My favorite show on Netflix is BoJack Horseman, which reveals a lot about me, since it’s a show about an emotionally dysfunctional has-been in Hollywood. So, back in January 2018, I was motivated to write a spec script for the show. I thought maybe I could replay the events decades earlier, described in “My Bumpy Road Through “Hollywood” – There once was MOONLIGHTING“, but hoping for a better result this time.
About a quarter century ago – my, how time flies! – I worked on a Paramount Television production from the team responsible for the hit 1980s series MIAMI VICE. It was a pilot starring Edward James Olmos for a proposed TV series called “Hollywood Confidential.” Olmos played a former L.A. cop who now runs a top-flight private detective agency catering to spoiled Hollywood types. (This pilot helped launched the acting career of Charlize Theron.)
Since Middle School, I have been a writer, and was the editor of my school paper in Ninth Grade.
I began in television in high school and became producer and writer for the New Year’s Eve variety program “CELEBRATION” which aired on network affiliate TV stations in Minneapolis for several years. I then helped build and put on the air a new broadcast TV station, Channel 29, and became its Operations Manager as well as Writer, Producer, and Director for in-house programs and clients’ productions. I went on to work for several production companies, including TV production trucks, and went out on my own as an independent Writer, Producer, and Director. My productions included live and taped talk shows, variety programs, holiday specials, sports broadcasts, interstitial segments, concerts, conventions, commercials, and industrials. Minneapolis is a major market area, which Nielson ranks as 15th largest.
Story-makers, the shift in the independent film industry includes new opportunities in what is commonly called “television.” The new creative opportunities are exciting. Here’s the second of two discussions about these new opportunities.
Arrested Development and House of Cards aren’t designed to deliver the metrics Wall Street expects, and this means a lot about how Netflix views its future.
May 26th was a uniquely exciting (and perhaps exhausting) day for TV lovers. At midnight, Netflix released a brand new season of Arrested Development – more than seven years after the show was cancelled by Fox. The show’s return represents a key component of Netflix’s emerging original content strategy and is the fourth show released by the over-the-top streaming service this year (at a total cost of more than $150M). As such, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pause and evaluate the economics of this strategy and hypothesize what success might look like. In doing so, we can also better understand the role of original content (is it intended to drive net adds, reduce churn, stabilize content costs etc.) and the impact of their controversial decision to release entire seasons at once. This will also tell us about Netflix’s future and management’s POV on this future.
The Value of Netflix to the Consumer
Though inexpensive on the whole, Netflix’s service does not offer materially cheaper entertainment than that of traditional cable TV, costing approximately $0.0024/minute versus cable’s $0.0035/minute.
This is interesting for two reasons
1. Despite being commercial-free and infinitely more flexible than live linear TV (in terms of time, content and screen), Netflix is unable to command a price premium for its entertainment service
2. Average time spent watching Netflix per user is up more than 10% year-over-year. However, with prices still $7.99 a month, Netflix has not benefited from this increase in customer value (directly, at least, as it would improve word-of-mouth and perceived value). Increases in both the quality and size of its content library content quality is no doubt a major driver for increased usage, but this has contributed to a 16% increase in quarterly licensing costs ($1.355B in Q1 2013).
This matters because it means Netflix may have limited means to raise prices – and when it does, they will still lag customer value growth. As the instant decapitation of Qwickster demonstrated (among many other lessons), Netflix’s customers really do control the relationship.
Story-makers, the shift in the independent film industry includes new opportunities in what is commonly called “television.” The new creative opportunities are exciting. Here’s the first of two discussions about these new opportunities.
Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon see original TV series as the path to success. It’s not. But consumers win.
It is a great time to be a lover of television. Content, for one, has never been better. Not only have many declared today the “New Golden Age of Television”, some such as Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, have gone as far to ask questions such as if “anyone thinks The Artist (which had recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture) is better than Mad Men?”. The rise of digital distribution and portable, media-focused devices has also fundamentally increased potential “demand” for this content. The ability to watch content whenever (and wherever) we want means that we can watch more shows than was realistically possible when we were tethered to 2-3 hours of “appointment TV” per night (and we could watch only one show per primetime slot). Not only does this save older shows, such as The Sopranos, from irrelevancy after airing, it opens up the creative medium. Hyper-serialized shows such as LOST and Game of Thrones would not be possible without the ability for viewers to easily catch-up on a missed episode (or “marathon” past seasons). Digital-only distribution (such as Netflix’s House of Cards) has further freed creatives to pick scene lengths or runtimes based on the needs of the story, rather than the need to cut to a commercial break every 4-7 minutes or fill out an hour-long timeslot.
Market behavior clearly illustrates the New Golden Age hypothesis. Movie stars are increasingly moving to the TV screen (from Ewan McGregor or Zooey Deschanel) and many TV stars are bigger celebrities than most movie actors (such as Kim Kardashian, regrettably). TV budgets have also exploded. Game of Thrones costs upwards of $60 million for a 10-episode season and many hour-long dramas at the Big Four broadcasters can cost $40-75 million per season ($2-4M/episode). Content has also become an increasingly important differentiator for cable networks such as HBO and AMC, which traditionally focused on films and one-off specials, but are now defined by and dependent on hits such as Girls and The Walking Dead.
When looking at what I’ve termed “The Blended Screens” — the destruction of all the different ways that used to define what we were watching (it was a “movie” because it was shot on film and shown in a movie theater; it was a “TV Show” because it was shot on tape and broadcast by a TV station; it was “Home Video” because it was burned to VHS tape or DVD or Blu-Ray and shown on a machine in the living room; it was a “Web Series” because it was carried over the Internet and watched on a computer; etc., etc., etc.) — it becomes clear to me that THIS IS THE SECOND ‘GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION.’ Continue reading
Production is morphing into … what? Is it “filmmaking” if there’s no film? Are we “taping” a program if there’s no tape? Are they “films” or “movies” it they are viewed on a smartphone? Is it “Television” if it’s streaming online on demand?
The technology of production and the delivery methods are no longer pertinent to defining what creators do. We create. We no longer create things clearly defined as “TV shows” or “Movies” or “Web Series.” What we create is now going out on all of “The Blended Screens.” Some have called it “content” but I think that term is weak and too broad.
For me, I’ve decided it’s all “story-making” and that’s what I choose from now on.
Here’s what I think specifically about MARKETING LOW-BUDGET INDIE FEATURE FILMS (NARRATIVE FICTION).
This is an effort to help visualize the numbers needed for this new world of filmmakers becoming responsible for their own direct distribution.
GLOSSARY of terms for the film/TV industry. This is a work in progress. Comments and suggestions welcomed.