Category: Analysis

The Bass Diffusion Model…Explained! The Most Important Shape of the Streaming Wars

(Before we start, I launched a newsletter! It’s weekly and it’s short, and I explain my logic here. In today’s social media age, it can be hard to keep up with independent writers like myself so my newsletter will link to all my writings at every outlet and the best stories I read on entertainment strategy each week. Sign up here.)

Here’s three articles. See if you can spot the underlying mistake. An implicit prediction about the future given the facts…

From Variety about CBS All-Access:

IMAGE 1 - CBSAA 50 percent

From Fierce Video about Roku:

IMAGE 2 - Fierce Video Roku

From Decider about Hulu:

IMAGE 3 - Hulu Decider

In each case, a new company is growing wildly. Not just wildly, but 40-50% growth. Which is excellent growth if you can get it.

Implicit, though, is optimism about this growth. This high growth will continue. And the growth is specifically compared to Netflix—entertainment’s boogey man—usually to (again) imply that these companies will overtake or match the streaming giant because of the double digit growth.

This is wrong!

But it isn’t unusual. Frankly, as humans, we tend to believe that patterns continue at their current rate. We like our trend lines to be linear. Stated in layman’s terms, we like straight lines on graphs. Unfortunately, reality is often curved.

Fortunately, though, we know what the curve should look like. One key shape shows not how unique those three companies mentioned above are, but how very, very ordinary that type of growth is. That shape, though, isn’t linear. It’s a double curve and it is one of the most well studied models in marketing and business.

It’s called the Bass Diffusion Model. Today, I’m going to explain what it is, how it works and show a few examples. My goals isn’t to teach you how to use it (we don’t have that type of time), but to recognize it when you see it. Then, over the next week or so, on other outlets and social, I’m going to release some examples. 

To start, though, let’s dig deeper into the problem above.

The Problem – Growth Doesn’t Work This Way

A few years back, I sat in a company-wide “all hands” meeting, and I saw the head of our entertainment group roll out a slide. Our streaming venture was pretty new overall. But we’d had fairly strong growth in the last year, building off growth the year before. Our growth was growing! Here’s a version of the graph he showed, and the numbers have been changed to protect the innocent. 

Image 4 - The Hypothetical

The key numbers are the growth rates between periods 4 & 5, and 5 & 6. Initially, customers are growing slowing. But then the numbers double in year 5. That’s great. And then they increase by 15 units in period six. Again, sixty percent growth, which is even better. The next part stunned me. The executive literally added a dashed line into the future which looked like this.

IMAGE 5 - Exec Projection

That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? Your growth isn’t just growing, but accelerating as your business matures. To emphasize—because as I type this I shake my head so hard in disbelief I may throw my neck out—this was an executive setting expectations for his entire company/business division, and he expected his subscriber base to double and then triple in the next few years.

As soon as I saw his graph, though, I drew my own chart mentally in my head. I’d seen that sort of growth before in text books and business case studies and in the press, and far from watching growth accelerate further, I thought it would slow down…

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Is Disney+ Too Kids Focused? Part II on My Thoughts on Disney+’s Catalogue

One of the goals of my website is to try to hold myself to a process. A process means I let the data guide my opinions, not fit new data or anecdotes into preconceived narratives. A good example of this comes from last weekend’s D23 Expo. This picture circulated widely of lines at kiosks to sign up for 3 years of Disney+:

I saw a ton of positive cases. Look at all the sign ups! Look at people forking over their credit cards! This doesn’t even launch for 3 months!

Then I saw some skeptics on that. If it’s so popular, why aren’t there lines? Are we really that excited about the most super-fan of super-fans signing up for a service? Why give a discount for three years for something these fans MUST own?

Even these critiques could have critiques: No lines? Sure, it’s Disney. They are great at making lines short. And three years is a great long time to lock in customers. So in all, did the kiosks sign ups at D23 mean anything?

Who knows? Like all things, the best way to keep yourself honest is to put your predictions down ahead of time. Which is hard to do for a thing like “sign-up kiosks at D23” because you couldn’t have predicted that would happen ahead of time. At the end of the day, sign-ups at kiosks probably don’t predict future customer behavior nearly as well as something like Disney’s box office takeover. This is a minor data point, yet it functions as a Rorschach test, really just telling us if you’re bearish or bullish on Disney+. (Or Netflix, for those data points that come out.)

I’ve been thinking about this as I review Disney+’s content catalogue. I’m trying to approach this fresh. I’m worried about my decidedly positive positions about Disney’s strength will cloud my judgement. 

This would be so much easier too, if I just gave in to the easy push for content. I could just pull a couple slides and confirm my own believes. Because if you take the Disney story from their Investor Day presentation, a slide like this…

IMAGE 9 - Five Brands

Then how can you not come away impressed? Or they drop these next two slides about Marvel and Pixar dominance…

IMAGE 10 - Box office slides

Then just write, “Look at that content!!! How can they fail!”

The problem? As I laid out yesterday, most of those Marvel movies (meaning more than 80%) won’t be on the platform at launch. Many Pixar films won’t be either. And quite a few live action films. So yes, Disney is doing well at theaters, but that won’t help Disney+ launch necessarily. And right now expectations for launch are going through the roof. Maybe we should temper them.

Which brings me to today. The TV side. TV on most streamers is say 60-70% of the value. (Really talking about Amazon and Netflix here.) For HBO, it’s probably 50-50. (Those Warner Bros, Universal and Oscar films matter to renewals.) For Disney, it’s probably 25-30% of the importance, considering how big/valuable the movies are. But if I look at the Disney+ TV library slate objectively—meaning not as a super-excited Star Wars fan; did you see that The Mandalorian trailer?—well, I have some concerns. (Again, this today is all about library content, since the new series are still mostly unknowns.)

Before we get to those, an update/equivocation on yesterday’s article.

An Update to Disney Princesses and Disney Animation

Most of the data I used yesterday came from two places: this LA Times article with confirmed Disney+ films and Bob Iger’s description of the content. An eagle eyed reader pointed me to the Disney Investor Day presentations and it had this quote from Jennifer Lee (head of creative for Disney Animation):

Classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King – the entire 13 film signature collection – will all be available on Day 1 of the U.S. launch of Disney+. Previously kept in the vault, they will now be available to everyone to watch anytime you want as a part of your permanent Disney+ subscription. 

Those 13 signature films really are money. Those are the drivers of lots of the product, home entertainment and theme park revenue Disney was built on. Here’s their image:

IMAGE 11 - 13 Signature Films

Moreover, Lee specifically said they were pulling these movies out of the vault. That’s a pretty definitive statement that Disney is blowing up the vault. This would change my two tables from yesterday, meaning we go up to 9 of the 14 princesses:

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Is Disney Bringing Back the Vault? My Analysis on the Strategic Implications of Disney+ Content Library

If the streaming wars were a medieval war, original content are the mounted knights. Especially the pricey TV series. Like knights of the medieval ages, these extremely expensive weapons will likely win the war for one side or the other. This would make the siege engines the tech stack and distribution infrastructure. The logistics supplying and feeding the armies is the hordes of lawyers and finance folks in the bowels of each studio.

But an army is much more than aristocrats in suits of armor. It needs masses of peasants clinging to sticks and spears, ready to be mowed down by mounted knights or crushed under hails of artillery. Who is that in the streaming wars?

Well, library content, of course. 

Over the last few weeks, we’ve gotten quite a bit of news about the size of the various infantry nee “library content” that a few of the new streaming services are rolling out. Let’s run down the news of the last few weeks:

– First, Disney reveals the number of films and episodes for Disney+ in its earnings call.

– Second, Bloomberg reveals Apple won’t have a content library.

– Third, Disney reveals not just the count of its library, but the specific films and TV series.

Altogether, we now know quite about Disney’s plans for Disney+. As a result, I’m going to dig MUCH too deep into it trying to draw out strategic implications and meaning from Disney+’s future content library. Today, my goal is to focus on the strategic dimensions of Disney’s content plan. Its strengths. Its weaknesses. What it says about Disney’s future plans (and constraints to those plans). 

I have two reasons for doing this. First, since Disney+ is fairly small of a library, we can draw a bit more conclusions than we could about some other streaming services—like Netflix or Amazon—which have thousands of movies that change constantly. 

Second, library content really is important. To continue the martial analogy, infantry won’t win the war on its own—smaller armies often best bigger ones—but having a bigger army sure can help. Having the best library content is a tremendous head start. 

Both those points collide in Disney+’s future catalogue. Despite its smaller library, Disney+ may launch with the most valuable content library in streaming. Pound for pound, this will be the strongest film slate on a streaming platform, with a decent TV slate. But I’ll be honest: it may not be as strong as you think. I’m about as bullish as they come on Disney+, but running through the actual numbers has sobered me up.

Let’s dig in to explain why.

What We Know about Disney+

One of the secretly important parts of the last Disney earnings call was their description of their upcoming content slate. Here’s a screen grab of Variety’s coverage, that quote Disney CEO Bob Iger directly:

IMAGE 1 - Variety Quote

If you’re like me, as you pondered this for a later Twitter thread, you captured the pieces in Excel. Like this:

IMAGE 2 My Capture

Unfortunately, we still had a lot of questions. Marvel films? Which ones? Star Wars films? Which ones? And which animated films? Then, before D23—Disney’s annual convention for super fans—Disney provided the answers to some news outlets, like the LA Times, which had had a huge list of confirmed films. So I dug in. 

Disney+ Film – By The Numbers

The obvious takeaway is that Disney+ won’t come close to the volume of films that other film services will have. To calculate this, I’ll be honest I simply googled “film library count” and looked up Amazon, Netflix and so on. I found a few sources for Netflix and fellow streamers. After that sleuthing, here’s my projections for the biggest streaming services.

IMAGE 3 - Est 2020 Film Smales

Here are the key sources I used: ReelGood (Netflix 2014, 2016), Flixable (Netflix 2010, 2018), HBO (current), Variety (Amazon and Hulu 2016) and Streaming Observer (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and HBO, 2019). The caution is that I’m not sure the Amazon numbers are accurate and that some of the sources aren’t also counting films available for TVOD/EST. But these numbers were reported in Variety and Streaming Observer, so I’m inclined to trust them.

(Also, these were US numbers only. Other countries complicates it, but from what I can tell library sizes tend to be correlated over time.)

As has been reported constantly, Netflix is losing content. Specifically, it can’t license as much content for as cheaply. This showed up in the data: 

IMAGE 4 - 2010 to 2020 Film Slates

As studio launches their own streaming service, they take their films from fellow streamers. While Netflix has suffered the worst, Amazon isn’t immune. Meanwhile, HBO has stayed at the same, small level for most of the last decade. (Some estimates had HBO at 800 films, but counting the available films on their site gives me about 300.) Hulu has been shrinking like the others too. 

You may ask, “Where did the CBS All-Access numbers come from?” Well, that’s Paramount’s library of films, which CBS bragged about in the merger announcement. Obviously most of those films are in licensing deals already, but if SuperCBS really wanted to, they could try to get them back. That is the potential library for CBS All-Access. (And it isn’t as bad as the last ten years suggest. The Godfather? Titanic? Mission Impossible? Those have value.)

The Value of those Disney+ Films

The challenge is to take those raw numbers and try to convert them into actual values. If you’re a streamer, you can build a large data set—and I mean big—with streaming performance, Nielsen ratings, IMDb and other metrics, and judge the value of various content catalogues. While that gets you a very accurate number, at the end of the day we don’t need those extra bells and whistles becasuee we have box office performance.

Box office captures about 90% the value of a movie for a streamer. In other words, if you wanted to know if people like a movie (and will rewatch it), box office explains probably 90% of that behavior. 

So I pulled the last ten years of films, looking for how many Disney films ended up in the top 5, ten and 25. The results are, well impressive. Especially recently. (An additional, very safe assumption: that films released in the last year are more valuable than films released two years ago, and films in the last five years are more valuable than films from ten years ago, and so on.) If Disney can put all those films on its streaming service, in comes the money. So take a look at this table, with the top ten films by US box office, with Disney releases highlighted:

IMAGE 5 Disney Last Five YearsBy my reckoning, that’s 18 of the top 5 films of the last five years, 22 of the top 10 films and 32 of the top 25. Incredible. And I realize I’m not breaking any news here.

So here is some new news. As I mentioned above, Disney released to the LA Times a list of films confirmed for Disney+, and well, it’s quite a bit few films. Here’s the last ten years of top 10 box office films, with the films actually making it on to Disney+ highlighted in blue:

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On Content Arms Dealers, Aggregation and the Perfect Bundle: What Is/Should Be ViacomCBS’ Competitive Advantage?

Let’s get right into Part II of my a quest to find SuperCBS’ competitive advantage. (Reminder: SuperCBS is my nickname for ViacomCBS.)

Competitive Advantage: Become a Content Arm’s Dealer

Why?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t come up with this on my own. I first read it on Twitter by Rich Greenfield. Then I heard it from Matt Belloni and Kim Masters on The Business. The logic goes, with 140,000 episodes of television and 3,600 movies, the combined ViacomCBS has the content people already need for their libraries. Moreover, they’ve been making TV and film for decades. So as new entrants like Amazon and Apple struggle to make good shows, CBS already knows how to do that. They boast 750 shows currently in production or ordered. 

Reading their press release announcing the merger makes one even more inclined to consider this position. They clearly think their advantage is content production. Most of the facts from above came from that announcement.

Upside?

Quantifying the upside here is fairly difficult because you need to separate how many shows SuperCBS will sell to its linear channels, its digital outlets and then other folks. Or what happens to their movie output deals. (For instance, Paramount is already making some films for Netflix.) Instead, the main opportunity is feeding the hunger for content from people like Apple, Amazon and Netflix. They’re buying lots of shows to air globally. It’s a sellers market. You should be able to make money off that.

However, as they grow, Netflix has pioneered the trend of controlling more and more of a show’s distribution. In return, the streamers like Netflix pay something like 130% of the production budget of a show to have its rights for 5-10 years. Except that Netflix then takes a 30% distribution fee, and can cancel a show at anytime, while keeping the rights in the near term. This means you essentially are selling your content for exactly what you make it for, which is a zero margin business.

Skepticism?

The reason that there is even a debate between “distribution versus content” (content is king!), is that everyone wants to be a distributor. The way you make money, the conventional wisdom goes, isn’t to be a content producer, but a distributor. As soon as the FCC relaxed rules on the amount of owned content aired on broadcast channels, all the broadcast channels went to majority self-produced content. As a result, many independent TV producers went out of business by the end of the 1990s

TV Value Chain

In the TV or movie value chain, the worst place to be (besides being a customer?) Is to be the producer in the middle. They’re squeezed on both ends. The creatives demand increasingly higher payments to work on the shows or films. (Creatives like JJ Abrams, Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy or Benioff & Weiss are the rare commodities in this market.) Meanwhile, the distributors insist on huge margins for simply putting out your content. (The traditional film distribution “fee”, for example is 25-30%. The streamers have similar fees.)

Sure, the TV producer “owns” the content, but if they can’t sell it anywhere else, where does the extra money come from to pay for overhead, studio lots and, eventually, shareholders?

Worse, the biggest upside TV producers had is potentially disappearing. That was syndication revenue, which was a monster. Shows like Friends, The Simpsons and, now, The Big Bang Theory are worth billion dollar pay days. But it required making hundreds of shows to get those handful of hits that could be sold into syndication. (Netflix doesn’t let a lot of shows get that far anymore.) If the bundle falls apart, syndication goes too. Will streaming be as valuable as syndication? I’m skeptical long term.

Making matters even worse, companies like Netflix are moving to owning more of their shows, so they can keep these margins low. (Netflix can say, “Don’t like our deal? Well, we have Benioff & Weiss, why do we need you?”)

Future M&A Needed?

MGM and/or Lionsgate. 

If you’re selling content, having valuable libraries will only help you deliver on that value proposition. To go with the arms dealer analogy specifically, MGM is like adding a lot of AK-47s while Lionsgate is a few additional heavy tanks. MGM can bring you Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz while Lionsgate has Twilight and The Hunger Games. Those aren’t bad additions to a streaming library!

Competitive Advantage: Become a Distributor

Why?

If I could choose anyone to be in the streaming wars to come, it would be the folks who are distributing the content. My working theory is these distributors will be the best positioned companies to thrive. These distributors are stepping between the “pipes” to become the new multi-channel provider. The people not just selling their own subscription streamer services, but taking 30% off every subscription they sell.

The best way to make money in entertainment? Not even distributor, but distributor of distributors, taking a percentage without doing the hard work of making TV shows. So Amazon, Apple, and Disney won’t just be people owning streaming platforms like Prime Video, Apple Plus and Hulu, but also selling HBO, CBS All-Access and Starz. And taking 30% from each “channel” they sell you. (But not Netflix. No one gets to resell them.)

Upside

My quick math is that if you can get to 30 million US subscribers, with an $80 monthly bill, and take 30% of that, well that’s a $8.5 billion dollar business. Add an international business with 50 million subscribers at $40 a month, and you’ve added $15 billion to your top line. Not bad.

The non-monetary upside is considerable too. If my theorizing is correct, the new carriage wars are going to be about distribution on the new distributors. (Article on that here.) Say Disney and CBS are having a tough negotiation over CBS All-Access on Hulu. Well, CBS is in an even stronger position if they can also threaten to drop Disney+ from their distribution platform then if they have to argue just on the merits of CBS All-Access (and Showtime). So if you’re a streamer, owning distribution makes it easier to negotiate with other distributors.

Skepticism?

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What Is/Should Be SuperCBS’ Competitive Advantage?

Competitive advantage is tricky. In a nutshell, it’s a business’ unique attributes that give it an edge. If you don’t like that definition, here’s the Wikipedia article. I looked in my strategy textbook to find a simple definition—again, I’m standing on the shoulder of giant’s here—but couldn’t find a simple one sentence definition. Here’s the best quote, though it has some jargon:

IMAGE 1 - Strategy TextBook

Businesses have two challenges with this. First, having a “unique” capability is tough. Hence, most entertainment conglomerates for the last thirty years looked and operated mostly the same. (Start with a movie and TV studio, add a broadcast channel, then some cable channels, with failed forays into internet “stuff”.) Since it is tough, most companies don’t know or can’t express what their competitive advantage is.

In fact, one of my favorite “corporate America” stories is about competitive advantage and lack thereof. Fresh out of business school, I was participating in our business unit’s annual planning process. We were setting our plan for the upcoming year. When you learn using the “case study” method in b-school, well, 8 times out of ten it’s basically “competitive advantage” boot camp. You’re always studying the innovative companies who had a competitive advantage. Unless it’s the cautionary “failed business” case study, which meant they didn’t have a competitive advantage, and the company who did have one ran them out of business. (See Walmart and K-Mart.)

During this planning process, I foolishly asked, “Well, should we explain what our competitive advantage is?” The answer, was, “Uh, no. We don’t need to do that. We don’t need to have a competitive advantage to do our annual strategy.”

Fair enough! My boss was right. She didn’t really need a strategy to make an annual plan. We were going to spend lots of money making TV shows and movies regardless. What does strategy have to do with it? 

Not to mention, making annual plans is easy; doing strategy is really tough. It takes hard work and sometimes it requires admitting your strategy is either 1. bad or 2. non-existent. Moreover, even if you have a competitive advantage, it may not last, meaning you need to start all over again in a few years. Instead, most companies, leaders and groups just don’t talk about it. Maybe your corporate overlords or investors won’t notice you don’t actually have a strategy.

Keeping in mind most businesses don’t have a strategy, or they have a bad strategy, let’s ask:

What could be ViacomCBS’ competitive advantage?

This was the angle into SuperCBS that got me really excited last week. (Since ViacomCBS hurts my eyes to read, I’ve nicknamed them SuperCBS.) After digging deep into what “size” meant for my weekly column, I started musing on SuperCBS’ potential strategy. Mostly, I was dunking on their lack of a strategy. But as I reread the words, it felt a bit hollow.

It’s really easy to point at a company, find a bunch of different problems with their plans, and point out the flaws. If the company fails, I look smart, and can point at the column with a smug satisfaction. Even if they don’t fail, but merely fail to become the undisputed market leader than the column looks smart.

It’s much harder to look at that same company and imagine them as a beautiful strategic butterfly ready to emerge from the Porter’s Five Forces cocoon and fly into the world with a new competitive strategy that will help them acquire customers, grow marketshare and become an in class leader in entertainment. 

If I had to bet, I’d argue that 9 out of 10 entertainment companies–from telecoms to media to entertainment to tech–don’t really have a strategy. (The GAFA’s do, but subordinate business units may not.) This is the best bet to make for SuperCBS. But let’s pretend for the day that they really do have a strategy. I’ll start by listing the potential competitive advantages I see. I ended up with five. I’ll discuss the logic behind them, the potential upside and the skeptical viewpoint. As a bonus, I’ll recommend a merger or acquisition that could be needed to complete the strategy.

(Two cautions before we start. First, this is my “gut” analysis. I haven’t actually stacked all the options up with proposed financials, so I haven’t finished my thinking yet. And to that point since “strategy is numbers”, I’m going to throw a few in for every option, but these are pretty high level numbers. If I were doing an actual strategy, I’d demand a lot more rigor.)

Competitive Advantage: TV Advertising Oligopolist

Why? 

A fact in Brian Steinberg’s recent article really stuck with me: A combined CBS and Viacom could control up to 20% of TV advertising. This got me thinking that “advertising”  could be a capability that lays the basis of a new competitive advantage. This would pair well with Viacom’s recent acquisition of PlutoTV, an ad-supported video service. (Call that either an AVOD or FAST.) The logic here is, if you’re already great at selling advertising, lean into that capability and build it out. Become the ad-supported behemoth of the new TV landscape.

Upside? 

Well, if you’ve seen all the news articles where ad executives beg, plead and beseech Netflix to sell ads, you can tell they want to deliver Millennials advertising. Can CBS step into that role instead? Maybe. (Again, it’s a myth that CBS is only old people. It’s really popular with Millennials too. Even on the coasts!) So there is customer demand, and that will translate to advertising. Here are eMarketer’s estimates for digital and traditional TV advertising revenue:

In other words, SuperCBS currently has 20% of a $70 billion pie. (I found other similar estimates to eMarketers too.) But 40% would be even better! (Again, when thinking competitive, the goal isn’t a small slice, but the biggest slice.) And 40% of a $140 billion pie is even better. Of course, you know where this is going…

Skepticism?

Is the future of advertising digital or linear? Pretty clearly digital, and Google and Facebook have a tremendous head start, with Amazon as a third. Even if you just wanted digital video, Youtube is much farther ahead. (I’ve seen estimates ranging from Youtube owned $4 billion of digital video market in 2014 to $15 billion now, which is the highest estimate I saw. Though, I’m pretty skeptical they’re $15 billion of an alleged $17 billion pie…) 

I’d add even the ad-supported sphere will be extremely crowded and competitive. Roku is a well-placed competitor here. Or Hulu and ESPN+, depending on how many ads they keep selling. Plus, Amazon is getting into the game with IMDb TV and there are a bunch of other FASTs following them. 

Not to mention, you don’t start with ads, you start with customers, who you then sell ads against. The advantage of Netflix—and the reason Madison Avenue wants to work with them—is they already have 60 million subscribers in the US watching tons of TV. CBS All-Access hasn’t show it can deliver that yet. (Though PlutoTV is allegedly growing.)

Also, this is is a fairly US-centric approach, which limits the overall upside. Let’s pause on this last point. Does the strategy of entertainment conglomerates have to be global? Clearly Netflix and Amazon see global domination as a competitive advantage, but maybe by focusing on one country/region, smaller distributors can carve their own niches. I don’t know that I’d buy that, but I could see it.

Future M&A Needed?

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A TV Murder Mystery: Who Killed Game of Thrones?

Most of the time, when Hollywood kills off one of its TV shows, we know why. The ratings had been sinking or the talent asked for too much money. (Or recently, it was produced by a rival TV network/conglomerate.)

And yet, HBO killed off Game of Thrones, a TV series that was getting more popular with every season and making its parent company billions in the process. Meanwhile, other long-running series—with worse ratings—from The Simpsons to Grey’s Anatomy to The Walking Dead march on like, well White Walkers. The corpse of Game of Thrones is now—spoiler alert—as cold as Jon Snow’s after season 5.

Why? Who had the motive? And who issued the order?

We Officially Have a Murder Mystery

Frankly, there isn’t a great explanation for why HBO cancelled this series. In the past, I’ve estimated that this series was making an estimated $300 million a season for HBO. (And potentially much more. Read the original, and my director’s commentary here, here and here.) Sure, HBO has a great (on paper) slate premiering the rest of this year and next year, but you know what helps launch a great slate? The biggest show on TV.

Have no doubts this series was growing. The number of viewers rose in every territory that I could find that releases data. Over 44 million were tuning in per episode in America alone, up from 9.3 million in season 1.

GoT Viewership

Of course, in some circles—like HBO creator circles—the story is what matters. Maybe the creators wanted to wrap it up nicely. Except most of the criticism of the last season related to the fact that the series felt rushed. Here is just a sampling of critics and fans complaining that season 8 felt rushed. More episodes and more seasons would have solved this problem, and who knows, by a hypothetical season 9 maybe 50 million people are tuning in in America each year!

Who kills off a money making show? Who are our suspects?

The Suspects

HBO

The buck stops there. So we should start with HBO. Their motive in killing this show would be simple: It’s the most expensive show on television. And since it is already insanely profitable, any additional profits have to be split with talent who are negotiating tougher and tougher deals with more and more back end. Each additional season is less lucrative for HBO, and if the marginal benefits meet the additional costs, well economically HBO should cancel the series.

George R.R. Martin

Listen, George, you’re a part of this. You probably didn’t finish the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire, because if you had, you’d have published that book. Which you haven’t. Maybe you told HBO to stop the series. Or you never provided enough details to fully flesh out 3 to 5 more seasons of the show.

The Actors

When in doubt, blame temperamental actors. Am I right? “Talent” is what you bitterly mumble in Hollywood when you can’t control the situation.

The motives for these suspects—and really I’m talking the big five actors of Jon nee Kit, Cersei nee Leda, Jaime nee Nikola, Daenerys nee Emilia and Tyrion nee Peter—is pretty simple: they’re sick of working on this series. Or more precisely, as artists, they’re ready to make other movies about Greek Gods, Han Solo and Terminators. (Too far?)

Further, even if you don’t mind working on a TV show for the rest of your life—including shoots in both scorching deserts and freezing tundras—you do know how valuable you are. You can’t have a GoT without a Daenerys and Jon Snow/Stark/Targaryen. Knowing that, the actors negotiated phenomenally expensive payments per episode, over $1 million per actor. They also likely demanded higher back end percentages.

The Showrunners

If the actors are sick of this series, imagine the two people at the lonely top of the creative pyramid, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (D&D in Reddit parlance). I can’t describe adequately how insanely time consuming this series was for these two individuals. They wrote a majority of the episodes, supervised the entire production from set design to costumes and oversaw all the editing and post-production; and oh by the way (NFL announcer voice), it was the largest TV production in history. 

Meanwhile, they had plenty of opportunities to do other things, from Star Wars to a new overall deal to ideas in their notebooks we can only imagine. If you’re worth hundreds of millions of dollars (my tentative figure for D&D once they collect GoT royalties), do you want to keep spending your winters in Iceland and dealing with the most demanding fans in television history? That would be enough to say, “Eight seasons and we’re done!”

AT&T

Is there a thing that AT&T hasn’t managed to screw up since it acquired Time-Warner turned into Warner Media? Since taking over, they’ve lost the head of their movie studio, the head of HBO and plenty of other executives. Meanwhile, they named their new streaming service HBOMax, which was universally derided, and DirecTV is hemorrhaging subscribers. Oh, and AT&T is the most indebted company in America. Maybe they killed GoT to keep the losses from piling up. 

Netflix

When you discuss TV on the internet, you’re contractually obligated to mention Netflix at least once. While we give Netflix a lot of credit and blame for, they’re not involved here. 

The Evidence

Like a detective in Law & Order, it’s time to interview the witnesses. Which in this case means various articles that describes the suspect’s state of mind. Supply your own “dum dum”.

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How Can the NCAA Maximize College Baseball and Softball Revenue? My Unasked for Recommendations & Other Thoughts

As you probably know by now, when I write a long article for another website, I inevitably have some leftover thoughts that I put up on my my own website. So first, head to Athletic Director U to read my framework for looking at revenue growth and then read my first option, growing college baseball and softball. After you read those, today I’ll answer these additional questions:

– Should the NCAA invest more?

– Why did I include softball?

– What are some ideas to grow college baseball and softball?

– How would you negotiate the next round of rights?

Should the NCAA invest more in baseball?

My tentative plan is to avoid making “go or no go” decisions until after I’ve looked at 4 or 6 different opportunities. (We’ll see how long the series goes.) After I’ve evaluated that many, I’ll try to rank them by net present value and/or qualitative factors. So I don’t want to prematurely make any calls here.

But I feel pretty confident that the NCAA should lean more into college baseball. With other opportunities—take e-Sports or international growth—the learning or expertise likely just isn’t present. That means you’ll need to build institutional capabilities, which is fundamentally hard. Or, like with gambling, it may go against the organization’s charter. (And I use NCAA as a fill in for all colleges, universities and conferences.)

I don’t have that hesitation with college baseball. The NCAA can build these sports bigger, and, unlike other ventures I’ll explore, I can say the baseball investment has the smallest costs.

Why did I include softball?

Two reasons. First, philosophically I’m a big supporter of Title IX. I’m inclined to try to put women’s athletics on par with the men’s wherever possible. 

But this is a business website. So the real answer is money. College softball gets playoff ratings as big and often bigger than college baseball. Depending on whether or not the Olympics is featuring softball—and it depends, it will be back for 2020—these are arguably the best softball athletes in the world playing. And the cities/university fanbases tune in. Especially the legions of young fans who play softball. There is also some chance of synergies between the two sports and baseball and softball can benefit each other by growing, which I wouldn’t say for some other sports necessarily.

What are your unasked for recommendations?

In some ways, I saved the most fun part of my exploration of college baseball for my own website. Why not include these gems in the original? Well, they’re pretty much my gut thinking on the topic. So I don’t have a lot of tables or charts or numbers to justify my thinking.

Also, as I mentioned in the introduction, I love the “marketing framework”. The key step is identifying the target segment you want to reach, then positioning the product to them. That allows you to develop the “marketing mix”, often called the 4Ps. If I want to do this right, run that analysis first.

But that takes a lot of time to do right, and I had some ideas I just wanted to get out there. 

Gamify the Baseball Experience

I love being able to take off work for the first two days March Madness. For a few years in a row, my wife and I had schedules that enabled us to do this together. It was a phenomenal experience. Nothing is more fun than constant basketball games ending in buzzer beaters. (Can you imagine if the US made the first two days of March Madness a national holiday? All our lives would be better.)

In addition to the games, though, part of the appeal is filling out a bracket and seeing how well it does. That’s right, the simple act of picking winners and losers emotionally invests me in colleges I may have never heard of. Even if UCLA isn’t playing. (Some years I fill out a survivor’s bracket too, and get even more invested in that.)

Can college baseball get to the same thing? Sure. It would be a bit tougher because the individual game match-ups are complicated by the double elimination format, but you still have the start of a massive bracket to fill out. If you can make filling out baseball/softball brackets a “thing”, that can only help ratings.

Notice, I did use the term “gamify” versus “gambling”. I think you can create the same thrill of winning various pools without having to teach all of America how to wager on college athletes. (And my initial thinking is that even as the NBA and NFL get comfortable with gambling, college sports is a different arena entirely.)

Shorten the games

This is one of those touchy subjects I’m hesitant to even type. But let’s start with a personal example.

Game 2 of UCLA-Michigan was a win or go home game. It started at 6pm. Three hours later we were just leaving the sixth inning. A few extra innings later, and it ended at 11pm in dramatic fashion. So a fun, dramatic game, but five hours is a long time. I could have gone and played a round of golf in that time. (If the sun was up.)

This seems to be the most common recommendation for improving college baseball. Both pace of play and the length of games could be sped up/shortened without really hurting the game. I’m not a baseball traditionalist, but I already complain about the pace of play in both college football and basketball, so I think all NCAA sports could be improved in this regard.

Build out from the SEC

One of the underlying themes of the evidence is that right now college baseball’s growth is being driven by the SEC. They’re the schools that are out in front in revenue and ratings in football, and apparently are adopting college baseball faster than the rest. (The gold standard is LSU.)

When in doubt, I recommend making your strengths stronger. Keep reinforcing the growth in the SEC states, and it will expand to Texas, the midwest and eventually all of the country. Whatever tactics they’re using to work, other conferences can copy. Part of the SEC’s success may just be that it’s sunny enough to play baseball during winter, which is another potential improvement. (The Big 10 schools apparently are hindered by this.)

How Would You Negotiate the Next Round of Rights?

At first, I had my sports rights recommendations lumped in with the above growth opportunities, but I realized they were a subtly different area. So I split them out.

Really, this is how the NCAA monetizes its product. Sure, gate revenue is good. And sponsorships are something. But we know that the bat that hits the ball here is the giant paychecks from ESPN. So the NCAA needs to constantly maximize the revenue from this source.

Thinking about the future negotiations—and media rights deals—is crucial for the NCAA. So here are my initial thoughts on baseball I may try to quantify in future articles.

Separate baseball and softball from the rest of the NCAA playoffs.

This is really the point when I think individual sports can justify themselves as “the third revenue generating sport”: when they can stand on their own as their own negotiated deals. 

If you can separate out college baseball and softball from the rest of the NCAA playoffs, as opposed to a total content deal, I think the NCAA could get a higher price overall. (I’d add, if you separate out college baseball and softball, you can still have women’s basketball—the third highest sport in terms of ratings—prop up the rest of the post season sports.) I have to do some modeling on this, but the idea is you can get more bidders for more sports, which increases the odds the bidders are maximizing each bid. 

Shorten the length of the contracts.

If you think sports rights are going to keep increasing in the near future—and everyone is predicting that—why would you get into decade long deals? How much money are you leaving on the table between negotiations?

I first thought of this with the Pac-12. If they had done 6 year deals with Fox and ESPN, then the Pac-12 would be getting a price boost right now, instead of in 2022. Even if the price had been subtly lower for a shorter term in 2010, that would easily be made up for right now.

Take bids from everyone, but go with biggest audience builder.

This is a topic that’s worth twelve different articles, probably, but when it comes to picking a digital partner, value the money the most, but think about growing the audience as well. This would clearly give ESPN a lead track, but consider if another channel can commit to more marketing or feature a sport even more because of its new profile. Could Fox Sports pair their MLB coverage with NCAA baseball coverage? Also, for all the hype of digital only platforms like Apple and Amazon, pairing digital with linear will maximize the total reach, even if the price is less. Again, ESPN has an advantage here.

Final question: any last piece of advice?

Don’t hire consultants to do strategy. In my opinion, 95% of the time, businesses should own their own strategy. Strategic thinking is why you pay top executives as much as you do. If you don’t have the capabilities in-house, I’d ask your highest paid executive, “Why not?” If you don’t have a team building out these models and writing these reports, save your money from hiring consultants and build a team to do it.