I have made the case that SVOD services will have to refine their brand proposals and target audiences more like cable networks used to. Not quite that severely, but more than they do now, which is not at all. You have to choose between being the Walmart of TV and being a boutique, and right now only Netflix is the Walmart of TV. WBD may have to consider whether, perhaps by merging with Comcast, if that would be allowed, it could become the second “Walmart of TV.”
Maybe I could amend this thesis to say that you can be:
Walmart of TV
A boutique, or
A side dish
In the side dish case, there are some services that are or will be so tightly integrated with a parent product that they have a unique competitive dynamic (Prime Video is the best example, though it is a big, successful side dish).
Note that boutiques can be big. Boutique just means you have a specific brand promise. Disney and MLB are boutiques. Levi’s and Gucci are boutiques. They offer a singular brand.
Every boutique must have a specific target audience. Here are two target audiences that seem underserved today.
We can call this network Sundance. Or Cannes. Or call it ARTSY. We can decide later.
Much of my film work in the past has been in this zone.
There is, no question, an audience that appreciates these films, which are attempting, like Parasite, like A Bigger Splash, like Moonlight or La Grande Bellezza or Lost in Translation, to make some larger artistic and aesthetic statement outside of the confines of strictly commercial film.
There are a few unique traits in terms of executing in this market segment:
Indie films are helped by theatrical releases and festivals
Indie films require special handling in their theatrical release, marketing, festival distribution and PR. This can be an awkward match with large streamers which tend to train generalists.
The indie audience once was important to streamers but the streamers are so big now that this is less of a priority.
These films can get lost in the big streamer mix. They don’t get the bespoke care that they need in the run up to release, then they’re dumped into the content sluice and overwhelmed on the day of release by some true crime spectacular or tween/YA supernatural adventure.
My takeaway: it makes sense for indies to be handled by a specialist entity. I think they’re getting a bit lost in the current system.
It makes sense to customers that interesting films should be aggregated in one place. If I have to find one film on HBO, one on Peacock (of all places), one on Apple, etc., that’s incredibly frustrating and I feel — just as I did in the cable days — that I am paying for a bunch of stuff I don’t want and that Hollywood has organized itself in an inconvenient way.
I think there could be and should be an SVOD network that specializes in indie content and offers:
A strong library
A robust international selection
Anything less than this minimizes the size, impact and dynamism of the indie market as a whole because a certain concentration of community and attention are required to create enthusiasm and word of mouth. To make this market work and to make these titles work, it doesn’t help to divide all the fans and titles across so many services that enthusiasm and awareness are diluted to nothing.
There are many smallish entities in the indie space and the majors dabble in it, too. Of course there is A24, but there are many distributors and companies beyond that. Too many, I would say, most of them being dilletanteish enterprises that have no real reason for being independent. These all need to be consolidated. All these tiny entities reminds me of the Monty Python skit about the People’s Front of Judea.
In SVOD you need enough selection to make it worth subscribing. You don’t have to have as much stuff as Netflix, obviously, but if you’re saying that you’re The Indie Streamer, in this case, you have to own that category. If I search for Moonlight, you have to have it. Ran. Il Sorpasso. So if all the movies are divided across 20 indie streamers, it doesn’t work.
That means that a few entities have to merge to make this happen. You can’t start it from scratch. A24 is at the heart of it. Mubi. Criterion. The Sundance Network. IFC. Maybe Britbox. Et al. You don’t need every single one. Many are licensees and you can get their licenses when they expire. But you need a few.
How do you really win in this category? In the end it’s not about library, it’s about talent. If Iñárritu is going to be stuck at Netflix and Apple is going to pick off the occasional Coda, and everyone wants a piece of the prestige pie, how do you become the market leader?
You have to do a better job for filmmakers. The festivals. The theatrical releases. The PR. Preventing their films from getting lost at Netflix. It clearly has to be the best option for Wes Anderson’s next movie and you have to be able to step up to the plate for Damian Chazelle’s next film. You have to get the best execs. You have to do the best job. And you have to be able to say no sometimes. You have to have some criteria. Some of these movies we have seen recently — you just can’t say yes to everything because you want so and so on your slate.
Hey, I never said it would be easy!
Would it be worth it? I think so. I suspect you would wind up in the end with ~40MM global subs at $12/mo. ARPU, or $5.8B/year in revenue. I’m sure that could profitably support the program.
I think this will happen. Sometimes the right thing takes a long time to fall into place. Sometimes it doesn’t.
The best criticism of this would be that it could become an island where no one goes. A museum of film. I don’t think so. This would have exciting original series and first window movies. People would come. We do have to pump up the excitement on indie film, though. I’ve said that indie film needs to participate more in the now. It needs to set trends and be on the edge. That’s a change that has to be made. It is looking too much to the past and living in the past. This is partly a question of personnel. These films have to become tragically beautiful, fun, spicy, and funny pace setters for tomorrow and currently that is not happening a lot. It should feel more like an underground dance club with the latest tracks and less like some Lincoln Center Recital.
How does this solve the theatrical window? It doesn’t directly, but knowing that there is a good SVOD home for these titles is a good first step for a healthy ecosystem. The only real solution for the theater issue is to make films people want to see in theaters.
Do you know why real estate in Beverly Hills is expensive and we have all these nice cars and so on and why anyone makes any #!@#% money around here?
Because we entertain everyone. We don’t ask you what your political party is when you come to the movie theater. We have something for everyone. Jack Warner understood that. Adolph Zukor understood that. And if it wasn’t true, LA would still be an orange grove. And maybe it will be again. Orange pickers will wander between the ruins of these houses and wonder what used to happen here and why?
Lew Wasserman was the biggest donor to the Democratic Party in California, or maybe the US in his time. But you know what? Taft Schreiber was at MCA and he was very tight with the GOP. Because you never know and our goal is not to win elections, it is to make money. That is why we are here. The money. And the art. But really the money.
So we play both sides.
People who don’t understand that timeless and fundamental truth are temps who need to be shown the door.
Hollywood is too political for its own good and that’s a mistake. I am not some outsider trying to score political points. My TV shows have won the Emmy or Globe for Best Comedy Series six times in the past seven years and I am saying there are too many constraints on comedy. Don’t believe me? Believe Chris Rock, Damian Glover, Todd Phillips and Quentin Tarantino —
Look what Disney did with Gina Carano. For the sake of time, I’m not going to get into every detail of her political opinions, which I don’t even know, but I will say that she’s never said anything crazy that I’ve heard or that you couldn’t hear on the floor of the Senate and at least half the country agrees with her on things like masks and so on. Firing her is a large part of why no one watches the Oscars any more. Don’t kid yourself. Hollywood has annoyed some people.
Being political and preachy and making political choices in hiring writers and actors and so on makes your product worse. When you’re bound firstly by ideological strictures, you can’t aesthetically be your best — and there is almost no one in Hollywood who is so talented that they aren’t pretty mediocre when not focused on doing well. And that’s why Hollywood makes fewer great shows now. I’ve posted that chart with the declining number of IMDb 8+ series over time so many times I won’t bother you with it again. But it’s a stone cold fact.
You can’t make Tropic Thunder or The Hangover. And if it hadn’t already been made, you could not make South Park even with the very funny Jesus versus Santa pilot. You probably can’t make Braveheart. No Passion of the Christ. That’s a problem. That’s a lot that is missing from the market. And not only is it missing in Dallas and Peoria and Cincinnati and Lawrence, Mass., it is also missing in Hamburg, Munich, Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing. There is no foreign country where the old style would not be welcomed back.
I'm not saying mass market entertainment has to be “right wing.” What would that even be? You don’t have to make a movie about low marginal tax rates. It just has to be primarily entertaining and not primarily political.
By the way, when exactly is something “woke,” or too political? Was Transparent woke? It’s about a trans person. Isn’t that woke? No. That is not woke. That was good. It was organic. It played out as a very real story that was all totally believable and moving. Do you think Boyz N The Hood was woke or The China Syndrome or Norma Rae? Those are not woke. None of those are woke. Because they are good and they feel real and organic. The audience has a very sensitive b.s. meter. I think things set off the woke detector when the politics starts getting imposed on the story and things start to feel unreal, unnatural, artificial. Then people — even the actors! — stop suspending disbelief and they’re out of the story and they feel like they’re sitting in a lecture hall. That’s usually why it’s bad. If you’re Norman Lear and you have a magical ability to make things that are political but still great, then go for it. But I’ve only met one Norman Lear.
Now we have a big audience out there that is some mix of bored and alienated. Nice work, people. And we have a lot of younger executives trained to think more like red guard cadres than like up and coming Irving Thalbergs. Useless.
Well – on the other hand, that’s an opportunity.
If every restaurant in town goes vegan is the market crowded? Not if we open a steakhouse.
If you launched a network today that not just here and there, but wall to wall, met the expectations of middle of the road American consumers, you’d hit the jackpot. Top Gun. Yellowstone. Comedies that are funny. Just stuff that sets out to entertain and brick by brick develops into a brand that is the global Coca-Cola or Levi’s of entertainment….
That would do well.
Correction: I originally wrote that Jennings Lang had been at MCA. I meant Taft Schreiber and corrected above.
There is a big valley between LA and NYC CALLED AMERICA that want back the entertainment that they are missing!!!! Seems the entertainment companies are catering only to east coast and west coast and not in between. Hopefully we will get back to fun.
“we have a lot of younger executives trained to think more like red guard cadres.”
There’s your problem, how do change that? That’s a structural education problem . They think their on the side of right. When they should be on the side money. Like you said entertain the people...
You are spot on with your analysis. But I wish you good luck changing it. Because corporations that should focused on putting the share/ stock holders first. Are now run by the same red guard cadres.