The Entertainment Strategy Guide to 21 February 2020

More Star Wars, Spotify buying The Ringer, SuperCBS and more

Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy Newsletter! My favorite reads, listens, socials and more to keep you informed on the business of entertainment, with the links to my recent writing on my website and elsewhere.

This week’s newsletter is only one day late, which is pretty good for me in 2020. Hopefully you got to celebrate President’s Day holiday, which my family did by visiting the zoo. Or “experiencing the experience economy” in contemporary jargon. Meanwhile, we’re finally past the deluge of “earnings season” news and we wait for the next round of streaming war launches, which should make for a busy April.

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The Best of the Entertainment Strategy Guy

“The 2019 Star Wars Business Report Part II – TV: Baby Yoda Saves Star Wars” at my website.

How much is “Baby Yoda” worth? I don’t explicitly answer that in my latest installment of valuing Star Wars in 2019, but I do take a stab at valuing The Mandalorian for Disney+ as part of my series asking, “How much did Star Wars make in 2019?” (If you missed Part I, it’s here.) Read this for a great explainer on how to value TV from a producer’s stand point, along with the difference even today from top tier movies and top tier TV series.

“Most Important Story of the Week: What Is SuperCBS Super Power?” at my website.

As I scanned the landscape of entertainment news stories, I kept coming back to the leak via CNBC that ViacomCBS is planning an HBO Max/Peacock-style streamer. ViacomCBS is one of the biggest variables left on the streaming wars battlefield. Am I bullish or bearish? I guess neither: I think they could put together a must-have service, but they’re far from Viacom’s peak and CBS is now the biggest fish in a shrinking pond. Thus, they definitely need to find a strength and lean into it. That story plus The Nielsen’s Q4 Viewing Report, Youtube and “Channels”, Amazon’s big new hire and more. 

Twitter Threads

First, I had a thread with my comments on Scott Galloway’s talk on the Streaming Wars.

Second, I aired out a question about Spotify after reading two newsletters on their Ringer acquisition. (See below.)

Third, I made a comment about how the big tech companies aren’t as innovative as they seem.

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The Best of The Rest

(These are the best reads, listens, newsletters, or social conversations I came across last week.)

Long Read of the Week - “Promoting Your TV Show In The Age Of Netflix” by Rick Ellis of All Your Screens

It would be easy to dismiss this article as simply a reporter complaining about inside baseball PR issues. I wouldn’t do that. Ellis—who is a Netflix bull, by the way—identifies some real issues with how Netflix launches its binge released shows. With some simple tweaks and focus, they could amplify their PR efforts. In business strategy terms, then, they have clear room to improve their operations which would help maximize their ROI. (Or they could release fewer shows/films.)

Other Long Read - “What is A View”

This website by Oriana Schwindt has a simple premise: it tells you want counts as a view on various streaming platforms. Hat tip to Joe Adalian for spotting it. Next time you hear views quoted by a tech company—SnapChat leads the club house in touting views right now—head over here to remind yourself how little that can mean. (For my take on why hours viewed are a better measure, go here.)

Other Long Read - Kevin Drum on Subtitles

I usually read Drum for his political commentary, but this post-Oscars article on dubbing actually explains why folks prefer dubbed films/series, how dubbing versus subbing works in various territories and the economics behind it. Given the explosion of dubbing in the last few years as the streaming wars expand, it’s an important read.

Listen of the Week -  Planet Money “Valentines 2020”

Every year, Planet Money sends “valentines” to some of their favorite creators, but Robert Smith sent perhaps my favorite valentine ever to discounted cash flows. He’s absolutely right that it’s the basis of modern finance/business, but most articles about it don’t mention it. (I’d argue you can’t understand the streaming wars if you don’t understand the discounted cash flows). They have some other great valentines too, including recycling, barbell theory, banana holders, and more. (My attempt to explain cash flows/net present value here.)

Newsletter of the Week - Two Spotify-Buys-The-Ringer Newsletter

Spotify has big plans for the podcasting business, symbolized by their latest acquisition, The Ringer podcast network. I recommend two newsletters on this, in particular Matt Stoller’s weekly missives on antitrust. His newsletter elucidates the difference between how Spotify is doing “value capture” vs “value creation”, using Google and Facebook as warning analogies.  Also, Penny Fractions had a good take on Spotify.

Twitter Threads

Friend of the website Masa Capital wrote up a piece about Ben Thompson of Stratechery’s appearance on the Biill Simmons podcast. It got quite a conversation going on Twitter.

Meanwhile, this Linked-In post from Michael Smith boils down the trade off traditional firms face in the linear to streaming transition for CBS.

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(If this email was forwarded to you, and you’re wondering who I am, The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. You can follow him on Twitter or Linked-In for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

The Entertainment Strategy Guide to 7 February 2020

Star Wars Economics, NuFox, Locke & Key and VCs as TV Execs

Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy Newsletter! My favorite reads, listens, socials and more to keep you informed on the business of entertainment, with the links to my recent writing on my website and elsewhere.

My goal is to send these out weekly, but last week’s didn’t go out until Friday so I apologize for the multiple quick emails. Now that I’m back on track, expect these most Mondays going forward. 

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The Best of the Entertainment Strategy Guy

“The 2019 Star Wars Business Report - Part I: The Economics of Star Wars Films” at my website.

As a huge Star Wars fan, after Rise of the Skywalker came out I was internally debating whether or not Star Wars had a good 2019 from a business perspective. While the film grossed a billion dollars, the theme parks had a mixed year. Then, Baby Yoda. Given that I wrote this huge series on the Disney-Lucasfilm acquisition, I had all the tools to answer this question.

So check out this mammoth article to learn how I calculate film financials, use scenario planning for films slates, the blockbusters perform financially and more. With loads of charts and tables, like this one of blockbuster franchises by box office:

“Most Important Story of the Week: NuFox’s Live TV Strategy” at my website.

In honor of the Super Bowl, I peaked in at NuFox (my name for the Fox assets Disney didn’t buy) and their all in strategy on Live TV. In a day and age where most companies lack focus, Fox knows who they are. That plus trouble for telecomm earnings reports, a Netflix marketing shift, lack of data from streamers and more.

Twitter Threads

Disney Q1 earnings had the two biggest threads of the week for me. Starting here…

And continuing here…

My best single Tweet was this jibe at Jeff Bezos.

My other favorite thread was trying to triangulate how many folks watch Prime Video.

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The Best of The Rest

(These are the best reads, listens, newsletters, or social conversations I came across last week.)

Long Read of the Week - “'Locke & Key': Inside the Beloved Comic's Decade-Long Path to Netflix” by Lesley Goldberg at THR

This is a long timeline of how the recently released, IDW comic-based TV series Locke & Key got made. It is one of the best looks at how a project can live in development hell across multiple studios and producers. It also tells essentially a mini-history of how the streaming age has changed the TV landscape, that pairs well with last week’s recommended article on Mr. Robot. If I can give anyone credit, I’d applaud IDW for insisting on smart deal terms. They never let any one studio get to keep the project if it wasn’t actively moving forwad, which kept it from getting stuck in development hell.

Other Long Read - “The Platform Exceptionalism of YouTube” by Cal Newport

I ride and die for Newport’s “Deep Work” theory, but in this latest post he touches on my field, entertainment. He describes Youtube as a social platform, which I agree with, but also how it can enable new creation in a way other social platforms don’t. He also has an insight into production—it’s getting cheaper, dramatically—that most of Hollywood has ignored while emphasizing streaming. And he throws in a few cautions about the dangers of Youtube’s algorithm.

Other Long Read - “How Working in Venture Capital is just like Working in TV” by Mike Raab at OneZero

This article is far from current—it’s from 2018—but during a recent meeting with the author, I had mentioned the similarities between VC and entertainment, and Raab mentioned he’d written this good read. The only part I’d add is that Hollywood probably has more to learn from the venture community than vice versa. Specifically, being ruthless in evaluating talent.

Listen of the Week - “The Gates” on KCRW by Rob Long

Rob Long can illustrate how little pieces of Hollywood symbolize larger issues in a way that sometimes leave me shaking my head in “man I wish I’d thought of that” appreciation. In this episode, he uses the Hollywood gates as a metaphor for barriers to entry and ties it to streaming and recent mergers. There is also an anecdote about Universal’s lot I can personally back up.

Newsletter of the Week - “Buffering” by Josef Adalian

What’s more fierce than the streaming wars? The streaming newsletter wars. Josef Adalian is the latest entrant and given his long tenure writing about TV and then streaming, he’ll provide some welcome insights. The first letter I read explained the symbiosis between Netflix and NBC, which is worth a read.

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(If this email was forwarded to you, and you’re wondering who I am, The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. You can follow him on Twitter or Linked-In for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

The Entertainment Strategy Guide to 31 January 2020

A Netflix Data Dive, More Irishman, Peacock thoughts and more

Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy Newsletter! My favorite reads, listens, socials and more to keep you informed on the business of entertainment, with the links to my recent writing on my website and elsewhere.

The newsletter got a pinch lost in the shuffle of my January. (I could give specifics but “kids” is the best one word description.) Today’s newsletter will be a little heavy on catching up with all my January articles, and a few good reads I came across. As always, I try to back date these to the last week covered. 

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The Best of the Entertainment Strategy Guy

“A Netflix Data Dive: What does their “annual” top ten lists reveal about their biz model?” at my website.

Netflix ended 2019 with a bit of foreshadowing about how they planned to track metrics going forward. They shifted from counting customers who watched 70% of a piece of content down to watching 2 minutes. Even with this change, the top ten lists by territory provided a nice little data set to draw some conclusions, which I did in this first analysis article of the year.

“Commentary: Can best picture Oscar nominee ‘The Irishman’ make money for Netflix? It’s complicated” at The Chicago Tribune

Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune reached out after reading my “Great Irishman Project” series. She does a fantastic job of taking my dense series and distilling the essence in her article. She also collected some quotes from industry leaders I really respect, which makes it a great summary of my series.

“Should Netflix Become A Content “Arms Dealer”? How A Show Like ‘Grace And Frankie’ Reveals Netflix’s Strategy” at Decider with Downloadable Content!

Grace and Frankie has quietly become one of the longest running shows on Netflix, with 96 episodes. In my latest at Decider, I ask, as they approach the traditional milestone for syndication, what could Netflix make if they sold G&F to someone else? Along the way, I coin a new acronym “F-BOSSS” for the six biggest US comedy series, use Google Trends to gauge interest, and explain why or why not Netflix won’t sell (or allow to be sold) this series to anyone else.

Also, as a bonus, at my website, I’m letting folks download the Excel spreadsheet of my numbers and data I used.

“Most Important Story of the Week: The Most Important Question of 2020” at my website.

My first column of the year is an exploration of a slightly larger question. I hear a lot about the “new” economy and how much disruption is changing entertainment. Which helped crystallize this question in my mind: for streaming, what really is new and what is different? The answer probably explains who will win the streaming wars. I also cover College Humor’s demise, Twitch not making much money, and the new peak TV milestone.

“Most Important Story of the Week: The Optimistic and Pessimistic Strategy Cases for Peacock” at my website.

The reveal of Comcast/NBC-Universal’s Peacock service was big enough to get the full column devoted to one issue. Am I bullish or bearish? Honestly a bit of both, with an admiration that unlike HBO Max, Apple TV+ or Disney+, Peacock really seems to have some innovative new features. Read for all the details, including thoughts on the content strategy, the difficult task of pleasing multiple masters and the impacts on competitors.

“Most Important Story of the Week: Why is Facebook Unfriending Scripted Originals” at my website.

Facebook is quietly pulling back from making scripted originals and this story should be bigger news. Much bigger! So I try to explain why scripted content doesn’t work on Facebook, from Facebook specific problems to the challenges with “social video”. That plus Disney+ drama, Netflix releasing some DVDs, Netflix’s data from their earnings report and more.

Twitter Threads

My twitter threads of January focused on the Oscars, Peacock’s launch, Netflix Earnings and Netflix’s change in viewership.

The Best of The Rest

(These are the best reads, listens, newsletters, or social conversations I came across last week.)

Long Read of the Week - “Big Data Comes to Hollywood: The Brewing Antitrust Battle of the Streaming Era” by Eriq Gardner in The Hollywood Reporter

I try to read everything Gardner puts out and this is another good long view at a major regulatory hurdle that could face streaming. The most important aspect is that antitrust regulators are already looking at the big tech companies, and this just gives them another potential avenue to tightening the regulatory screws. Also, it won’t just be the Googles and Facebooks of the world, but even the Disneys and Netflixes.

Other Long Read - “Whatever Happened To ‘Mr. Robot’?” By Alex Zalben at Decider

I had to hold off on reading this for fear of spoilers until my wife and I caught up on Mr. Robot. Which we finally did this year. (Meaning we’re some of the people who dropped out after season 2 and tanked the ratings.) Zalben delivers an excellent summary of the last five years of TV to streaming transition in this history of Mr. Robot. Well done.

Non-Entertainment Read - “Barons of Crap: The disruptors who didn’t change anything” by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein in The Baffler

When I let my politics subtly slip into this feed—and I try to avoid them—it’s usually about inequality or corporate consolidation. This review of the book Billion Dollar Brands is fascinating for what is says about the state of entrepreneurship in America. If you follow media coverage or Shark Tank, you’d think all is well. Anyone can start the next billion dollar brand. If you read this review, you find out—and if you watch Shark Tank very closely, you’ll notice this too—it turns out that it really, really, really helps to have extremely wealthy parents and/or go to Ivy League business schools. 

Newsletter of the Week - “The Anklets: The Last Awards of 2019” by The Ankler’s Richard Rushfield

To have a lighter look at 2019, check out The Ankler’s last issue of 2019, which has all the doses of cynicism one needs to cover this indusry.

Twitter Threads

Richard Broughton of Ampere Associates has one of those threads filled with data I just love. In this case, the share of revenue of cable globally:

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(If this email was forwarded to you, and you’re wondering who I am, The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. You can follow him on Twitter or Linked-In for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

The Entertainment Strategy Guide to 3 January 2020

All my articles and saved links from the end of 2019

Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy Newsletter! My favorite reads, listens, socials and more to keep you informed on the business of entertainment, with the links to my recent writing on my website and elsewhere.

The newsletter is back! Since my family added a new member in November, this newsletter was one of the casualties of my sleep deprivation. After that, the holidays sucked up the rest of my time. Today’s newsletter will catch you up on all my articles since I went on break, with a few holiday reading and listening recommendations I’ve had stored up. Next week, I’ll try to highlight the best year-end and decade-end articles and listens I found.

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The Best of the Entertainment Strategy Guy

“The Great Irishman Challenge Series” at my website and The Ankler.

Friend of the website Richard Rushfield gave me a seductively fun challenge a few months ago: could we figure out how much money Netflix made or lost on The Irishman? Not for certain, but we could get pretty darn close. This series took up most of the end of November on my website, with Part I explaining how to calculate theatrical profits, Part II explaining how to calculate streaming profits, Part III laying out The Irishman specific assumptions and Part IV explaining the results after Ted Sarandos revealed viewership numbers at an investment conference. 

Subscribers to The Ankler—which I recommend doing if you follow the entertainment biz—have seen my regular updates on this project there as well. The great thing about this project is that now that we have this model, we can plumb it for insights (see next article) and make estimates for future Netflix film releases.

“Should You Release Your Movie Straight to Netflix? Part I: The basic maths” at my website

If you’re part of the film industry or on #filmTwitter, you’ve probably seen the debate over whether all mid-tier and smaller films should just be released straight to Netflix, since they often bomb at the box office and seemingly do great at streaming (or so says the streamers). While I’ve seen a lot of qualitative arguments either way, I hadn’t seen much data, which this new series will attempt to address, including leveraging my new models from The Great Irishman Challenge. In Part I, I explain how much money Netflix is potentially leaving on the table by skipping the theatrical window.

“If the Streaming Wars are a War, Then What War Are They” at my website.

I like the #StreamingWars as an analogy—unlike some folks—but to make it even more useful, we need to know which war is the best analogue. After combing through a few thousands years of real and fictional human history, I find a pretty good analogy that may not be the war you’re thinking of.

“Most Important Story of the Week: A Tale of Two Netflixes” at my website.

“Most Important Story of the Week: The Curious Case of CuriosityStream” at my website.

I put out two weekly columns in December, and the first dealt with the stream of news around Netflix seemingly every other day in December. In short, I couldn’t decide if they were winning or losing, because the news was evenly split between good and bad. That plus a few data points and a few big M&A stories.

One of the biggest questions for the streaming wars is how we plan to judge who is winning and losing. (And even if you hate the “streaming wars” label, there will be winners and losers!) It’s one of the things I’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming and researching in my “Intelligence Preparation” series. My last weekly column was a bit of insight into my evolving thinking on subscribers, specifically how not all “subscribers” are created equal. Also, I speculated on how Disney+ subscriber numbers are trending.

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The Best of The Rest

(These are the best reads, listens, newsletters, or social conversations I came across last week. I’m still catching up on newsletters and saved links, so these are more evergreen finds.)

Long Read of the Week - “Economist Holiday Double Issue”

Every year, even if I don’t have a subscription, I buy the Economist Christmas Double issue and read it cover to cover. This year had some great bonus articles, some of which relate to the business of entertainment—China and Pianos, “Beware The Borg”, Semiconductors, and physical type printing, for example—and some of which didn’t—Siberia, and “A Cockney Brigadoon”. I highly recommend finding a copy if you can.

Other Long Read - “When the Streaming Platform Dies, What Happens to Its Shows?” By Liz Shannon Miller in Decider

Miller crushes it in this very long but well reported series on how when streaming platforms or production companies shut down, they often take their shows with them. While some of the creators she interviews are fairly sanguine about fans losing access to their shows, I consider this a business failure by some of these owners.

Non-Entertainment Read - “The Advice I Give My Students” and “The Analog January Challenge” by Cal Newport

If I had an overarching productivity tip for 2020, it would be to read more Cal Newport. These two blog posts feature great ideas to help you limit unproductive screen time, specifically on your phone. If it weren’t for his Deep Work, I couldn’t write the articles I do.

Listen of the Week - iFanBoy Year End Media Round-Up by iFanBoy

Finally, every year my favorite comics podcast reviews the year in media and 2020’s episode gets the entire crew back together to discuss their favorite movies, TV shows and more. 

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(If this email was forwarded to you, and you’re wondering who I am, The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. You can follow him on Twitter or Linked-In for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

The Entertainment Strategy Guide to 15 November 19

Disney+ Launch, Aggreggedon, a streaming score card and the future of work

Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy Newsletter! My favorite reads, listens, socials and more to keep you informed on the business of entertainment, with the links to my recent writing on my website and elsewhere.

Now that’s an opening salvo in the streaming wars. As masterful as Luke destroying the Death Star, the Allies at Midway or Robb Stark at the Whispering Woods. Sure, Disney+ wasn’t without its casualties, especially technical glitches, but 10 million sign-ups can’t be wrong. That’s the theme of the week.

Programming note: My second child is due this week, so programming will be light, mainly consisting of articles I’m writing ahead of time. With Thanksgiving next week, expect me back sometime in early December.

As a result, this week’s newsletter will be the light. I’m also putting newsletters, social media and weekly columns on hiatus until I’m a bit less sleep deprived.

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The Best of the Entertainment Strategy Guy

Aggreggedon: The Key Terrain of the Streaming Wars is Bundling” at my website.

The streaming wars naturally focus on the streamers—the Netflixes, Disney+s and HBO Maxes of the world—and the content they produce. But what if the actual “key terrain” is behind the interfaces? My latest in my series on an “Intelligence Preparation of the Streaming Wars Battlefield” makes that case for the “bundlers”. I’ve been noodling on this idea for a year plus and consider it one of my most important articles. 

“Most Important Story of the Week: Disney+ “Sparks Joy” in Customers. What Are the Business Ramifications?” at my website.

Disney+ shattered streaming launch records, even acknowledging that 10 million “sign-ups” aren’t the same thing as subscribers. I dig into the numbers to put some context on the technical glitches, but more importantly to figure out the strategies Disney used to create such demand. And ask if it can be sustained.

Twitter Threads

I didn’t have any long threads last week, but a few quick hits that got some reaction. First, my Disney+ thread on initial reactions to 10 million sign-ups.

Second, my reaction to news that Amazon’s Web Services may have contributed to Disney+ troubles. 

Third, as Netflix looks to build its content library, it still manages to rent content from ViacomCBS, as Bob Bakish kept pointing out in his latest earnings call.

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The Best of The Rest

(These are the best reads, listens, newsletters, or social conversations I came across last week.)

Long Read of the Week - “Disney+ Tech Problems: What We’ve Learned and What Needs Fixing” by Dan Rayburn at StreamingMediaBlog

This is the most thorough and fairest read of the tech issues faces Disney+. Rayburn is rightfully disappointed, and makes a good case that the issues were more severe than Disney let on initially. In particular, Rayburn makes the case that a lot of the problems were more communication issues rather than tech issues, which I agree with.

Other Long Read - “Streaming TV's Ratings "Black Box" Could Lead to Hollywood Guild War” by Jonathan Handel

This is a good long read on the difficulties in judging success in the streaming wars, and the natural implications for the next round of guild negotiations.

Other Long Read - “It’s Way Too Early For A Streaming Score Card” by Alan Wolk at TV Rev

Yep, Disney+ just launched. Is it too early too judge who is winning and losing the streaming wars? Absolutely. In particular, Alan Wolk points out the disconnect between subscriber counts and the promotions being used to drive them. Indeed, we won’t know who is winning and losing this war for a while.

Non-Entertainment Read - “Startups Like Uber and Airbnb See All. You Do Not” By Shira Ovide

Ovide provides an interesting take on the dynamic that new tech firms can apply lessons learned with different local government regulators in each city, whereas individual cities have to learn the lessons from scratch. This puts the cities at a disadvantage in regulating new, disruptive industries.

Listen of the Week - The Weeds “The Internet We Lost”

Anil Dash and Matt Yglesias discuss how the internet grew, evolved and where it can go from here. Interesting for both publishers and consumers of news.

Newsletter of the Week - PARQOR SVOD (paywall)

Not just the newsletter of the week because it linked to my big Aggreggedon article, but because it gives a fair look at the Disney+ landscape news, plus a few other great reads. I’ve liked the PARQOR newsletter for a while because each section looks at one part of the video value chain.

Twitter Threads

Matt Barnum uses a lot of data to debunk a common refrain in education. I love when data can help debunk conventional wisdom.

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(If this email was forwarded to you, and you’re wondering who I am, The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. You can follow him on Twitter or Linked-In for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

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