What a Trio of German Films Tell Us about the Future of TV

The Streaming Ratings Report for 15-Oct-2021

Suddenly, this ratings report feels very cosmopolitan. A streaming ratings report of the world. You’ve got TV series from Spain and South Korea vying for attention with cop dramas from America. And German films trying to knock American animated films off the lists. That’s right, I’m talking about Firedrake the Silver Dragon!

Oh wait, are some of you not familiar with that title?

It’s a German animated film. Thanks to Netflix, it’s one of the top ten shows on streaming this week, though it's still not that popular. With all the talk about international titles, something like Firedrake the Silver Dragon provides a good bit of context for the sheer volume of titles on Netflix that come from other countries.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of September 13th to September 19th.)

Film

A relatively slow week for films gave me time to ponder the run of German films that were released over the weeks of 6-Sep and 13-Sep on Netflix. On Friday 10-Sep Netflix released Prey, a German thriller, and Firedrake the Silver Dragon. Then, on Wednesday 15-Sep they released Schumacher, a German documentary about Michael Schumacher, the Formula 1 driver. This follows the German-produced, and globally successful Blood Red Sky from July. (According to Netflix, 50 million households tuned in during the first 28 days.)

This puts the latest huge success of Squid Game in context. As I often point out, most folks have read articles about (or claim to have read) the book Thinking Fast and Slow, by famed psychologist Kahneman, about his work with Tversky. That book, and many others, describe how humans use mental shortcuts (“heuristics”), and these shortcuts can lead to sub-optimal decision-making. In short, we make bad decisions because we take shortcuts.

The most famous is probably the availability heuristic. We, humans, it turns out, judge things we can easily recall as more likely than things we cannot. For instance, people fear plane crashes more than car accidents, because the news cover plane crashes more than car crashes. While this principle is easy to understand, and easy to preach, it’s hard to live in practice.

Take Squid Game!

Now, when you think, “Do international titles do well on Netflix in the US?” You’ll think, “Yes, yes they do. Because Squid Game!”

But that’s the availability heuristic at work! The question isn’t, “Has an international title done well?” But “Do international titles do well on average?” Or “How many international titles do well?” And since you can’t recall the dozens of titles that did not do well, you’re likely under this heuristic’s spell. (And you’re joined by every journalist opining on Squid Game this week.)

I’m here to remind you that Netflix released, in just one week, three German films, of which only one made the Top Ten Film list. And even that just barely. With just 2.4 million hours in its second week, Firedrake the Silver Dragon is 90th place out of 96 films in the Nielsen database. Not good.

What does that mean? It means that if the question—in America—is, “Do international titles add value for Netflix?”, the answer lies not in Squid Game—the one success available to your memory—but in the entire list of international titles released by Netflix—that you cannot recall or even begin to name. The blunt answer—if I’m being fully honest with you—is that foreign titles do so poorly, in general, that I don’t collect data on all of them, so I don’t have a comprehensive database of international and foreign language titles.

Let’s switch topics slightly then. How did Firedrake the Silver Dragon perform in the context of kids animated titles? Again, not very well. Since I’ve been refining my genre database, here’s that look:

That's Firedrake way over there at the end.

And yes for those still asking for it, Vivo is in fourth place in this cut, and has actually held up fairly well, like many kids titles, returning to the top ten list this week with 2.4 million hours. So it probably wasn’t a “flop” as I first called it, though I still hesitate to call it a hit. It’s in that nether region of “meh”.

Quick Notes on Film

- First Run/Theatrical Premiere: HBO Max - Cry Macho. A typical Friday release, the latest from Clint Eastwood seems to show that the actor-turned-director is not quite the draw he used to be. As I’ll note every week until they do the right thing, Nielsen doesn’t release HBO Max data. According to Samba TV, only 693K households tuned in during the opening weekend, marking another down week for HBO Max. (Last week Malignant scored a paltry 753K million too.)

- First Run Premiere: Netflix - Nightbooks. A family friendly title from Sam Raimi starring Jessica Jones star Kristen Rytter, Nightbooks premiered to only 2.7 million hours, good for 89th place overall. (So it’s not just German family films that can fail to launch.)

- Most of the late August/early September films have returned to the “two weeks and then off the charts” model. He’s All That, The Kissing Booth 3, Vacation Friends, and Afterlife of the Party each only made a spot on the top ten film list for two weeks, earning 10.2, 9.7, 8.6, and 7.9 million total hours respectively. (Good for 50th, 52nd, 61st and 64th rankings of films through the first four weeks respectively.)

- Library Premiere: Netflix - Safe House. Released on 16-Sep, Safe House is the latest library title—initially released in 2012—to skyrocket to the top of the Nielsen film charts. In this case, climbing all the way to second with 5.9 million hours. If you really want to draw a lesson—and be careful with that—I’d say that Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds move product. (I know, groundbreaking conclusion there.)

- Dog Not Barking of the week: Prime Video - The Voyeurs. This Amazon Original failed to chart in its first two weeks. (It was released on Friday 10-Sep, so this is one full week of data.) As a contained thriller, it likely didn’t cost that much to produce, though clearly didn’t resonate. I’ll add, it’s not all bad news for Prime Video this week as they put two different entries on the list. (Cinderella continues to do okay, with a ranking of 28th through 3 weeks.)

- Dog Not Barking candidates. Only two this week since the pace of film releases doesn’t quite match the volume on the TV side. First, Netflix released the interactive title You vs Wild: Out Cold, another in their line of Bear Grylls-featuring choose-your-own adventure titles. Nielsen doesn’t track these type of titles because the interactivity can screw up their audio cues, but given how much hype interactive titles generate for Netflix, I’m curious how well it does. Second Peacock released STX’s My Son, which is build as a semi-improvised film starring James McAvoy. As always, we won’t get Peacock’s actual data, but it’s something so monitor.

Television

It’s official: Squid Game will have a slow burn start. It didn’t make the top ten list for originals this week, but Nielsen reported to outlets that Squid Game generated 3.4 million hours in its first weekend, missing the Top Ten Originals. Here’s the Top 30ish ranks then:

As some folks noted on Twitter, it’s a pretty colorful chart this week, with Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu each having two or more entries.

The one entry that sticks out is LulaRich on Prime Video. Released on 10-Sep, I had flagged this title as a potential “dog not barking” since it didn’t make the cut last week. And yet here it is! With only four episodes! Not bad. That’s good for 57th place out of 83 season one launches in the data set.

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from one data point, except to note that LulaRich is about a documentary about a pyramid scheme. Meaning crime. Do we have many, many examples that crime and true crime drive viewership? Oh yes. The lesson seeming to be, that crime pays, at least if you’re a development executive.

Quick Notes on TV

- Premiere: Netflix - Sex Education season 3. Sex Education was one of the earliest recipients of a coveted “Netflix datecdote” way back in January of 2019, when Netflix still reported 70% completion of an episode versus the 2 minute rule they use now. Unfortunately, season 2 came out in January of 2020, too early for Nielsen ratings. Season 3 netted 9.9 million hours in its opening weekend, good for 6th place among season threes in my data set, behind On My Block (19 million hours), CoComelon (10 million) but ahead of The Kominsky Method (8.3 million).

- Premiere: Netflix - Sharkdog. This first season of this animated series debuted to 4 million hours. We don’t have very many kids series in our data set so I’d say this is “fine”. It lags behind Go Dog Go, which netted 4.3 million hours in its season 1 debut and behind Gabby’s Dollhouse, 4.5 million hours. It dropped off the rankings in its second week, which also isn’t unusual for a kids series.

- Among the series we’ve been tracking, Virgin River season 3 finally fell off the ratings charts. Money Heist had a fairly steep drop into its third week, dropping to 3.7 million hours from 9 million. And The Circle, the reality competition series, added more episodes and had a good bounce up from 4.9 million hours to 7.4. We’ll see if it keeps growing.

- Dog Not Barking of the Week. Lately I’ve really enjoyed a new service I provide that few others do: calling out the misses. In the olden days of the streaming wars, no one knew what was what, and streamers could justify almost any series as being “buzzy”. Now, with Nielsen’s data, we know better. I’d put Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Sagain the category of series that, in the before times, would have been considered a success. It certainly seemed buzzy to me, and yet season 2 came out on 8-Sep and never made the Nielsen charts. So consider this a miss for Hulu.

- In addition, we can confirm some other Dogs Not Barking from last week. Netflix’s Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, On The Verge and Metal Shop Masters all missed the ratings. On the kids side, Netflix had Octonauts: Above and Beyond, Kid Cosmic and season four of Pokémon Journeys: The Series not make the list. (That last one is interesting because two years ago Pokémon Go took over America and yet a show on that IP doesn’t rate. Hmmm.) For Disney+, it’s official that Doogie Kameāloha, M.D is a dog not barking.

- Biggest DNB Candidates To Monitor: Either Hulu’s Y: The Last Man or The Morning Show season 2. Based on extraordinarily good IP, if Y: The Last Man can’t deliver that’s a miss for FX-on-Hulu. It only released one episode, so it could grow if it has good word of mouth. As for The Morning Show, after Ted Lasso, this is one of Apple TV+’s more buzzy shows. How do they stack up to Netflix Originals based on Google Trends? Hulu and Apple TV+ execs I’d avert your eyes:

Competition

A new Nielsen Gauge is out this week! And we have some movement for the first time:

Specifically, with the return of little kids everywhere to in-person schooling in America, Netflix and Disney+ both lost 1% of overall usage. This probably has two lessons for it: first, both streamers seem dependent on kids content to drive usage and second, when kids go back to school streaming TV goes down.

Datecdote of the Week

There is an uproar online about Dave Chappelle’s latest special. If you want to learn more, just go on social media. Other outlets can cover that part of the story better, so I’ll focus on the ratings aspect. Bloomberg had a juicy scoop with some hot data. Specifically, 10 million viewers “sampled” in the first 28 days. So let’s do some math. Assuming 80% of the viewing is in the U.S., and 80% watched in the first 5 days, and it had a 70% completion percentage, and it’s run time is 72 minutes, that means…

…my estimate is 5.4 million hours were consumed the first week.

Now all of those assumptions have huge error bars, so I’m likely wrong. We’ll see in four weeks if that special makes the Nielsen ratings.

Anecdata of the Week

Here’s a bit of a shocker for me: the Emmy’s actually saw their ratings go up! Seriously…

Source: Axios.

How about that.

Coming Soon!

Next week, we finally get some Squid Game data to dig our teeth into. Or sharpened beak, if we were a squid. (I know that’s not what the show is about, but I can’t help the puns.) Other fun shows to check out include Foundation, which Richard Rushfield has pondered could be the biggest flop in Hollywood history, Netflix’s Dear White People, Disney+’s Star Wars: Visions and Prime Video’s Goliath.

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Did Squid Game Steal Money Heist’s Crown as Netflix's Biggest International Title?

The Streaming Ratings Report for 8-Oct-2021

Today, it’s all about a foreign international title and its performance in the U.S. What’s that you say? Something about an octopus match? A cephalopod competition?

Squid Game you say?

Let me check. Give me a few minutes.

Okay back. Yikes, Squid Game is popular! As I was writing this article, Netflix released a vague tweet that over 111 million accounts sampled 2 minutes. That’s the most global viewers for a Netflix title in 28 days yet!

But that wasn’t the show I was talking about.

While I use multiple ratings sources in my analysis, my favorite is Nielsen, since it includes actual hours viewed, not just rankings. We won’t get Squid Game data until next week at the earliest, and given its slow start, we really won’t understand its true performance until two reports from now. (Say around 22-Oct.)

But that’s okay! Last week I only briefly touched on Money Heist (or La Casa de Papel in Spanish), Netflix’s formerly biggest international title. As long as we’re drawing broad conclusions from the success or failure of Netflix’s international strategy in the U.S. based on the success or failure of one TV show, we should start with Money Heist.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of September 6th to September 12th.)

Television

For all the success that we’ll see with Squid Game—and trust me I’ll have more on it—for the most part, international/foreign language series tend to not perform nearly as well in the U.S. (Again, the main focus of this report.) Take this statistic:

Over the last 18 months, the highest rated foreign language TV series premiere in the U.S. was Who Killed Sara? at 28 out of 82.

And that’s not for a lack of options. Netflix releases hundreds of foreign films and TV series in the U.S. every year. It spends money to subtitle and dub most of those originals. And for the most part, they don’t top the charts and most fail to even make a Nielsen or Netflix Top Ten list.

That brings us to Money Heist, which debuted new episodes in the U.S. on 3-Sep. And to use business jargon, it under-indexed compared to the rest of the world. As a reminder, when looking at global data from Netflix, Money Heist is one of their biggest titles, in the company of The Witcher, Bridgerton, Stranger Things and now Squid Game. Here are the two “Top Ten All Time” lists Ted Sarandos unveiled this week:

So did Money Heist blow up the charts with its latest release? Hardly. Here are the Nielsen Top Ten lists for the last two weeks:

If we didn’t know that Money Heist was a global phenomenon for Netflix, we’d consider 7.5 million hours a fine launch for an international title.

But here’s the thing: in April, Money Heist—again Netflix’s formerly biggest international title yet—didn’t even make the Nielsen rankings. Here’s the Nielsen Top Ten list of Original series:

Broadening out, we could compare Money Heist to other series with a similar number of seasons released on Netflix. Lucifer season 5 netted 26.5 million hours and Fuller House season 5 did 16.6 million hours in their first week debuts. Among season four TV series in the database, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, 13 Reasons Whyand The Crown did 17.3, 16, 15.7 and 13.5 million hours respectively. So those series all almost doubled Money Heist:

Money Heist isn’t the only international smash hit to underperform in America. Lupin ranks second in total unique customers to watch two minutes globally. Yet, in the U.S., its first batch of episodes were only the 52nd highest release in the U.S. Lupin’s Part II was 18th out of 23 season two launches. Also, for all the supposed success of Lupin, the decay of viewers from Part I to Part II should really worry execs at Netflix:

What’s the point here, Entertainment Strategy Guy? As always, nuance.

If you read the internets, you’ll find pundits citing Lupin, Money Heist and Squid Game as proof Netflix’s international strategy is working. And on a global basis, it may be. Netflix is—among other forces—opening up more Americans to watching watching international/foreign language titles than ever before, something foreign audiences have had to do for decades.

The nuance being the U.S. market. While Netflix’s broad international strategy make work, I’m not convinced those same foreign language originals are a good investment in the U.S. On the one hand, Netflix can regularly launch obscure international titles into the top ten lists in America. On the other hand, those international titles rarely last or compete with top, top titles.

Honestly, Squid Game will be Netflix’s first foreign language original to top the TV charts. Depending if you’re a glass half-empty or half-full type of person, that could be an indictment of the strategy in the U.S. or a vindication.

(Last note: Did Money Heist struggle because the title seems so…silly? Money Heist? What else do you heist? La Casa de Papel, the name in Spanish—meaning The House of Paper—sounds much better. Come on Netflix, title better.)

Quick Notes on TV

- Premiere: Netflix - Lucifer Season 6. On 10-Sep, Netflix released their sixth season (though I categorize it as season 7, since they broke season 5 into two parts) of another acquired title, Lucifer. Remember when I did the analysis comparing viewership on Netflix to NBC for Manifest? Well I plan to do a similar analysis eventually, comparing Lucifer viewership on Netflix to Fox, but give me a few weeks. Lucifer netted 17.5 million hours viewed, which bests the two other season 7 series in our data set (Bosch and Grace and Frankie, 7.8 and 7.1 respectively).

So that’s good, though you can see viewers dropping out of Lucifer, as Season 5 part 1 (Aug-2020) generated 26.5 million hours viewed, Season 5 part 2 (May-202) generated 21.4 hours and now we’re down to 17.5 million hours.

- Premieres: Everything on Peacock. Collecting data, one of the themes that stuck out was Peacock and the volume of spinoffs they’re putting on that service. And they’re strange spin-offs of lots of NBC-Universal properties, like Days of Our Lives: Salem, Top Chef: Family Style and American Ninja Warrior Junior. Listen, these shows have small IMDb ratings, so likely they’re very poorly watched. Seriously, Top Chef Family Style has 13 reviews on IMDb. Not 13 thousand with a K, 13. Yikes.

- Premiere: Netflix - The Circle season 3. Released on 8-Sep, this is Netflix’s third season of this reality series that, based on my casual read of the “conversation”, fails to register. Season 3 netted 4.9 million hours, down from season 2’s 7.4 million hours in week one. That’s good for only 9th place out of 13 season 3 releases in my data set. In its defense, it’s a semi-weekly series, with four episodes releasing at one time. Let’s see if it grows some over time.

- The Disney and Hulu weekly shows. Nine Perfect Strangers had a pinch of an uptick in its fourth week. So did What If…? Going into its fifth week. (Maybe the episode on zombies helped?) Only Murders in the Buildingdeclined from 7.4 million hours to 5.6 million. For all three weekly releases, we’ll see if any gain momentum toward the end of their seasons.

- It’s official, Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo is a flop! Released on 31-August, I waited a week to see if this self-help title from the internet’s favorite organizer would breakthrough on the ratings before declaring it DOA. Well, it’s dead. The lesson? Social buzz may not equal viewership. (The one defense? It only released 3 episodes of this season, so not a ton to watch here. Still!)

- The biggest “Dog Not Barking” candidate this week is Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga season 2 released on 8-Sep. This show felt buzzy to me, and it has an okay rating in IMDb (8.3) but a very low number of ratings (5.1K, bad for a series starting in 2019). It didn’t make the Nielsen charts, so we’ll see if it shows up next week.

- Other Dog Not Barking Candidates. The streamers were busy the first full week of September. Disney+ released Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. and it didn’t make the list. Netflix released Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, On The Verge and Metal Shop Masters too. It also released three kids projects, a special Octonauts: Above and Beyond, Kid Cosmic and Pokémon Journeys: The Series. And lastly Prime Video release the reality series LulaRich. We’ll see if any of these series can breakthrough in their second weeks of release.

Film

The big theatrical/streaming release of the week that was was Malignant on 10-Sep. HBO Max won’t let Nielsen release its data (because of cowardice? I wouldn’t say that, but you can), so we don’t have volume metrics.

However, SambaTV always tells Deadline what they tracked for opening weekends and they told Deadline that 753K households watched. Not terrible, but well below quite a few other straight-to-HBO Max titles like The Conjuring (1.6 million), Those Who Wish Me Dead (1.2 million) and just ahead of In the Heights (696K).

Quick Notes on Film

- Film First Run: Netflix - Kate. The top film this week was Kate, another "Hard R" action flick from Netflix. At this point, I’m just puzzled why these action films can’t crack the 10 million hours viewed threshold when they drove huge viewership for Netflix last year. With 7.1 million hours, Kate is the 42nd highest film premiere in my data set of 94 first run films, exactly middle of the pack. (For past looks at action films, see my streaming ratings report here or here.)

- Film First Run: Netflix - Worth. Worth came out on Friday 3-Sep, and it’s first week failed to chart on the Nielsen Film Top Ten. It has some star power (Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci) and it has a 9/11 connection, but with only 4 million hours viewed, through two weeks that’s 80th place out of 94 examples.

- Licensed titles: The latest licensed titles to make the top ten are An Unfinished Life from 2005 (starring Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman!) and School of Rock from 2003. (And finding out that School of Rock is from 2003 makes me feel…old.)

- “Dog Not Barking” candidates. This week we’re monitoring The Voyeurs, a first run title from Prime Video and Come From Away from Apple TV+. Unlike HBO Max, Apple is just too small for Nielsen to measure. DNB Candidates Both were released on 10-Sep, so we’ll see if a full week of data helps their ratings.

Anecdata of the Week

I loved this anecdotal flex from ESPN this week where, as Patrick Crakes pointed out on Twitter, ESPN generated as much unique viewership in one weekend as Netflix has U.S. subscribers:

As always, sports are popular!

Coming Soon!

- Next issue we could get Squid Game results, but given its slow start, we might not see it take over the Nielsen ratings for the week of 20-Sep, two issues from now. In the meantime, next week Hulu’s Y: The Last Man squares off against Netflix’s Sex Education both of which will vie for time with Apple TV+’s The Morning Show.

- Start your timers: Black Widow was released on SVOD (meaning for free) on 8-Sep. This will be a huge number to establish how well Pay-1 films with full theatrical releases perform on streaming. I can’t wait!

- Reading All Your Screen’s newsletter, I was a pinch surprised to see the list of titles Disney is releasing on one day.

Why release The Jungle Cruise and Shang-Chi to streaming on the same day? Along with a new Home Alone? And a host of new shorts and new episodes of Jeff Goldblum’s show? The goal is to drive buzz to one day, but this feels too cramped. We’ll see if it works in December!

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The CAA/ICM Merger is Easy to Explain: Size = Power

The Most Important Story of the Week: 8-October-2021

We’re switching things up this week. Since Nielsen delayed this week’s streaming ratings data, you’ll get the "Most Important Story of the Week” column today, and the “Streaming Ratings Report” via newsletter tomorrow. Sound good? If so, then onto the big story of the week, which I’ve been itching to write about since last week.

Also, if you’re interested in more thoughts on the IATSE/Studio power struggle, check out my latest guest article (behind the paywall) at The Ankler.

Most Important Story of the Week - A Colossal CAA and ICM Merger

Like the cable industry, global shipping, cellular phones, accounting, investment banking, airlines and countless other industries, the small field of talent representation is shrinking. Again. (The last major merger was WME merging with IMG in 2013, and before that Endeavor itself acquiring William Morris back in the late 2000s.) Specifically, this week CAA agreed to buy ICM, leaving WME, CAA and (maybe) UTA as the three biggest agencies.

The move struck me has fairly…boring? Which I didn’t expect. At first, I thought, “How juicy!” Then as I dug in…just “Meh”. As with most mergers, we all know why CAA wants to buy ICM, and we also know how they’ll justify it. Let’s explain both of those and why I don’t quite buy it.

The Obvious Reason to Merge

When two companies in the same part of the value chain merge, it’s a “horizontal” merger. And those type of mergers are often fairly easy to explain:

Size begets power.

With vertical mergers—meaning different parts of the value chain—it often isn’t as easy to explain. Why did AT&T want to buy Warner Media? Because something about owning content and selling it via cellular networks or something. Same for DirecTV. AT&T bought it and figured something about distribution and telecommunications and something something efficiency will lead to profit. (Neither of those vertical integration dreams came true.)

But horizontal mergers don’t need complicated business strategy explanations. Instead, with fewer competitors in a given industry, the remaining companies have that much more power. They can demand lowers prices from suppliers and charger higher prices to buyers. If you’re the only producer of a good, well, customers have to pay what you charge, right?

This applies to agencies, even though they’re unique compared to most businesses. Their supply is writers, actors and directors, access to whom they sell to studios and producers to make TV shows and films. Their power comes in the relationships they have with those studios and producers and the talent. They sell their connections. The more connections they have, the more money they make.

So, for a quite boring reason, CAA wants to buy ICM is to increase the percentage of top talent it represents so it can wield more power to make more money.

The Rationale CAA Will Use To Justify the Merger

Now, this is distasteful to most folks isn’t it? If only one business dominates an industry—say it with me, a “monopoly”—it will acquire too much power and abuse said power. Nothing about free market capitalism says “Monopolies are good”. In fact the opposite: a market without many buyers and sellers isn’t a market, isn’t free, and often isn’t capitalism.

(Also oligopolies aren’t much better. If you have only three or four major players, they often collude on pricing, often accumulate too much power, and usually abuse it.)

This is why horizontally-merging firms are so careful disguise officially the reasons for merging. Everyone understands it’s about power, but everyone pretends its about scale, efficiency and ensuring customers will pay lower prices for goods.

Or it’s defensive. That’s why I expect CAA won’t say this is about power, but about surviving in an age of “disruption”. (Or they’ll have their favorite news outlets say it for them.)

Specifically, surviving the consolidation of entertainment conglomerates. Over the last decade, we’ve seen Comcast buy NBC-Universal, Disney buy Fox, Discovery buy Warner Bros by way of AT&T, Discovery buy Scripps, and Amazon buy MGM. And everyone is constantly speculating about who will buy ViacomCBS.

With fewer buyers of shows, the sellers of talent need to scale up to compete. If having fewer agencies gives the remaining agencies more power, having fewer studios gives the remaining studios more power.

The agencies didn’t invent this rationale. It’s probably been perfected by the pharmaceuticals industry: pharmaceutical companies merge because they claim pharmacies are merging and pharmacies are merging because insurance companies are merging, and insurance companies are merging because hospital chains are merging and the hospitals are merging because the insurance companies are merging, who claim they are merging because pharmacies are merging who claim it’s only because Big Pharma is merging.

In short, everyone is merging because everyone is merging. A vicious cycle.

The agencies are just playing out their own version.

The Reason These Explanations Don’t Make Sense

But is this true? Do agencies really need more size to keep up with the streamers?

For one thing, for all the mergers, the entertainment industry still seems to have as many buyers as ever. While Disney did buy Fox, it was replaced by Netflix and Amazon. And maybe Apple too. So that’s two point five new major studios to buy more film and TV shows.

But more interestingly, it’s not clear that agents actually do have a place in the value chain? I mean, seriously here’s my super generic version of the video value chain…where do agents actually fit?

Presumably, the talent part? Because they connect talent to producers and studios. But it’s not like talent has to have agents. They only have the agents to maximize their salaries. Yet all the writers fired their agents and…life went on? Is it even clear that the majority of talent needs their agents?

Well maybe, but only because they have to. Maybe the key to this deal isn’t the part about negotiating with studios, but negotiating with talent. If you have to have an agent to work in Hollywood—and you do—the fewer agencies means talent has fewer and fewer options to work in Hollywood.

Really that’s probably the story here. Back in the days before streaming, all talent needed someone fighting for their piece of the pie. Nowadays, in an increasingly stratified industry, only top tier talent needs that, which means the need for fewer agencies. Is this a good commentary on the state of labor in Hollywood? Probably not. Is this a good rationale for having agencies at all? Honestly, not really. But that's a much longer topic for a future article.

Update To An Old Stories 

Over the last two weeks, some old stories have been back in the news. And not just updates, but in some cases the end to the story, with a “Huh, so that’s over already?” vibe to them.

Scarlett Johansen and Disney Settle

Arguably the biggest story of the summer was ScarJo suing Disney over Black Widow profits. I wrote about it here, explaining that it’s tough to reconcile driving streaming growth with profits.

Well it must not be that hard, because it’s all over.

That was quick! Like most lawsuits, the results will remain secret. Who won? Who lost? We’ll probably never know, though Disney likely isn’t bankrupt and ScarJo is still very wealthy. And will make another film for Disney, Tower of Terror.

Youtube TV and NBC-Universal settle their carriage dispute

Most carriage disputes end because companies like making money too much to fight them forever. (Though HBO was off Dish Network for longer than any of us would have guessed.) Unlike the 2010s, when we fought carriage wars over linear cable channels, the battle has moved “over-the-top”. The latest dust up involved YoutubeTV—a virtual MVPD—threatening to drop NBC-Universal owned linear channels, possibly because NBCU insisted on including Peacock in the bundle. Well, both sides settled with no update on whether YoutubeTV users will get free Peacock.

IATSE Workers Authorize a Strike

Not only did IATSE workers vote to authorize a strike, they overwhelmingly backed the union in both participation and margin of victory. This drastically strengthens the unions bargaining position, which makes the odds of a strike that much higher.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story 

Well, Netflix is Serious About Games

For those of us who were a pinch skeptical about Netflix’s entry into games, here’s evidence they mean what they say. Netflix really does seem to be heading down the gaming path. Their latest moves include buying game studio Night School Studio, developer of indie darling Oxenfree, and rolling out mobile gaming to more territories in the EU.

From the reporting in Europe, right now this means customers can play the games (on Android mobile devices) for free with a subscription, but they still have to play the game outside of the Netflix application. Meaning this is more similar to a “bundle” like Apple Arcade than a new platform. And I have to admit, I see this customer benefit, given that finding new mobile games that aren’t endless money traps is hard nowadays.

The End of Two Smaller, Indie Film Studios?

For all my talk about how there are still a lot of film studios in the world to contest with the agencies, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a smaller indie studios in today’s day-and-age. The news of the week is that Solstice Studios is winding down, after releasing only 2 major films. The other news is that Mark Cuban backed Magnolia Pictures is exploring a sale. They’d obviously like to join the parade of studios/production companies seeking big exits, but it’s unclear if their content moves the needle.

Fox Launches a Weather Streamer

NuFox—the pieces left after Disney bought 21st Century Fox—isn’t averse to the streaming business. It has Fox Nation for Fox News fans and announced it would launch a weather streamer named Fox Weather—an ad-supported service—on October 25th.

Lots of News with No News - Some Social News

Facebook Suffered a HUGE Outage.

For a few hours on Monday, Facebook’s entire operation went offline. Every social app, website and even their internal systems. Down. Done. Offline. Yet by Monday they were back online.

Was this a test by Mark Zuckerberg to prove, even after a bad weekend of news, that we still need him? A test by economists to see how much more productive America would be without social media? Or just a random fluke that likely won’t happen again?

Probably the last one. Which is why I don’t think this is huge news.

TikTok Passes 1 Billion Global Users.

Many websites celebrated TikTok’s passing of the 1 billion user milestone. To which I just ask this:

Does anyone actually buy this number?

Don’t get me wrong. TikTok is absolutely popular and absolutely growing insanely fast. I too have friends who spend hours each day letting the algorithm fill their feed with videos. (I haven’t succumbed yet.) The challenge is that all the numbers I hear out of this service seem off by a factor of ten. Seriously.

Once you start exploring the world of fake views on the internet—On The Media once reported that half the views on Youtube are fake; Scott Galloway went at fake traffic this week too—it’s hard to trust anything you read about social media.

Other Things to Listen or Read - A Great Read on Vertical Farming

What’s the one story I love more than self-driving car? Vertical farming. I could read about these for days. (Fine, I love me a good article on clean energy too.) Here’s a good nee great read on vertical farming at Bloomberg.

Hulu Is Going Streaking: Only Murders In the Building is Hulu’s Third Successful Show in a Row

The Streaming Ratings Report for 1-Oct-2021

To quote Will Ferrell in Old School, Hulu is going streaking! Specifically, they’ve launched their second successful TV series in August. Toss in an okay film performance and The Handmaid’s Tale’s good run, and they’ve had a successful summer. Of course, a Hulu “success” isn’t a Netflix success, or even a Disney+ success. Let’s explain that, plus look at Cinderella’s debut on Prime Video.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of August 30th to September 5th.)

(Also, apologies this is late. My father had surgery last week, and I couldn’t get this draft finished before I helped take care of him.)

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Television

How about this for a factoid: Nielsen has released 36 Top 30 lists in 2021 so far. Meaning we’ve had 1,080 entries make one of the Top Ten Original, Acquired or Film lists.

Hulu only has 23 entries.

(How have other streamers fared? See the “competition” section below.)

Given that track record, I was skeptical that Only Murders in the Building could crack the top ten. Despite the creative pedigree—Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez—I didn’t know if a half-hour, weekly-released comedy would show up on the Nielsen charts. (With three episodes at launch.) Yet, I’ve heard from folks that it’s actually funny? Which is rare for a comedy nowadays. (Especially Emmy nominated ones.) The data backs up those rumblings, as Only Murders in the Building has a terrific IMDb score of 8.3.

Despite my doubts, it made the weekly Nielsen Top Ten Originals list! With a total viewership of 7.4 million, good for 36th out of 81 season one premieres in my data set.

This was good enough for the “datecdote” treatment, with Hulu claiming that Only Murders was their most viewed “comedy” on their platform. So let’s update our Hulu datacdote tracker:

Sharp-eyed viewers may notice that Only Murders in the Building is actually higher than Nine Perfect Strangers from two weeks back. How about that? Hulu clearly plays games with the number of days and definitions to craft perfectly vague datecdotes that keeps talent happy. Fortunately, we have actual viewership data to peruse. Looking at that data, I could spin the Hulu case in either the “bull” or “bear” way.

If you’re a bull on Hulu—meaning “optimistic” for the non-finance heads—this is a great week for Hulu. Since Nielsen started tracking the data, Hulu has two series on the Original list and the this is the first time Hulu has had three entries in all the top ten lists. Following The Handmaid’s Tale, this is clearly their best stretch in the streaming ratings era.

Further, these series are being released weekly versus Netflix’s binge-released series. Meaning you have more viewers watching fewer episodes to match the totals of Netflix’s series. Here’s the table of Disney+ and Hulu’s season one weekly releases:

Whereas Only Murders in the Building was the 36th highest release by total hours, when you move to initial release measuring “viewership per episode”, it rises to 12th place, just ahead of Nine Perfect Strangers at 13. (The MCU series are 1st, 2nd and 6th, if you’re curious.)

If you’re a bear on Hulu, this one show doesn’t change the needle. If Nielsen were still only providing us a weekly top ten list, Hulu wouldn’t have any shows or films on it. So it can compete for the top 30 list, but not the top ten overall.

That’s still a sign of how much they need to catch up to Netflix. Further, Only Murders in the Building had a bit of help with their Tuesday release day, which provides a few extra days to add viewership compared to most Netflix, who releases most big series on Fridays. For both Only Murders and Nine Perfect Strangers, the key to moving from “good” to “great” status (in my unofficial judgement) is to hold their viewership over the next few weeks. Nine Perfect Strangers is doing okay at that, having total viewership of 7, 6.2 and 5.3 million hours over the last three weeks.

If I’m Hulu, I’m definitely glass half-full on this data. To repeat myself from pervious ratings reports, plenty of Hulu series like Shrill, PEN15, Reservation Dogs and more couldn’t even crack the top 30 lists. Having two big releases competing with Netflix titles is a start.

Quick Notes on TV

- TV Premiere: Money Heist season 5 on Netflix. For Netflix’s biggest international title, you’d still expect it do better than 7.5 million hours, given that it has over 41 episodes at this point. Let’s see how it holds into next week before we pass judgment on it (and all international originals on Netflix).

- TV Premiere Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror. Released on September 1st, this was Netflix’s entry into the battle for 9/11 documentary supremacy. (Apple TV+ also has a film—9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, also released on September 1st.) At 7.5 million hours, it actually had more total viewership than Only Murders in the Building, showing cheap documentaries can work.

- TV Premiere: Last week I failed to shout out The Defeated, a European Original that was called Shadowplay outside the US. It missed the lists in its first week, netted 3.2 million hours in its second week, then dropped off the list this week. This title also complicates the “international originals do great in the US” narrative that Netflix has consistently pushed. Some international titles definitely thrive—especially English-language originals like The Crown—but plenty more do not. (And yes, Netflix currently has a huge global original, see the “coming soon” section below for details.)

- TV Update: I owe a correction for The Chair. I speculated that it may not get a second season if ratings don’t pick up. Well, since it’s a limited series it won’t get a second season. That’s good, since it already dropped out of the top ten lists. Like The Defeated, it missed the Nielsen ratings its first week, got 5.2 million hours its second week, then disappeared. So yes, I definitely think it was a flop. (By the way, you know Netflix execs are desperately trying to find a way to do a second season of The Queen’s Gambit the way HBO desperately made a second season of Big Little Lies happen.)

- TV Update: Marvel’s What If…? remains shockingly consistent, with total viewership of 3.8, 3.9 and 3.9 the last few weeks. That’s much smaller than other Marvel titles, but a good hold.

- TV Update: Grace & Frankie. After going through the usual “binge release curve”, Grace and Frankie stayed fairly flat this week, with 7.0 million hours, down from 7.8 last week.

- On to the “dogs not barking”, or the shows that failed to net in the Nielsen ratings: the champion for this week is probably Titletown High, a Netflix sports docs-series released on 27-Aug. Sports documentaries have been a strong category in the past for Netflix, but this one didn’t make the rankings at all.

- For DNBs I’m monitoring, the biggest is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, released 31-Aug-2021. If you just read the New York Times—or have Twitter—you’d assume this influencer could sell anything. And yet her show—with admittedly only three episodes—failed to chart the Nielsen rankings this week.

Film

Prime Video continued its role as the streamer of formerly theatrical titles, the latest being Cinderella, which had 7.4 million hours of viewing, good for the second place film this week, or the 12th most watched piece of content this week. (Meaning it would have missed a “top ten” list.)

That’s the 38th highest title out of 92 launches in my data set, which is fine-to-good, but not great. And given that it’s a formerly theatrical title, well, it should do better.

(In fairness to Prime Video, likely a few Warner Bros/HBO Max straight-to-streaming titles would have underperformed too. Which means it's time for my weekly call out of HBO Max leadership: let Nielsen release you data! What are you afraid of?)

Here’s a comparison to the streaming films released last week:

In all, better than Hulu’s title, but smaller than Disney’s Cruella. Depending how you count, either Cruella or He’s All That feel like okay comps—family or teen films—and this did better than one, but worse than the other. Compared to Amazon’s other straight-to-streaming purchases, though, this film pales. Coming 2 America opened with 23.6 million, The Tomorrow War at 20.5 million, Without Remorse 12.5 million and Borat 2 at 9.5 million.

As always, the counterfactual we can’t prove either way is what would have happened if Sony had released this to theaters. I personally don’t think it would have been a monster at the box office, and still probably would have netted about 7.4 million hours viewed whenever it came to streaming. (Right now, Sony films still go to Starz under their old Pay-1 output deal, the deal that will shift to Netflix in 2022.) And given that we don’t know how much Amazon (over) pays for all these titles, we can’t really judge return on investment either.

Quick Notes on Film

- Film Premiere: Netflix - Afterlife of the Party. Released on 2-Sep, this original comedy on debuted to 4.8 million hours, good for 56th in my dataset. That’s not a great launch, but also not disastrous as this film likely wasn’t that expensive.

- Film Premiere Netflix - SAS: Rise of the Black Swan (formerly SAS: Red Notice). This UK action film had to change names when it debuted on Netflix in the US because Netflix has a much bigger “Red Notice” coming out soon. As a “Pay 1” film from Sky Cinema, SAS debuted on home entertainment back in April and came to streaming on 27-Aug. Since it only has a 5.1 on IMDb, presumably it isn’t very good, but still got 4.8 million hours of viewing.

- Film Premiere Netflix - Green Lantern. Released back to Netflix on 1-Sep, Green Lantern, the very poorly rated adaptation of the DC (and my favorite) superhero made the Netflix Top Ten list for the week of 30-Aug and 6-Sep, but notably didn’t make the Nielsen Top Ten Film list this week. Interesting! Green Lantern bombed when Warner Bros first released it, with a 5.5 IMDb score and only earning $220 million globally at the box office. It almost single-handedly killed off the DC superhero boom, until Avengers proved that, no, comic book movies can be great. (And later Ryan Reynolds proved to make an excellent super hero in Deadpool, but I digress.)

With SAS, I think it is worth asking what the true value is in a couple million households watching not-good to actively-bad action films. Does that really help keep people subscribed, or fuel long term feeling that there is nothing to watch on Netflix? I don’t know but it’s a question I’m monitoring.

- Film Update: Netflix’s Bob Ross documentary (with too long of a name) dropped off the Nielsen ratings this week, only lasting one week on the list. On the one hand, a cheap documentary didn’t cost much, so that’s fine. On the other hand, given how much the Twitch crowd watches Bob Ross reruns, you’d think his legacy could launch a film “into the conversation”. But the Bob Ross effect may not last long outside of its strange Twitch sub-culture.

Competition

Since I pulled the data for the number of entries in Nielsen lists this year, I may as well make a chart out of it:

As always, I can spin the data either way. If you’re Netflix, that’s continued dominance. If you’re the other streamers, the same chart in 2020 looked even worse. So take your pick of which narrative fits your biases.

Datecdote of the Week

Netflix released a monster datecdote this week at Vox’s Code Switch conference. Specifically, Ted Sarandos revealed the top ten film and TV series by both number of accounts watching two minutes and total hours viewed. The number of accounts information was all old information, but the total hours is brand new and fascinating:

There is a ton more to unpack about these lists, but I’ll do that in future articles/guest articles, because there’s a lot there.

(Fine, one fun fact to impress your friends: the average age of titles on the TV Top Ten Titles by accounts is 2020.1, whereas the average age of TV series by Hours Viewed is 2018.9. A year apart! Why? Who knows, but it’s a fun fact.)

Coming Soon!

- Next Week: Can Hulu keep the momentum rolling with Wu-Tang: An American Saga? Lucifer releases its latest season; can it keep up the momentum from its May release? Will HBO’s Malignant thrive or die in its dual-release? And how many new series can Peacock release in one week? All those answers will come next week.

- As for the big recent release, Squid Game. Before it hit Netflix, if I asked you if Squid Game was…

- A reality series on deep sea fisherman from Japan.
- A kids series starring a lovable cartoon squid
- Or a sci-fi dystopian action thriller from South Korea

…what would you have said? Probably not the last option. And if I told you that was the top title on Netflix, would you have believed me? Yet it’s currently the top title in the US on Netflix’s top ten lists, having scored a 59 the week of 20-Sep and a 60 last week. We’ll see how it performs on Nielsen in a few weeks, as it could be Netflix’s biggest non-English language series.

Triple IATSE: Why a Hard To Pronounce Workers Guild May Control the Fate of the Streaming Wars

The Most Important Story of the Week - 27-Sep-2021

Last Monday, as I was assembling the flotsam and jetsam of news stories that compiled the week of news that was, I noticed a trio of stories about unions in Hollywood. SAG-AFTRA elected a new president, the Writer’s Guild East had a fight over its future, and then a little story about IATSE—the catch-all guild for “below the line” workers in Hollywood—was contemplating a strike. But I cut that little section for space.

Then all of a sudden strike talk went from “Maybe” to “Oh this might happen.”

To quote Ron Burgundy, that escalated quickly. Given the increasing likelihood of a strike, the fascinating economics/business strategy ramifications, let’s make that the story of the week.

(Before this went to “print”, news broke that CAA would try to acquire ICM. That’ll be the story easily next week.)

Most Important Story of the Week - IATSE Will Hold a Strike Authorization Vote

Let me be up front: I’m not negotiating this guild contract nor have I read the IATSE/AMPTP “basic agreement”, the contract under negotiation. I’m not a lawyer, and don’t negotiate back-end/performance contracts.

To sum up, the problem lies primarily with the streamers. They currently pay lower rates to nearly all below-the-line talent in Hollywood (and even some above-the-line talent) to make their TV shows and films. (Below the line means folks whose credits aren’t advertised in the poster. Think electricians, key grips, camera operators, editors and so on.) This covers a host of different areas, but the biggest is probably “residuals” or the payments sent to talent when a show or film streams/airs in multiple windows. Further, to keep costs low, many productions routinely work very long hours, a situation that is increasingly untenable (not to mention dangerous) for front-line IATSE workers. (And it seems to be worse with streamers.)

On September 10th, the “basic agreement” that covers IATSE’s relationship with AMPTP—the studio negotiating body—expired. And they’re negotiating an extension, with a strike authorization vote—but not a strike—due this week. (Two local guilds that are a part of IATSE have already voted to strike.)

The disagreement mainly stems from negotiations a decade or so back when, to let some guild crew work on early internet (think YouTube) and both sides agreed to create a new window called “New Media” that had smaller residuals and relaxed work standards than theatrical or broadcast distribution. In a world, though, where streaming companies have billion dollar valuations, this seems anachronistic.

IATSE wants to change that definition. Nothing about streaming is “new”, the Guild argues, so streamers should have to pay a larger share of the residuals pie. And IATSE could launch a general strike to get that change.

Small Legal Decisions/Definitions Have Big Consequences

If you’ve ever negotiated a multi-million dollar contract of any sort, it probably required lawyers to hash out all the details. And it probably took months. While a lot of this is a waste of time—honestly legal contracts take longer to execute in 2021 than they did in 1981, mainly because of email—sometimes it’s because lawyers know that small decisions can have big consequences.

Take the “rolling 5” episodes. When Hulu launched, they needed recently released TV episodes, but the Big Networks didn’t want to give away all of their episodes. They compromised on a “Rolling 5”, which meant only the last five episodes aired on Hulu. While Hulu was satisfied to get anything, obviously, customers lost out on this compromise. If you missed the first two episodes of Survivor, why would you start with Episode 3? You just won’t watch. That ultimately hurt Hulu’s growth (and helped Netflix/Prime Video).

I see similarities to the Guild’s decision to label streamers as “new media”. Years ago, the Guilds were happy to get anything. But small decisions—without expiration dates—have big consequences. Now that the streamers generate billions in revenue and compete with TV directly, classifying them as New Media just gives them an artificial cost advantage.

The Streamers Can Easily Afford This

IATSE has a seemingly simple pitch to its members: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and their ilk have spent or plan to spend billions on streaming content. Netflix is spending between $15-18 billion on content. Say $10 billion of that would need to comply with Guild rules—meaning mostly US talent and such—then maybe costs would go up 10%. (This is very back of the envelope math.) Then Netflix would need to pay $1 billion more to make its content. Is that crazy? $1 billion out of a $18 billion dollar budget? That’s nothing.

As for the Big Tech firms, you’re talking about Apple, which has tens of billions in cash on hand. What are they crying poverty for? Amazon just bought MGM for $9 billion and has recently said this is just the start of their media adventure. They can’t afford this?

Actually, the Streamers Can’t Afford This

Revenue and stock price numbers are only part of the picture. Arguably the most important number for any business is the amount of cash generated every year. Say Netflix had to pay an extra billion dollars every year in streaming. Instead of making about $1 billion last year it would have only broken even. This year, it would stand to lose another $1 billion.

As I’ve said so many times, streaming loses money right now. Netflix broke even because a pandemic paused all production and Hulu has had one positive cash flow quarter, allegedly. Everyone else is likely worse off. And the future could be much less lucrative than the boom times of the 2000s.

That said, it isn’t IATSE’s fault that Netflix sparked a streaming war which has led to inflated prices for content (and lower future revenue). IATSE—their thinking goes—should still get its piece of the boom times, even if the streamers are losing money.

So What Happens?

I don’t know, but I agree this is the key juncture. Streaming has matured as an industry and waiting three years to end the “New Media” designation is too long. But are the town and Guild ready for another strike, right as a pandemic ends and productions have finally resumed? Probably not. But would the streamers cave, when changing definitions will encourage SAG-AFTRA, the DGA and WGA to change their terms too? Probably not as well. And if IATSE wins, do international productions try to join? Yikes for the streamers if that happens!

We’ll see.

Bonus Thought 1 - Why Doesn’t IATSE Strike Just For Streamers?

Even after reading the coverage, I’m not sure whether IATSE will target the streamers specifically or all of Hollywood. The former seems smart and the latter seems silly. For the most part, broadcast and cable shows pay the negotiated rates. The issue is with the streamers. But since all of AMPTP signs the “basic agreement”, it looks like IATSE can’t call a targeted strike.

That feels like a mistake. If IATSE boycotted just Big Tech streamers, the effect would be targeted and dramatic. Then you could target the traditional players after you’ve won that battle. Netflix has had a poor run of content in 2021 so far because of the Covid-19 slowdown; another production pause would help Hulu, Paramount+, HBO Max and Disney+ grow subscribers exactly when Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV+ need it least.

(Does Netflix see this risk? Maybe, which is why, as Kasey Moore has reported, they filmed a record quantity—of likely low quality—content this summer.)

Bonus Thought 2 - Should IATSE Members Lead a Boycott Too?

The logic of a strike is that, if the workers disappear, you can’t make your product. But Netflix has content saved up for eons. So even if the workers go on strike, they could just keep buying films and shows, and stream them to users.

So why doesn’t IATSE go one step further? In addition to calling for a strike, call for a boycott too.

This advice updates Guild strike tactics for the current era. Imagine a Twitter campaign to “Support Equity; Cancel Netflix” that went viral. If Netflix say loses 5% of their US subscriber base, that would devastate their next earnings report. Even more so for HBO Max or Disney+ at their young lives. Losing workers for shows? Really bad. Losing subscribers (who may also be workers!)? Devastating.

M&A Updates - Netflix Buys The Roald Dahl Catalogue

What an interesting purchase by Netflix! Netflix bought the Roald Dahl Story Company—Dahl the celebrated children’s author of titles such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Witches and so on—for $500 million. Since we got an actual price, we can evaluate the purchase a bit more in-depth.

(Oh, and if Netflix is worried it can’t afford to pay Guild members, I just found $500 million dollars they could save to pay workers more! That was easy.)

This makes a lot more sense than Amazon buying MGM for $9 billion. The IP has greater potential for franchise-ization, licensing and merchandise, a long legacy of successful properties and less detritus than buying an entire studio. As such, I like it and Netflix immediately announced a new Willy Wonka TV series. Smart. Given how much kids IP is locked into other places, this feels like one of the few available tranches of available IP.

But how available is it? I’m not sure what Netflix actually has here. Think Disney buying Marvel on steroids. When Disney bought Marvel, Sony owned the rights to Spider-man films, and since Sony is releasing a Venom sequel in October and a Spider-man sequel in December, um, clearly Disney never got those rights back! That’s partly my worry with Netflix here: nearly everything in Roald Dahl’s oeuvre has been made into something at some point, so what can Netflix actually make out of this catalogue? How many ways have the rights been sliced and diced into oblivion already? Likely, Netflix will have lots of TV rights to exploit, but not films.

(Want a second example? Amazon had to make a Lord of the Rings prequel because it’s unclear who controls TV rights for the Lord of the Rings.)

(Want a third example? Even though Amazon bought MGM, the Broccoli family has said they won’t start casting the next James Bond until 2022. Meaning Amazon will wait a while before James Bond his Prime Video.)

The last warning is the same as the one I had for MGM: Remakes do not guarantee success. Just last year HBO Max rebooted The Witches and it dropped without a lot of fanfare. Just because something has good IP backing it does not mean it will turn a profit.

Covid-19 Update - Broadway Returns!

Here’s a pinch of good news: earlier in the month Broadway shows began to reopen. Big shows include Hamilton, The Lion King, Wicked, Chicago and more. I expect that broadway theaters will have a reopening that resembles movie theaters reopening, meaning slowly. Also, there will be a bit of a tension as the folks who can go and will be safer (the vaccinated) may still be too worried to attend, whereas those who can’t go and could get sick (the unvaccinated) won’t/can’t go. But over time this concern won’t really matter.

Other Contenders for Most Important Story 

Theaters Have a Sense of…Hope?

Seemingly all it takes is one movie, and the sense of hope returns to theater operators. That hope came from Shang-Chi’sstrong-run for the last several weeks. Combined with the decline in Covid-19 Delta wave cases, and theaters/studios seem cautiously optimistic for the fall.

Has this optimism led to action? Somewhat. Paramount moved Clifford: The Big Red Dog from streaming-only to day-and-date streaming/theatrical release. Meanwhile, studios are preparing a marketing blitz in the UK and the UK is seeing the highest pre-sale of tickets since Avengers: Endgame for the latest James Bond film.

However, as Red told Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, the most dangerous thing a man can have is hope.

Marvel Comic Creators Sue for Their Rights

For the second time today, I won’t pretend to understand all the legal complications for the families of Marvel comic creators suing Disney for the rights to their characters back. It will hinge on whether or not the work counts as “work for hire”, meaning the company owns the rights, or whether the authors keep the long term rights.

So pay attention, because literally billions are on the line for Disney (and maybe Warner Bros).

Another Carriage Fight with a Peacock Twist

The latest carriage war fight is headed to an over-the-top screen near you. In this case, NBC-Universal is threatening to pull its channels from YouTube TV—the virtual MVPD—who has promised to cut prices if NBC does that. The fun twist to this one is that NBC Universal is demanding that YouTube include Peacock subscriptions. So clearly Comcast is desperate to boost Peacock numbers, and we’ll see if this extends to future linear negotiations.

Two Low Key Linear TV Moves - Family Guy to FX and Seinfeld to Comedy Central

The big splashy moves in entertainment nowadays are huge streaming acquisitions. Like HBO Max buying the South Park rights. Or Netflix buying Seinfeld for streaming. Or Peacock getting The Office.

What we don’t pay attention to are the smaller moves. Like the fact that Family Guy, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends and all the rest are still playing non-stop on linear TV. Anyways, Family Guy and Seinfeld are both moving linear homes, the former to FX and the latter to Comedy Central.

Lots of News with No News - Netflix Held a Big Marketing Event

This column is not an “entertainment” column, meaning a list of new TV series and films with reviews. That’s well covered by others. So unless a big announcement day implies a change in streaming strategy, I tend to ignore it.

The latest, happening over the weekend, was Netflix’s fan event, called “Tudum” after the Netflix sound before an Original starts. If you want lots of trailers, check it out, but I didn’t see a lot of entertainment strategy updates.

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