subscription services and expect instant gratification, they also crave experiences, which, in the film world, MoviePass and other theater chains like AMC are tending to with ticket subscription programs. These subscriptions also play with the idea of product scarcity, as seats at a theater can sell out, which isn’t a concern for Netflix but can raise the value of an individual ticket.

Moving forward, it’s possible that the film and television industry will begin to shift back to traditional models built not quite on scarcity, but on delayed gratification—Amazon is already doing this with windowing for its feature films, embracing the conventional silver-screen-to-TV-screen model but with exclusive streaming on its own site. Netflix, which has built a streaming empire on content with nearly infinite shelf life, is now taking on talk shows, some of which are released in serialized form and most of which are related to weekly developments in the news—an older programming model whose content decreases in relevance over time, since people don’t re-watch episodes that are news-based. The renaissance in physical media—records and cassettes—and upgrades to movie theater experiences also strongly suggest that consumers will continue to seek out face-to-face connections for discovery, which will likely affect Netflix and Amazon’s trajectories as streaming-first platforms.