Most Important Story of the Week – 6 September 2019: Quibi, Quibi, Quibi

Welcome to September. The kids are back in school, football is starting, and award season is bearing down on us like the Huns invading Rome. Meanwhile, the streaming wars will have their first battles, “The Invasion of Netflix-Land” by Disney’s 4th Army across the land will be joined Apple’s Airborne Channel Brigades. 

Meanwhile, one of the most talked about companies isn’t launching until…I still don’t know? And since I haven’t mentioned them, they get the top spot.

The Most Important Story of the Week – Quibi, Quibi, Quibi

Let’s take the Quibi story and change the name.

“Starting next year, NBC-Universal is launching MeeshMosh, a subscription short-form video on demand service designed for mobile. They have signed deals with top tier talent like JJ Abrams, Jordan Peele, and Greg Daniels. This will cost $5 a month with ads and $8 without. NBC-Universal plans to spend billions on this content in just the first year.”

To be clear, that is NOT true. I made it up. But if I presented that business model to you a year ago, would you have been ready to declare it the next champion of the streaming wars? No, right?

But that’s just the Quibi pitch with a different company. I can’t prove it but I don’t think that the current crop of Quibi fans would be as supportive of the NBC-Universal version of Quibi as the Quibi version of Quibi. What does Quibi have that NBC-Universal doesn’t? 

I can think of two things. First, NBC-Universal is legacy media and entertainment. And some observers just disdain anything that reeks of old Hollywood. The future is new and tech and disruptive, which is hard when you’re run by a cable company.

Second, is the “who”. You can’t read an article about Quibi without the inevitable mentions of Jeffrey Katzenberg. He is Quibi. Followed closely by Meg Whitman (of eBay, Hewlett-Packard and gubernatorial campaigns fame). Clearly a lot of the fandom of Quibi doesn’t reflect optimism over the product or content, but a bet on the founders being able to make good content and release a good product.

That’s why the news of the week is just a tad concerning. Over the last two weeks, the head of partnerships (Tim Connolly) and the head of news (Janice Min) left Quibi before it even launched. Listen, I don’t value any individual employee, even CEOs, super highly. Usually, the data is too noisy to draw judgements. But I don’t like “exoduses”. Two isn’t an exodus, but any more and we’ll start to wonder if Quibi is going HBO on us. 

Would folks have a reason to leave? These quotes from Dylan Byer’s scoop in his newsletter worry me:

Min had frustrations with Katzenberg’s management style, the sources said. The Hollywood mogul, though widely respected, is also known for being headstrong and relentlessly opinionated…

So if the strength of Quibi was its team, but that team isn’t actually functioning, what is its strength? Short form content? Do we not remember Vessel? Or Go90? YoutubeRed? Sure, a subscription for Hulu, Disney+ or Netflix at $8 makes sense–that’s long-form video–but do people want to pay for short form content they can mostly get for free?

Of course, Vessel, Luminary and Youtube all had/have different content strategies and pricing. Maybe Quibi will be the right mix of price and content to drive subscribers. But I’m skeptical.

(Josef Adalian has a good long read on Quibi’s plans here.)

Entertainment Strategy Guy Retraction Watch – Disney+ Vault Edition

Since I’ve called out others for potentially bad data, I should do the same self-reflection. Last week I heavily speculated that when Disney+ launches, it may be missing a few of its classic films and quite a few Pixar films. I did this based on a list of confirmed films at the LA Times and Bob Iger’s statements in the last earnings report. 

A few readers pointed out some other sources of information contradicting this assessment. In particular, at Disney’s Investor Day, they said the 13 “signature” films would make it on the service. I updated my Part II last week this data. Then, as the week went on, I discovered a few new data sources…

The New Data

On last week’s TV Top Five, Lesley Goldberg said that Disney said at D23 that the 13 signature films would be available on Disney+. If they repeated the 13 films at launch at D23, that’s pretty definitive, though it still leaves the newer Pixar and newer Disney films in the air.

Then, I read this great article from The Verge’s Julia Alexander reviewing Disney’s UX and platform from a D23 demo (which is worth a read). It doesn’t have any screenshots of films that weren’t in the LA Times announcement. Which could mean nothing, or could mean some of those films won’t be available at launch, as I initially speculated. 

The Chasm of Silence

The other data is the “dogs not barking” scenario. Which is I put up an article–and though my readership is small–I haven’t heard anything from Disney’s communications people. If they know I’m wrong, why leave out bad information? To further the silence piece, if Bob Iger knew that Disney’s 13 most important animated films will be available at launch, why not mention that along with the 8 Star Wars and 4 Marvel films? It seems like an obvious point to make.

My Explanation

Here’s the thing about this hemming and hawing: by November 12th, we’ll know either way. I still think Disney+ at launch will be missing some key films. If I had to venture an explanation, I think that Disney is using three time periods sometimes interchangeably in their public statements. Sometimes they talk about available “at launch”, sometimes during “year one” and sometimes “by the end of 2020”. I’ve noticed they do this sometimes in the same presentations or even paragraphs. But you know what, let’s wait two months and see.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story

Summer Box Office Down 2%

You don’t need me offering a take on this, and you probably saw the news. Far be it from me, a staunch theater-going defender, to defend this. Having business decline by 2% is usually a bad sign.

Here Comes The Fall: Movie and TV Previews

You know what though? Let’s shake it off. On to the fall. A good recap of the upcoming fall movie season comes from Variety. I have my eye on Ad Astra, Ford vs Ferrari and Gemini Man as potential box office openers based on original IP, which could change the narrative. Though it looks like the Joker may take up the Venom fall superhero slot. As for Oscars? I leave that to the experts at Gold Derby. (Also, the latest Ankler issue goes deep on the fall season too.)

For TV, Decider’s Brett White call its the biggest TV season ever, and he’s not wrong. Essentially, it feels like broadcast is taking a step back as the streamers really get going. Meanwhile, HBO has some important launches for its post-Game of Thrones future. TV Rev has a good write up too, emphasizing that even as we call TV dead, well a lot of people watch a lot of broadcast. Especially outside the coasts.

Magazines In Decline: Meredith Loses Money after Time Inc. Acquisition

Meredith spent $1.8 billion on Time, and the integration is struggling mightily as magazine sales decline. As always, M&A isn’t a strategy.

M&A Updates – Private Equity Apollo Play for Broadcast

After the CBS-Variety merger, I wrote that some smart money people sometimes see value in dying industries. Essentially, extracting all the value as they decline. You know what helps even more? When dominant media narratives–not supported by data–drive the prices down even further. So when “private equity giant”–as Axios aptly describes them–is making a big play into broadcast and linear channels, I’d pay attention. That’s not just a meaningless internet argument, they’re spending real money.

Entertainment Strategy Guy Updates – Youtube Settles with the FTC Over Kids Content

It amazes me that the FTC settled with Google for their COPPA compliance issues related to Youtube. If you’re a lawyer and you can’t make this case, what are you doing? You’re telling me there isn’t a PowerPoint presentation Google sent Mattel about how they can buy ads on kids content? So then you go to a jury. You say, “The law says ‘Don’t target ads to kids.’” Here’s a presentation that says, “Our ads target kids.” Here’s a toy executive saying they bought ads targeting kids. Here’s a deluge of emails on targeting kids. Case closed.

Does that jury even take five minutes to decide the case?

In that scenario, ignoring the monetary value, it seems like the FTC should have said, “Sure, we’ll settle, but you have to admit guilt.” If they push back, go to trial and enjoy the discovery process. And publicize everything you find. That’s true regulation.

So I agree with the critics saying this shows that our regulatory apparatus does not work. Also, Youtube is building a kids-only site in response. Finally. (My initial thoughts on Google/Youtube and kids here.)

Lots of News No News – Stankey Got Promoted

Lots of news to ignore this week. First, NFL ratings for game one whenever they come out. It’s a single data point! Second, John Stankey is next in line at AT&T, so apparently the fact that he bugs all the entertainment folks doesn’t matter. Third, content! Specifically, Ryan Murphy’s slate at Netflix has been semi-revealed. This only matters if we know if the shows will be good. Which we don’t.

(Hey! Where are the other long reads and listens to fill out my weekend news schedule? Stay tuned until Monday.)

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