Category: Weekly News Update

Most Important Story of the Week – 15 November 19: Disney+ “Sparks Joy” in Customers. What Are the Business Ramifications?

Is content is king?

After this week, how could anyone doubt it? Disney+ showed what having the biggest movies of the last few decades can do for a streaming launch.

But that’s not all! Apple landed one of the biggest free agent producers in former HBO chief Richard Plepler, for a deal whose terms aren’t disclosed. Nor even his role. But we can’t look past Disney can we? Nope. In fact, we’re giving a triple shot of Disney: first, the strategic implications; second, the competitive ramificaitons; third, the numbers.

[Programming note: Starting next week, I’ll be on paternity leave for the birth of my child. I have some articles mostly finished to keep posting, but the weekly column will be on hold until December.]

Most Important Story of the Week – Disney+ and Its Customer Value Proposition

When in doubt, we should default back to the “value creation” model for every business. Is a company capturing value or creating it? 

Disney+ Value Creation Model

I’m going to use my personal example to get at where I see the customer value proposition here. Specifically why me—and apparently 10 million other folks—rushed to sign-up or log-in on day one. Marie Kondo—the famed personal organizer—has a simple test for whether or not you keep something in your house. When you look at it, “Does it spark joy?”

That’s how I personally felt about Disney+.

For once, every Disney film my daughter loves was in one location. Every Marvel and Star Wars film I love was there too. Along with hidden joys like the Swiss Family Robinson or The Journey of Natty Gann. Or the X-Men Animated Series! And Gargoyles! Seeing those films brought visions of how I will binge TV for the next few weeks. 

As I was scrolling through the interface—I didn’t have any troubles—Kondo’s phrase hit me, “Spark joy”. 

It’s fairly incredible a streaming video service can evoke that level of emotion. But that’s the best way to describe the initial experience. Caveat galore that this is just my anecdote. But to judge by my texts and social feeds, the majority of the Disney conversation was celebrating all these films that were previously divvied up between FX, USA, TNT, Starz, Netflix and DVDs into one easy location. By a few reports, some folks even stayed home from work for the launch. That’s the type of devotion only major sporting events or, um, Marvel/Star Wars movies can evoke. 

(Yes, plenty of people gave it an “eh” online too.) 

To put this into the “value creation model”, if my price is $4 a month, the difference between the amount I would pay and $4 is the “consumer surplus”. Right now, I have to imagine that for hardcore fans like me, even an HBO level price would probably make sense, if the shows stay at the quality of The Mandalorian. 

Critically for this analysis, just because the price is so low now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Disney—like Netflix, Hulu and likely every streamer—is definitely underwater from a pricing perspective. Lots of folks locked in at $4 a month, and to produce even the new content will likely be more expensive than that. The key for Disney is figuring out how quickly they can make the price exceed costs. (Yes, as my big series of the year goes on, “An IPB of the Streaming Wars”, I’ll try to quantify this more exactly.)

Then the question is: at profitability, is Disney capturing value (just pricing below costs) or truly creating it? Given that Disney boosted my WTP for a streaming service, I’m leaning towards the latter. Moreover, Disney+ as a platform may drive some value beyond the access to its incredibly popular films. In other words, the whole of Disney+ may be greater than the sum of its parts. And these are valuable parts. (The biggest driver of entertainment WTP is simply having hit shows and movies.) 

So let’s explore the upside theories for Disney+’s value-added future. Since I’m never satisfied, I have some concerns too about some of their strategy.

Upside Theory: The Simpler User Interface – Decluttered

Let’s stay on Marie Kondo idea for a moment. Mary McNamara wrote an article in the LA Times not too long ago making the case that Netflix needs a Marie Kondo-style clean up. She’s not wrong. The reason—as emphasized by AT&T in their recent inventor presentation—is that it takes customers 7 minutes to find a show to watch. (Using a DVR, conversely, takes about 30 seconds…) Netflix is filled with lots and lots of shows and films, many of them “sub-optimal” from a customer perspective. Which makes finding shows difficult.

Well, the Disney+ app is made for McNamara (assuming she likes Disney movies!). Disney+ has a fairly limited interface—reminiscent of the HBO Go application—organized by the various content families. Within each section are the cream of the crop movies at the top, with the rest down below. In other words, the service doesn’t overwhelm you, and what is left will will “spark joy”. This is the best case for Disney+.

Downside Theory: The Nostalgia Factor Wears Off

Credit for this one goes to a Twitter conversation about how quickly “nostalgia” will wear off from the devoted fans. My answer is that in some cases, it never will. Those are the hardcore fans who go to D23. They aren’t enough, though, to build a media business.

For the rest, this is the biggest risk. Sure, I’ve had joy sparked at launch. How long does that last? How much does my daughter actually use the application? (We actually don’t let her watch alone on the iPad.) Especially for the older TV shows. Do they need more TV series to drive adult viewership, as I speculated here? I may find it cool to watch Duck Tales (1980s version), but do I actually binge the entire thing? Nostalgia may get folks in the door but a compelling offering will need new content to keep folks engaged.

Upside Theory: I Was Wrong about The Vault (It’s All Here)

Disney proved my August theory about missing films completely wrong. In the 11th hour they went out and got them all. Which is probably pricey, but helped the value proposition. Since they have all these movies, Disney+ would has something like 20% of the box office demand of the last decade on its service. That’s incredible compared to rival services. I was wrong and they have the entire vault for the most part. Here’s the box office films from the last four years:

image-5-disney-last-five-years.png

But this isn’t all good news. They likely had to pay huge amounts to other distributors to facilitate bringing all these films over. Will this immediate launch help pay that off? Absolutely, but they are deficit spending to make it happen.

Downside Theory: Why Did Disney+ Launch with Avengers Endgame?

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Most Important Story of the Week – 8 November 19: Franchise Lessons from all the Game of Thrones and Star Wars News

What happens when one week has so much news and the next has very little? Well, you roll one topic over. So the “most important story” this week is last week’s runner-up. 

The Most Important Story of the Week – Game of Thrones and Star Wars Franchise Lessons

Last week began and ended with dueling Star Wars and Game of Thrones news….

– First, HBO cancelled it’s “Age of Heroes” prequel series for Game of Thrones.
– Second, HBO announced another prequel series for Game of Thrones, based on the book Fire & Blood about the Targaryens.
– Third, David Benioff & DB Weiss—the Game of Thrones showrunners—had left the Star Wars prequel they planned to make

Since HBO Max sucked up the oxygen out of the entertainment biz room last week, I didn’t really have time to examine what the big franchise moves meant for entertainment. Which is a shame; monetarily, these announcements would have been the most important story in most weeks.

Here’s why: both of these franchises are worth billions. As I’ve written extensively on here and here. And it’s not too bold to say that how HBO manages Game of Thrones and how Disney manages Star Wars will play a key role in either launching successful streaming services or failing (and losing billions).

Today, let’s look beyond how fans will feel about these announcements, to what we can learn from a business strategy perspective. Meanwhile, Marvel will keep coming up, because it’s the most well-run franchise in the game right now.

Business Issue 1: Pilots Are Great Investments

You’ve probably heard the old story that Seinfeld tested very poorly as a pilot. Development executives bring this up all the time when a pilot inevitably gets bad reviews. “Well, Seinfeld tested poorly too!” It ignores obvious counters that most pilots that test poorly ended up being poor TV series. Conversely, quality pilots are highly correlated with successful series. Take Game of Thrones. Sure, the initial pilot tested poorly, but the reshot pilot is one of the greatest in TV. The Breaking Bad pilot was similarly fantastic. 

This is why, I praised HBO for making a pilot for their “Age of Heroes” GoT prequel. You’re about to invest maybe a hundred million dollars in a TV series. Make a pilot and see if it’s good. Except then HBO went straight-to-series on their House of the Dragon prequel series. Sigh. Essentially, HBO Max made a good decision (make a pilot, it tested poorly, don’t go forward) and then made a bad decision (go straight to series). 

When it comes down to it, overall going straight-to-series is just another example of how prices are increasing for distributors without actually increasing the top line. It increases the upfront costs (full season commitments to talent) while decreasing the hit rate (no pilot data to kill duds early). HBO feels like it has no choice, though; since Netflix and Amazon are pushing everything straight-to-series, to stay competitive, everyone has to make everything straight-to-series.

Creative Issue 2: The Source of Game of Thrones Greatness

Still, there may be business logic for why HBO chose one pilot over the other here to go straight-to-series. Looking at what made Game of Thrones great, a lot of things contributed from the showrunners crafting a great story to Peter Dinklage just owning it. But if I had to pick the single biggest driver, it would be George R.R. Martin. Yes, Benioff & Weiss successfully managed a monster TV show, but at its core they wrote in an extremely fleshed out world of George R.R. Martin’s creation.

As a Game of Thrones fanatic, I’ve read everything GRRM has written on the series. Including a history book and the Targaryens Fire & Blood book (the one that is the basis for the straight-to-series order). If you asked me, what has a more fleshed out world, the Targaryen reign or the “Age of Heroes”, it’s the former by a landslide. (The Dunk & Egg books seem like a no brainer for a limited series as well.)

If that’s where you think the source of GoT’s success comes from, that makes the decision for which prequel series to order much easier. Go with the “Targaryens” every time. It has literally hundreds of pages of source material that will require much less from its showrunners than the “Age of Heroes”, which has about a dozen pages of material to draw from. 

Even in Disney’s own house, as the latest departure shows, they can’t  learn any of the lessons about leveraging your source material. Star Wars decided to toss out all it’s source material after the Lucasfilm acquisition. Specifically, the dozens of books in its “Legends” universe. (I’ve, uh, read all these too.) Instead, Kathleen Kennedy and team burned it all to the ground, and as a result had to come up with new stories from scratch. (Sometimes these stories had a vague connection to the Legends universe, but emphasis on vague.) Which makes the hit rate much lower than what Marvel is doing. It also requires A-List directors–or at least Kathleen Kennedy wants to work with A-List talent–which makes business point four below much harder.

Alternatively, Kevin Feige leaned into Marvel’s history. This source material is part of the reason Marvel has been so successful. It’s not like Kevin Feige is writing all these Marvel stories from scratch. He’s just adapting the best Marvel stories of all time, like Civil War or The Infinity Saga. 

Business and Creative Issue 3: Avoid Bad Villains

Multiple friends—all Game of Thrones fans; all unsatisfied with the finale season—complained to me about the prequel series being about the rise of the White Walkers. The logic goes, “They were dispatched so quickly and easily, I don’t want to see them in another series.” Yes, this is an unrepresentative sample size, but it speaks to very real creative issues.

If that sentiment showed up in the testing—and I believe HBO tested the latest pilot with focus groups—then that alone could explain why the prequel didn’t move forward. Doubly so if combined with the lack of source material on the “Age of Heroes”. 

There is a business lesson here too, one about coordination and intertwining storylines. If the ending of the White Walker story was more satisfying for viewers, then maybe my friends message saying, “Man, I can’t wait to see the beginning to that.” Instead, the abrupt/rushed downfall of the White Walkers in a dark episode of television fundamentally ended the ability to create another revenue stream for HBO/AT&T. 

Star Wars faces this too. The last trilogy create a brand new bad guy (Snoke), then [spoiler alert] killed him off, and is currently debating if the big bad guy–Kylo Ren–will become a good guy. Notably, in Avengers Thanos stayed bad the whole time. And now Star Wars may bring back Emperor Palpatine. In other words, after one of the best bad guys of all time–Darth Vader–Star Wars doesn’t know what to do.

Business Issue 4: Franchise Management is Hard. Really Hard.

The challenge for a network like HBO or a studio like Disney is managing not just the creative for one series, but thinking how the movements/plots in one TV series impact the larger business. Or one film impact the larger brand perception.

My current working theory is that Warner-Media doesn’t have as ingrained “franchise management” as a skill as someone like Disney. Disney has TV series and movies for Star Wars, Marvel, Disney animation and Pixar. Every character worth their salt has teams dedicated to manage that brand, building value over time. They really are experts at it and integrating it everywhere.

Compare that to GoT. Game of Thrones acts like an HBO property first and foremost. So HBO gets first crack at all the TV shows, but then nothing else happens. (Part of this is due to the fact that George R.R. Martin still owns the rights, but obviously AT&T should try to buy those.) We see the same thing with Harry Potter going the other way: lots of movies, no TV shows. (And slipping viewership.) DC probably has the most things being made, but with little connection between the movies and TV shows, just volume. (And a comic strategy of rebooting the whole thing every five or so years.)

This is likely the key issue with Lucasfilm too, in that top tier talent doesn’t want to sacrifice their creative vision for the larger universe’s needs. Which begs the question, “Why doesn’t Kennedy bring in creatives who will fulfill her vision?” That would mean not flashy names–like Benioff & Weiss–but directors who get the job done.

Really, only one person has figured out how to reliably do this right now.

The Reality: Marvel/Kevin Feige is the Best at Franchise Management Right Now

If you take all the lessons from Game of Thrones and Star Wars above, Marvel does each one well. Pilots? Feige does test shoots for controversial films to make sure they’ll work. (He did with Ant-Man, for example.) Source material? Yep, he picks the best stories and adapts them well. Good bad guys? Yep, Feige finds fresh bad guys each film. (Though arguably kills them off too quickly.) Coordination? Um, yeah we just saw that with Avengers: Endgame. (He found a set of directors who shared his vision, by the way, in the Russo brothers and gave them four huge films.)

Finally, he keeps the quality high. That’s a unique skill he has. (Unique as in one of maybe 5 folks in Hollywood.) Which is a credit to him. Marvel was barely anything when this century started. But by giving Kevin Feige the reins, his successful stewardship has created tons of value. And now he’s taking over TV whereas HBO/HBOMax is trying to figure it out and Lucasfilm fumbles for the next creative vision.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story – Apple TV+ Launched

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Most Important Story of the Week – 1 November 19: My 6 Strategy Thoughts on AT&T’s HBO Max Rollout

Whoever writes the book on the (hashtag) streaming wars may call this week the seven days that truly started the fighting. Sort of like how Germany and Japan were doing bellicose things like building navies and mobilizing armies before World War II truly kick off in earnest. Disney started the week with a marketing blitz (a strategic bombing campaign?), Apple TV+ ended it by launching their service (a maritime invasion?), but in the middle came AT&T with their plan for the streaming wars (a mission brief?). 

Which by popular acclaim will take the spot as…

The Most Important Story of the Week – AT&T Unveils HBO Max

Before this week, we could only speculate on what HBO Max could or would be. Now we have a plan with the tactics to back it up so we can start to judge. My goal is to try to probe for insights we may have missed, but mostly, to talk about the strategy. Because finally we can.

A caveat. A giant one: this article will not contain all the thoughts needed to evaluate AT&T’s strategy. Consider this the appetizer for future strategy entrees in longer articles.

Strategic Thought 1: Offering AT&T Live TV with HBO Max is the Biggest Strength

Yep, content and product and marketing and even gratis distribution to current HBO subscribers are all important strategic factors here. But in my mind all of those are superseded by this chart introduced by John Stankey:

IMAGE 1 - Three Tiers

Frankly, most customers will want live TV of some sort in their lives. From sports to news to local channels, it’s just something folks want, and why, as Alan Wolk has banged the drum on, cord shaving or shifting is more common than cord cutting. By putting AT&T TV into their presentation, clearly AT&T sees a similar upside that I wrote about for Disney/Hulu here. It’s more profitable to be a distributor then just a streamer/channel.

Which isn’t without risks. The first risk? Playstation shutting down Vue shows the money burning proposal that MVPDs currently are. The second risk? Even AT&T is losing cable and faux-cable subscribers, as it announced on Tuesday. The third risk? See customer confusion down below. The fourth risk? Jamming in advertising, which will only muddy their offerings further.

It also dangles the biggest question mark which is does AT&T TV stay “vMVPD” or become “OTT distributor” too? Amazon, Roku and Apple are the latter with their dueling channels businesses, but Hulu Live TV, Youtube TV and AT&T TV are the former. The upside for AT&T is that once you have a streaming platform and a billing business, adding OTT add-ons from a technical perspective is relatively minor. But it could be lucrative.

Strategic Thought 2: Jargon May have Replaced Strategy

If thought 1 is the best case, this thought is the worst case. Let’s pair a key quote with the slide for it:

“We’ve created a vertically integrated company that will allow us to benefit from a virtuous cycle of development and growth. When you take our beloved, high-quality premium content and add innovative features to provide a superior user experience, it promotes subscriber engagement.”

That is a lot of buzz words packed into one sentence, and they laid it over a virtuous cycle/flywheel!

IMAGE 2 Flywheel

If you unpack Stankey’s words he’s saying: offering good content and a good product will increase our subscribers. Groundbreaking stuff here. But does he say how they will take an edge to get there? Crickets.

Instead, as the presentation eventually made clear, AT&T’s real strategy is about taking the past and just applying it to the future. AT&T is pretty much making the bet that “we have cash flow from cellular subscriptions to fund a streamer at a loss” and “Warner Bros/HBO have huge libraries” to be its content backbone. That’s their actual plan, not the virtuous flywheel above.

Having a jargon filled presentation doesn’t mean you strategy is bad, but I’d say it is highly correlated.

(And with this section, cross AT&T off the places I’ll ever get a job at.)

Strategic Thought 3. Targeting…Everyone?

To continue the negativity, if you had a clear strategy, you’d target a specific group of customers. Who is AT&T going to target? People. All of them. Which was probably the most-shared slide on Twitter. Specifically, how HBO Max targets all four quadrants:

IMAGE 3 Targeting Everyone

I’m not ready to condemn this though. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Apple TV+ and AT&T all see an upside in targeting “everyone”. (Netflix takes it a step further and is trying to target everyone in every country simultaneously.) Indeed, broadcast TV started by being “broad”, didn’t it? That’s the same plan for the streaming wars, we’re just replacing ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox with Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock and CBS All-Access. Everything else will be targeted, like our current cable channels.

In other words, we could rename the streaming wars, “The battle to be the new broadcasters.”

Disney+ benefits from this approach by their competitors, though. They alone among the streamers have said, “Our family channel is our family channel” and can then focus on Hulu not paying extra for kids content. Netflix, Amazon and HBO Max clearly can’t support a kids-only channel so they’ll be competing for families against that juggernaut as an add on to their broad option. (My quick take on the SWfK, streaming wars for kids, here.)

Strategic Thought 4. Let’s Talk the Biggest Upside: Content

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Most Important Story of the Week – 25 October 19: The Streaming Revolution Will be Metricized

I hope any of my readers impacted by the ongoing wildfires in California are okay. This is a problem as a community California/America/the globe needs to address, but that’s not the subject of this column.

The Most Important Story of the Week – The Streaming Revolution Will Be Metricized

The news story is that Nielsen added Amazon viewing to its data collection on streaming. Last December,  I wrote that “measurement” and Nielsen aren’t sexy topics for news outlets, unless they involve popular movies or TV series. Indeed, I hadn’t written about them since. For executives, though, this is a classic “most important story you may have missed”; data will be the currency of the streaming wars just as it was for the broadcast wars; good data will enable you to make better decisions. 

So let’s understand it with a few thoughts. (Full disclosure I trial ballooned some of these thoughts on Twitter here.) 

Thought 1: The limits of Nielsen’s streaming data.

Nielsen only collects “Living Room TV” viewership in the United States. Alternatively, when Netflix releases their household viewership numbers, that’s every device globally. That’s a pretty clear difference we need to account for if we want to make numbers “apples-to-apples”. 

The other measurement services have similar limitations. Some only cover desktop viewership, like Jumpshot, whose article on viewership I linked to last weekend. This, though, isn’t as big of a problem as it seems. If you know how to weigh the size of a distribution platform, given the behavior of customers is mostly the same across devices, knowing just one part of the ecosystem can allow for pretty accurate estimates across services. Device usage doesn’t tend to skew demographically too much in any direction, meaning it’s fairly representative. 

Thought 2: Speaking of…there are more and more companies in this space.

Last year, writing quickly on this, I referenced a few companies like Nielsen, Hub Research and TV Time trying to crack the streaming ratings game. Now we can add Parrot Analytics, JumpShot, and 7Park to this group. Some companies like Second Measure have tangentially related data (sign up rates).

Why so many? Well, unlike Nielsen in the golden age of TV, who had to send surveys out to folks in every market who had to hand write down their TV viewing, nowadays, every way you watch TV can be captured in digital data. It requires some partnerships and permissions, but once it is set up you can draw lots of data insights as long as you have a representative sample, which is really these companies secret sauce.

I’ll add, the hope is that if these companies go global, we may have more, better data than ever before. As I’ve hit on a bunch recently, when it comes to second windows of theatrical movies, we really don’t know what their global viewership looks like. So 25 million may be a good number for Netflix, but how does it compare to Jurassic World? Or Avengers: Endgame? Until we have comparisons, we don’t really know.

Thought 3: Hey, this isn’t too inaccurate. 

To show this, let’s look at the latest datecdote from our friends and Netflix and Nielsen. Nielsen said 6.5 million folks watched El Camino (the Breaking Bad spinoff film). Meanwhile, Netflix said 25.7 million watched. Knowing that Nielsen only measures US, and making the conservative assumption that 50% of that viewing was on living room TVs…then the measurements line up! (Scroll down to data to see where the 50% comes from.) Again, the data isn’t perfectly correlated, but we shouldn’t expect it to be, especially if we have to estimate the US versus international split. 

Thought 4: Really, the difference here isn’t measurement, but publicizing the rating.

For a bit, I’ve wondered why NBC and other broadcasters let Nielsen publish their viewership. Imagine that: you wake up one Monday morning and every trade is prohibited from releasing any viewership numbers. Imagine if NBC insisted that Nielsen couldn’t distribute its ratings to its competitors either!

How would we know what is what?

Essentially, in a bid to increase their streaming subscriptions, Nielsen and other competitors are aping Netflix’s strategy of just releasing PR-friendly data points like on El Camino or The Boys, then asking for big companies to sign up to see the rest. Which is mostly fine since I assume most streamers have access to the data and as I just said, directionally it’s pretty accurate.

The bummer is more for the general public and folks like me who don’t have access to the data. Moreover, the more data stays hidden for the streamers, versus the publicly available data for the broadcasters, the worse it looks for them, even as we don’t quite know the true story.

The Future?

Here’s what I wrote last December, about Nielsen and the (hashtag) streaming wars:

It’s tempting to make exaggerated predictions going either way on this: 

Exaggeration 1: Nielsen will die and we will have no measurements!
Exaggeration 2: Netflix and Amazon watch out, someone will figure out all your measurements!…

The future is likely somewhere in between…So we will have the visibility into some of the viewership metrics that Netflix and Amazon fear….And we also will have less clarity because the era of a dominant researcher providing universally accepted metrics–Nielsen–will end, which means firms can cherry pick from the different measurement services even more in the future.

I think that’s too negative in hindsight. In other words, I’m much closer to believing exaggeration #2 will come true than I was last year. For two reasons. First, it’s so easy to get into this space that likely as consolidation occurs at some point, Nielsen or someone will start providing comprehensive ratings on a regular basis. Second, eventually someone will begin publishing lots more data on a regular basis in the trades in a race to win the publicity battle.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story

Hulu Live TV Crashes During MLB Playoffs and NBA Tip-Off

Clearly, I love basketball and went all in on the return of the Lakers. I went to my brother’s house–we share the love of purple-and-gold–to watch using his Hulu Live TV. So guess what? Halfway through the game, the game started freezing and crashing.

This was a bad user experience!

Two points about this. First, when it comes to “user experience”–a topic I think we as a community still don’t quite get, based maybe a pinch too much on my personal experience at a streamer–I think “failure” is probably the most important criteria to judge UX. If a video fails to load, that’s a failure. If a live stream stops live streaming, that’s a failure. If a program on the iPad crashes, that’s a failure. 

While we love to talk about algorithms, search bars and design, really the “failures” will determine streaming video success or failure. (So Disney+, watch out for this! Apple TV+ too!).

Second, right when you think sports is dead, you remember, oh yeah, folks love, love, love their sports. If Hulu Live TV was crashing for a rerun of House Hunters, no story. But for big events–this previously happened with the Democratic National Debate–then outrage. Just another data point that shows the power of live events like sports for TV. 

TCM Moves Off Basic Package for Comcast

On the surface, Comcast moving TCM to a higher tier sports package will NOT move tons of needles. But it speaks to a few themes I’ve seen again and again as the streaming wars heat up:

– First, conglomerate-launching-streamer on conglomerate-launching-streamer crimes. Comcast, who is launching Peacock, tells AT&T, who is launching HBO Max, they won’t keep paying for TCM, banking that not enough customers will complain. They may be right, but this won’t be the last tit-for-tat in the war between distributors to keep costs down.

– Second, the ever shifting value of “classic movies”. As Andrew Rosen is fond of pointing out, The Criterion Collection wasn’t enough to prop up FilmStruck, which AT&T shut down last year. Yet, classic movies and collections like Criterion continue to shift from streamer-to-streamer as the perceived value stays high, but the costs seem too much. I have a feeling that for all the hopes for classic films, outside of a handful of truly valuable films, most older films don’t generate the ROI to keep these pricey deals going.

– Third, yet, there may be some value that may not show up in usage metrics. There is that old anecdote that Netflix saw that folks kept “classic” DVDs in their queue like Citizen Kane, even if they never actually rented them. They just planned to watch at some point because classic movies are the “broccoli” of videos. This, my friends, is a tough data problem: how to value films folks don’t even interact with. (Meaning the presence of a film or TV series may be valuable to customers, even if they aren’t currently interacting with it.)

Disney and Verizon Deal

Disney signed a deal with Verizon, where Verizon will offer 12 months free Disney+ to its cellular subscribers. As I wrote last August, nothing shows the power of oligopolist subscriptions better than these free video giveaways. In layman’s terms, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile make so much off your cellular bill each month that these giveaways barely show up in the bottom line. 

To watch for, though, is the exclusivity piece going forward. AT&T will focus on HBO Max, because they own them. T-Mobile offers “Netflix on Us” (plus my update below) and Sprint sells Amazon subscriptions and offers Hulu for free. So Peacock likely won’t have a cellular partnership option, unless all the cellular companies offer multiple free giveaways or make it the subscriber’s choice, which I doubt. (Apple TV+ is also essentially the give away for its own devices, but likely won’t make any of the cellular deals either lest it offend the other carriers.) Honestly, I’d love to see/write a rigorous rundown on this topic.

Data of the Week – Living Room TV is Biggest Device for Streaming

By the way, my “data of the week” doesn’t have to be current! I missed this article from Recode at the time, but apparently at one of their journalist soirees, Netflix revealed some usage data. Specifically, how people watch, and it’s overwhelmingly living room TV. Even Youtube has more and more viewing on living room TVs. Which, if you’re about to launch a mobile-only subscription video service would be a pinch worrying. 

M&A Updates – Banijay May Acquire Endemol

Here comes the M&A tidal wave. Two indie–as in non-Hollywood, specifically European–production companies could merge. This could be a $2.2 billion dollar deal, but most of that would be Banijay acquiring Endemol’s debt. (The article does a good job laying out the facts.) This is the type of “content arms dealer” that would benefit the most from leaning into the streaming wars–they don’t own distribution currently–though it also shows the limitations from a profit perspective of that approach: if you don’t make hits, you aren’t as valuable. (Also, somehow Disney owns part of Endemol, because of course they do.)

Entertainment Strategy Guy Update – Quibi, Quibi, Quibi

Two news stories on Quibi, which launches next April. First, Quibi sold out its advertising inventory of $150 million. This is a great example of why you should have “priors” before you judge news like this. Is $150 million a good number? I don’t know. $500 million would be better, $50 million would be worse. Meanwhile, if Quibi doesn’t have subscribers, none of the advertising commitments matter because they’ll have to be returned. 

Also, Quibi has T-Mobile as a launch partner. Which again is fine. Probably not as good as Verizon, but they went with Disney+.

Lots of News with No News

Netflix and Password Sharing

If you read the actual transcript, Netflix had nothing new to announce on password sharing. This has been a misreported story. Netflix is not cracking down on password sharing.

Netflix Issues More Debt

On one hand, we obsess about Netflix. On the other, with their cash flow, this was totally expected and seemed to go off without a hitch.

All the conferences (Vanity Fair New Establishment; WSJ Tech Live)

I didn’t get invited to any fancy conferences, mostly because as an independent, anonymous writer I choose not to pay for them. Still, the amount of actual news seemed fairly sparse from the two dueling (Wall Street Journal vs Vanity Fair) conferences.

Management Advice – Try a Five Hour Work Day

Scroll down to the end of Matt Levine’s latest column or read the full thing at the Wall Street Journal for some terrific anecdotes about a unique German workplace. Essentially, the average human has about 5 great hours of work in them, and if they focus on those they’re more productive. Which aligns with the theories about Deep Work from Cal Newport. So a German compnay only has employees come in for 5 hours, and you can’t get distracted during those five hours. I love it.

Again, ask yourself: Is your work productive (adding value) or work?

Most Important Story of the Week – 18 October 19: The SWfK (Streaming War for Kids) Explained…

Disney+ started the week off with a social media bang! A massive Twitter scroll of every film coming to their platform organized chronologically. This became the topic of the week for the Screengrab crew and led exhaustive articles like Julia Alexander’s at The Verge. I’d been mulling doing an update on kids because the last few months have had a lof of news. This is an unscientific sampling of recent moves in the “streaming war for kids” (SWfK): 

Sesame Street is going to HBO Max. (Along with Studio Ghibli films.)

Viacom bought the rights to Garfield.

Apple has a deal with Sesame Workshop.

Walmart is focusing on “family friendly” with its Vudu service.

Netflix is going HUGE into kids movies.

And then the news story that did not get enough coverage at the time

– Amazon Prime/Video/Studios is pulling back from making original kids series

Huh. At the same time that Netflix, Disney, Apple and HBOMax are about to go heavy into originals, Amazon is saying, “Naw, we’re good.” In a way, this difference in strategy is refreshing. When it comes to the streaming war for adults, well everyone has essentially the same strategy: make big expensive genre series (GoT prequel, LoTR prequel, Star Wars/Marvel series, See/Foundation), award bait (Succession, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Handmaid’s Tale, Dickinson/The Morning Show) and grab a movie catalogue (if you own one). 

With kids, on the other hand, it seems like there is either a difference of opinion on how to compete for kid’s attention. Let’s bucket all this news as…

The Most Important Story of the Week – In the SWfK, Buy, Own or Rent?

The thing about the difference in opinion is that in a lot of cases, I could agree with both sides of the argument. What I’ll do is go by streaming service, highlighting along the way the two big issues I see. First, what to do about content: license (rent), library (own) or produce originals (buy). Second, is the UX good or bad?

Disney+: Mostly Library Content

When you think about it, kids have a very limited view of the world. My 4 year old, for example, watches what I turn on. And sometimes that is 80 year old films like The Wizard of Oz and sometimes it is band new movies like Frozen. While some new shows will definitely be a part of the Disney+ launch, overall this is a bet on library content. Especially the movies. 

For Disney, this isn’t a terrible idea. If you had to have anyone’s library content, the list would look like this:

  1. Disney

  1. Nickelodeon
  2. PBS
  3. Cartoon Network
  4. Netflix?

Still, there are risks. Mainly, that old kids content looks old. If Disney Junior could have simply rerun old episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, wouldn’t they have done that and never spent the money on Tots?  It turns out you probably need some new kids content, even if it doesn’t give you the sizzle that it does for adults. The question is how much? Which brings us to…

Netflix: Mostly Original Content

Netflix is making original content because they don’t have Disney’s luxury of already owning a library. And when it comes to renting or buying, buying makes more sense for cost efficiency reasons. If Viacom went “content arms dealer” and offered them everything from Nickelodeon for the right price–meaning very low cost per episodes–Netflix would say yes—but Viacom wants more money than that. 

Thus, Netflix wants to own the content so that they don’t have to keep paying the Viacom/Dreamworks etc deal tax in perpetuity. This should save them money. In the long run. But crucially it won’t save them as much money as Disney or Nickelodeon or even Cartoon Network who already have thousands of hours of kids content to give to themselves for free.

Worse, there is less upside in original kids content than original adult content. I mean, if you have a show win an Emmy, presumably a lot of adults hear about that. I doubt kids know that The Loud House won a Daytime Emmy.  Meanwhile, it’s cheaper to own a library than build one because you already know how many hits you have. Indeed, like most things, we don’t know Netflix’s failure rate on kids content.

Still, if owning a library is the cheapest option, then building one is the next cheapest. The most expensive option is to keep licensing, which brings us to…

Amazon Studios: No library content or original content

Here’s a headline I missed at the time:

Amazon Pulls Back from Original Kids Programming

Amazon Studios doesn’t have a library like Disney meanwhile they aren’t making originals. Which means they are totally dependent on licensing for the near future.

Here’s the thing: I don’t hate this as much as I thought I would. To go even more negative on originals for kids, using my toddler again, if I put on Muppet Babies from the 1980s or Muppet Babies from 2010s (repeat with Duck Tales), if she’s never seen the newer version she doesn’t really care. Meanwhile, she’s not on Twitter so it’s not like she can tell me that “baby film Twitter”—if it existed, and now I want it to—is in love with the latest season of PJ Mask. So again, why make kids originals?

To immediately contradict myself, while I don’t hate this strategy as much as I thought I would, I will say it does seem to bring the whole “Amazon Prime brings people in to spend more on Amazon” theory into question, though, doesn’t it? Parents with kids DON’T spend enough on Amazon? Aren’t they the most valuable segment Amazon has? 

Clearly, there is some limit to bringing people into the Amazon ecosystem. Because even cheaper than expensive licensing deals (like Netflix did with Dreamworks) are cheap licensing deals (just whatever is available and very old). Of which there is more out there than you would guess. The problem is this doesn’t really make you competitive with kids. Meaning even the “cheap licensing” plan could still lose money in the long run.

If I had to guess, the problem with Amazon Studios previous forays into kids content is two fold: first, it’s just a crowded field and hence even tougher to generate a return (even with parents buying diapers); second, the experience for kids (and especially parents) isn’t great. (Amazon still doesn’t offer a “kids only” app, which means kids can surf adult shows, which is “sup-optimal”.) Which brings us to…

Vudu (Walmart): Licensing content and some originals, but great UX

Vudu—from what I can tell—will have some of episodes of old TV that you can watch with ads. From Paw Patrol to Blues Clues. That’s the “cheap licensing” approach. Meanwhile, Mr. Mom is their first original, so they see value in original productions.

Unlike Amazon, Vudu/Walmart is leaning into parent/family friendly features. Presumably because if parents use Vudu, they will buy more on Walmart. In other words, the exact opposite logic of Amazon? Whereas Amazon doesn’t see the need for originals, Walmart does? See, the kids space is complicated.

The challenge for me with newer kids competitors is one of volume. Is two shows enough to hook a family? A dozen shows? More? It’s not clear Walmart has that volume. (Though again I need to surf more to find out how much is available ad-supported versus for purchase.) Which brings us to…

HBOMax – Sesame Street and…that’s it

It turns out there is a fourth expense option: license (rent) one TV series…and that’s it? 

Seriously, the HBO family programming slate is fairly sparse, speaking from personal experience. And Sesame Street skews so young nowadays that even five year olds have aged out of it. 

The question is how HBO Max will incorporate all the Cartoon Network and Warner Bros/Looney Tunes IP they own, or whether they eventually launch their own kids platform. (Since launching two kids platforms is the most confusing option for customers, bank on AT&T doing that.) It’s safest to say HBO right now is sparse; in the future, it will leverage library content. In other words, a little bit of everything because everyone has a different strategy in the SWfK.

Quick hits on the rest:

– Youtube: It has the library content because anyone can upload to it from anywhere in the world. Little kids aren’t that discerning. As certain shark videos prove. Essentially, though, Youtube has the opposite UX of Walmart. It has about the worst reputation possible, which will be the big challenge for the them.

– Nickelodeon (Viacom): We don’t know their plans yet. If they don’t become a content arms dealer, they may be too late to get a foothold in the kids universe. Meanwhile, they keep buying rights for IP, so are worth monitoring.

– PBS: Most likely it will become a staple on vMVPDs and FASTs, the question is how long does that take? Meanwhile, their app secretly does really well because of good UX and parent approval. They even beat Disney when it comes to discerning parents. Also, they have both library and originals.

– Universal Kids (Peacock?): Similar to HBO/Warners, Universal has a lot of kids movies and the question is “what do they do with them?” Universal Kids nee Sprout has been fifth in kids viewing for a long time and this space is crowded. If they asked me, I’d say they get out of the kids business, they’re too far behind.

Data of the Week

Meanwhile, this week was filled with lots of fresh data points. And I don’t just mean from Netflix, which I covered extensively yesterday

First, I stumbled across this graph by IHS Markit on the potential device penetration by upcoming streamer. Disney+ is close behind market leader Netflix, whereas Apple TV faces the toughest go.

Second, here’s another look at views of content on Netflix and how library shows dominate. This is driven by the amount of hours available for the big series. And while that may be the case, it doesn’t explain why The Grand Tour beats Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon (and Game of Thrones beats both because it has hours and was the most popular series on TV). And yes, you can see the logarithmic returns.

Third, this article looks at sentiment of Netflix searches. What I found fascinating is the idea that Netflix has so much content there is a paralysis of choice, which leads to negative consumer sentiment. In other words a “more curated” experience may benefit customers. That would seem to be to Disney+ and HBO/HBO Max’s advantages.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story

We’re long so quick hits to finish.

AMC (theaters) is getting into VOD. Specifically, not “subscription” streaming as some headlines suggested. I agree with the complaint that this is a few years late, but it feels disingenuous to complain AMC isn’t innovative enough, then when they try something new insult them for it.

Netflix is cutting back on stand up specials. Hmm. Will have more to say on this, but it seems like the marginal benefits of certain content buckets have caught up to the marginal costs.

Disney is airing High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ first episode everywhere. Meaning ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform. Along with the live Little Mermaid, That’s the cross-promotional juggernaut we expected to see.

Apple Launches In-House Production. My main take away from this last Friday news is that Apple realized much more quickly than Netflix that owning shows will make more sense than licensing or co-producing them.

Most Important Story of the Week – 11 October 19: Evolving Feature Film Strategies By The Streamers

I’ll admit it: I have a key question on my brain this month:

Should you release your film in theaters or straight to streaming?

Obsessed with it. Trying to compare Netflix to Disney to Amazon to Apple and the rest of the traditional studios is tough enough, and each has a different answer to that question. How can we tell who is right? Well, I’ll try. But I can’t answer it in one column. Instead, this is the amuse bouche for that discussion…

The Most Important Story of the Week – Evolving Feature Film Strategies By The Streamers

The “fun” story of the week was about He-Man and his potential reboot at Sony moving over to Netflix. Whether or not this move specifically happens–this story falls into the category of “are exploring” which half the time means it won’t–it pairs well with this in-depth New York Times article about Amazon Prim-Video-Studios’ evolving theatrical release strategy. Essentially, they (Amazon) won’t. 

For today, though, instead of focusing on “how” they release their films, I’ve been thinking about “what” types of films the streamers are releasing. Especially with Amazon releasing the relatively expensive (for them) Aeronauts, Netflix releasing a probably pricey Breaking Bad spinoff film El Camino and Netflix about to release the supremely expensive Martin Scorcese The Irishman

As I started to explain this shift, I came up with a thesis, but it didn’t really work. But then I had an opposite explanation. An antithesis if you will. So with that start, you know what? We’re going “Hegelian” on this today.

Thesis – Introduce the Low Priced Option and Then Move Up Cost/Quality Frontier

On the surface, this looks like a great way to explain what Netflix and Amazon are doing in feature films. Essentially, the low-cost entry method is all about finding a way to make a product for much, much cheaper and competing with incumbents by offering this cheaper option. Then, once you’ve established a foothold, you start making more expensive options and competing with incumbents directly. Presumably with higher quality and hence better margins. 

Take cars. Japanese automakers started by making cars that are safer and cheaper (Toyota, Nissan) then they moved into luxury market (Lexus, Infiniti). 

On the surface, that looks like what Netflix and Amazon are both doing. They start by making “prestige”-type films. (I do a quick definition of this in my latest Linked-In article.) So the streamers head to film festivals and buy films for “only” $14 million or so. They buy a bunch though, and give these to their customers. After the prestige films, they move onto the mid-tier films–say $20-50 million dollar price tags–like romantic comedies or horror films. And now both are graduating to the top of the income bracket: big budget films like The Irishman or He-Man. (Besides Aeronauts, Amazon hasn’t shown a willingness to go much bigger budget, but facts are no reason to spoil a nice narrative.) (As for previous studios trying to do this, Lionsgate is the best example.)

The challenge? As a reader pointed out on Twitter quite a while back, it isn’t like Netflix or Amazon Studios really figured out a way to make the films for lower costs. Netflix did when it came to licensed content; they routinely got studios to license them library films and TV series for way below the market value because studios considered in “found money”. (Indeed, back in August, I described how cable channels launched with reruns as a low cost option, then moved up the value chain as Netflix did here.) (Lionsgate tended to sell international rights to fund production, then made money off US distribution.)

Indeed, the main “innovation” of Netflix and Amazon was to take films that previously sold for $5 million at Sundance and pay three times as much for them. Definitively, then, this is NOT a low cost strategy. So what is it?

Antithesis – Make Increasingly Popular Films

Maybe this is moving up the “popularity” value chain. I like this approach because it combines two of my old bailiwicks. First, as I repeat ad nauseam, is that popularity is logarithmically distributed:

chart-2-movies-again(More examples here.)

In other words, the most popular film in America–Avengers: Endgame–is as popular as the bottom 500 films released in America in 2018 put together. My second bailiwick is that something that is popular on one platform is popular everywhere it airs. (ie The Force Awakens was the most popular film in the US on theatrical, home entertainment and linear TV. And very, very probably streaming too, if Netflix would share the data.) With this knowledge, we could reframe the initial strategy of both Netflix and Amazon as: 

Start by making pretty unpopular films, then make slightly more popular films and finally start making very popular films.

Prestige films and documentaries are less popular than teen rom-coms, gross out comedies and horror films, which are less popular than superhero movies. Crucially, the popularity is still roughly the same whether it goes to theaters or straight-to-streaming; popularity is popularity.

Does this help explain the behavior of our streamers better? Probably. According to the article, Netflix wants to make one “quality tentpole” quarterly AND it needs international appeal. Presumably films getting 80 million subscribers like Bird Box and Murder Mystery show the value of moving up this popularity theshold. The Breaking Bad film El Camino likely fits this category as well, being the equivalent of a Downton Abbey-sized film, bigger than many Sundance acquisitions but smaller than superhero films. And Aeronauts will likely have more appeal than a lot of other Amazon Studios acquisitions that were geared for awards season only. 

Presumably, a well done He-Man could do even better. Specifically, whereas prestige dramas and TV spinoffs may have a limited appeal globally, we know superhero and big budget sci-fi/fantasy can travel. He-Man fits that bill.

Synthesis – Moving Up the “ROI Cost/Quality Frontier”

The problem with just focusing on popularity is that, yes if all things were equal, you want more popular films. But these films specifically aren’t equal in one key regard: while most Sundance acquisitions are at most $5-15 million, The Irishman and He-Man could easily be in the $150 to $250 million. You could buy all of Sundance for those prices. 

I bring this up because of another Netflix film I haven’t mentioned yet, which is Triple Frontier. A key report in The Information leaked news that even with 40 million customers, it wasn’t “profitable” (though they probably said cost effective) for Netflix. It cost $100 million to make this mid-tier actioner.

That’s because popularity and cost combine together for ROI, or return on investment. Just because something isn’t “popular” doesn’t mean it isn’t cost effective. Horror movies are the gold standard here. Many are nowhere near as popular as superhero films, but they cost so much less that even middling popularity gives great ROI. A few weeks back on Strictly Business the CEO of Walden Media bragged about their strong ROI on their family films, despite not making as much money as say the Disney tentpoles. He’s totally right. I’d add animation has been an ROI gold mine for studios too.

But…

The best ROI really is big four quadrant tentpoles, even with the huge costs. If you can create a franchise, the hit rate skyrockets. Even as it decays over time (see Lord of The Rings Hobbit films, Pirates of the Carribean or Transformers), the films still often make their money back. (See my “economics of blockbusters” here.) That’s more than can be said for most Sundance acquisitions or even mid-tier comedies and horror flicks. I’d add, given that they travel well, big budget tentpoles have even better ROI for a global streaming service.

Netlix knows this and knows that 40 million for $100 million isn’t enough. It needs 150 million global viewers for $200 million. Hence, He-Man. (If it works.) Amazon Studios in a way is already doing this too, just in TV, essentially turning Lord of the Rings into the most expensive TV series of all time. Now, it does require more cash to compete in this expensive arena, but Netflix and Amazon seem willing to do that.

Other Quick Thoughts

I had some other quick thoughts I couldn’t fit into the above narrative too:

– There are additional ramifications for Netflix’s spending. Because if you can make Triple Frontier for $40 million, maybe it is “profitable”. In other words, if costs matter–they do!–then freewheeling spending may not be sustainable. 

– This doesn’t quite explain why Amazon isn’t releasing films to theaters anymore, I’ll admit. Instead, I’d focus on the marketing spend. The mistake wasn’t acquiring Late Night per se, but spending $30 million (at least, maybe higher) to market it unsuccessfully. If the films aren’t even going to make back that marketing spend, well just release them straight to your platform.

– Apple spent a ton of money for a Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds Christmas musical. (Yes you read that right.) Does this explain that? Sure, they’re hopping to the middle tier after their first set of films are mostly awards bait. 

– But why the overspending from the streamers? Right now, my working theory is that the marginal benefits of new subs is so high that overspending makes sense financially. As you hit maturity, though, those benefits decline precipitously, so you can’t keep doing it. That’s Netflix’s world right now. (I need to write an article to flesh this out.)

– What about Sony? Well, essentially take my feature film model, and apply your own percentages to it. If you accurately account for all the potential revenue streams (including a successful franchise), and still Netflix will pay you more in a “cost plus 30%” model, then you make that sale.

That’s it for feature film on streaming musings. For now. We still haven’t gotten to the rationale (or lack of) for skipping the theatrical window, which will be a future article series.

Oh, one more thing.

Post-Script: Man, He-Man? Seriously?

Also, just rewatch this trailer:

Maybe that’s why Sony hasn’t been able to get a working script in 12 years.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story – NBCU Reshuffle

I read this Variety story twice to make sure I got everything. Wait a minute. Okay, just read it a third time. Then listened to TV’s Top Five.  

Honestly, I feel like I could read a powerpoint presentation of this and still not quite understand who controls what and who reports to who(m?). There are presidents and chairmen and vice-chairs and folks reporting to multiple bosses galore. (Cue the Office Space joke.) Basically, who will make what decisions on what? I don’t quite know.

I almost elevated this to my top story because I’ve long wanted to explore Bonnie Hammer’s role at NBC Universal. She’s right on the cusp of being a top development exec–meaning I put her in that Moonves/Burnett level–but she stops just short. Syfy has had just too many slip ups to make her track record spotless and she doesn’t get credit for Bravo’s success rate. Meanwhile, USA Network had a great 2000s (silently) but the 2010s have been…fine.

As for the final piece of this puzzle–Comcast veteran Matt Strauss moving to head Peacock–we don’t know. Strauss helped spearhead Xfinity’s operating system. That’s a great user experience. But streaming is much bigger and he won’t really have control over the content side. Hammer and the dozens of execs over there will determine what ends up on Peacock as originals and second runs. Which means that the internal turf wars at NBC Universal aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Also, call me old fashioned but I still like it when one boss leads a business. Don’t divide, the technical and creative sides to keep execs happy; find a boss who can lead.

Data of the Week – TV Ratings Bump from 3 Days to 4 Weeks

What is your default for streaming video? Either you believe that customer behavior is truly different on Netflix or it’s basically the same. That’s my take for DVRs, and Rick Porter has fun details on how long folks wait to watch content on delay on traditional TV, which certainly matches my experience. (We’re currently watching season 3 of Mr. Robot in preparation for the new season. We recorded it two years ago, so yes those commercials are out of date.) Porter’s data gives a tiny glimpse into this phenomenon.

My only so-so hot take is that this shows that TV viewing across platforms is more similar (sometimes very delayed, but the majority within the first four weeks) than it is different.

Entertainment Strategy Guy Update

TV Ratings Updates!

We had a lot of data from last week. Batwoman came out strong in the ratings–for The CW–and the All American may be getting a “Netflix bump”. Lessons? Some combination of marketing, buzzy IP and easy catch-up help ratings. Meanwhile, the NFL ratings are still strong, which does hell for narratives and helps create narratives galore. (Maybe the NFL ratings were a politics thing? Or maybe folks got over their concussion fears? Is cord cutting dead?) Honestly, we don’t know.

Overall Deals

Jordan Peele re-upped his overall deal with Universal films. I didn’t see a price, but I like this fine for Universal. However, if I had a first look with him–cough Amazon cough–I’d be pretty mad. I mean, between these films, CBS’ Twilight Zone, HBO’s Lovecraft Country, when is he going to give you any attention to pitch?

Management Advice – Email

I’ve had this article by Cal Newport bookmarked for a while now. I absolutely love his (deep) work. In my mind, your team, division or business–yes, you right there–can drastically improve its effectiveness by limiting, controlling and managing work outside of email. Key quote here:

Cal Newport Quote

Most Important Story of the Week – 4 October 19: Broadcast (and Streaming) Frightening Fall Numbers

Last week was “Fall Broadcast Premiere Week”. But I waited to judge everything until the numbers were in.

What do you mean, EntStrategyGuy? We had the day after air numbers. What did you need to wait for. Read to find out…

(By the way, have you subscribed to my newsletter? It’s the best way to ensure you never miss the EntStrategyGuy’s writings.)

The Most Important Story of the Week – Fall Broadcast Premiere Week & Netflix’s The Politician

Before we get to the most important takeaway, let’s ground this conversation in what we know:

– We know broadcast TV ratings.

– We know cable TV ratings.

And what we don’t:

– We don’t know Netflix (or other streamer) ratings.

– We don’t know digital and other VOD ratings.

Let’s dismiss one other fiction before we get going: ratings absolutely matter to streaming. As much if not more than broadcast and cable. In an age where people can churn in and out of streaming video platforms, having shows customers want to watch will determine who wins the streaming wars.

With that out of the way, today I’m floating a trial balloon; testing out a very sexy (for traditional broadcasters) theory. We don’t know Netflix’s numbers, but we know that broadcast ratings are going down. Ipso facto, we extrapolate from this that Netflix’s ratings must be higher than broadcast. My crazy new theory is…

Maybe this isn’t the case; maybe peak TV just means that everyone everywhere has lower ratings. And hence everyone’s business model is failing simultaneously.

In other words, in “The Streaming Wars”, can everyone lose? Let’s go to the evidence. First, let’s start with the gory details of what we know about broadcast ratings. Here’s from Rick Ellis’ “Too Much TV Newsletter”:

IMAGE 1 - AY Rick

I tend to focus on “total audience” because, well, so do the streamers. (Has Netflix ever broken out the 18-49 demo?) The downside is that the best new series only took in 6 million views. And since most shows only lose viewers after launch, that’s not great for the future.

Beyond just the new series premiering, the rest of the lineup hasn’t done much better. I am in love with THR’s “TV Long View” column by Rick Porter. Here’s the key quote from his article on premiere week:

IMAGE 2- Quote Rick Porter Premiere Week

Rick detailed the longer term slide broadcast ratings in general in the previous week’s issue. An issue I’ve touched on too.

It’s funny, though, to think about what Rick Porter–and some of the other TV reporters–do on a weekly/daily basis. They report overnight and C+3 ratings. As soon as they get them. As a result, part of the reason Porter et al can even write a weekly “TV Long View” column is because they have all the data. If broadcast ratings were secret, well what would they write about?

Let’s pivot to the streaming wars. If I or Rick Porter or Josef Adalian asked, “Is the average Netflix series growing or shrinking?” could we even answer that question?

Nope.

Instead, we have to triangulate an answer based on second hand sources. So take Parrot Analytics. They analyze all TV series globally for demand. Sure enough, Stranger Things is on top of the list. That’s a Netflix series. But up next is Game of Thrones. That’s an HBO series. The rest of the list isn’t so Netflix friendly:

IMAGE 3 - Parrot Analytics DemandNow this is from the week of September 28th, and they didn’t release a table for after broadcast. And given past looking at their data, I doubt any broadcast series made the list. (It skews a little genre, from what I can tell.) The point is if broadcast shows were declining for streaming in a one-to-one relationship, we’d expect Netflix to dominate this list. Instead, it’s a broad cross section of cable, premium cable, broadcast and streaming.

We could even ask about Netflix’s premiere week. I mean, they have one almost every week, right? So while all the broadcasters debuted their shows on the same week, Netflix released a bunch too (courtesy of AllYourScreens and Rick Ellis again):

IMAGE 4 - AY Rick Premiere TableClearly, The Politician was their focus. To reframe the topic, did The Politician “beat” all the broadcast series for viewers? Maybe? We don’t know? Because we don’t have ratings and won’t get them unless Netflix graces us with them on October 16th (Q3 earnings report day). My gut is most observers of TV believe The Politician won the ratings week. Meanwhile, I doubt either Bard of Blood or Skylines will rate…anything. Still, I took The Politician, and put it up against The Unicorn to see who won the week, with some comparables:

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