The Future of Netflix in the Fall of 2017

Last night, CBS made its play to remain relevant in the streaming sphere by using Star Trek: Discovery as a carrot for viewers to sign up for its CBS All Access service (which has actually been around for three years).

It’d be unfair to ask any one show to sell a streaming service, but of course that’s some of what HBO Go has done with Game of Thrones and Hulu has done more recently with Handmaid’s Tale. When Netflix was first getting into the original content game in a big way, it could be said they did that with House of Cards.

Netflix has spent so much on original content now that the shows added are benefitting from being on Netflix. Ironically, outside of the U.S. and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery benefits from being another hot, new show on Netflix: the streaming service helps sell the show.

But this doesn’t mean Netflix isn’t dealing with struggles. In fact, it’s planning to up its spending on content with the looming 2019 departure of evergreen Disney content from its service. And it hasn’t backed down from trying to get A-list names to create that content, what with this summer’s announcement that the powerhouse writer-producer Shonda Rhimes has decided to move to Netflix.

David Sims explores Rhimes’ reasoning in an article for The Atlantic. There’s creative freedom and less of a workload with Netflix series, which usually doesn’t top 13 episodes for a season while broadcast usually remains around 22 or 24 episodes. That is, as project managers like to say, a non-trivial amount. And Netflix is clearly hoping to copy something of brand management with its luring of creative talent to helm projects — since it doesn’t own copious IP like Disney.

Hollywood hand-wringing about what nightmares may come is explored further by Todd VanDerWerff in a piece in Vox, which also details the challenges the streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are having. Cancellations are now possible and debt is mounting. Nevertheless, does anyone really think we’ll go back to broadcast or even a streaming replica of it?

One of the biggest fears I hear voiced is that various streaming services will present the worst possible version of a la carte pricing — long the dream of consumers dissatisfied with bloated cable bundles full of channels they didn’t use. If CBS All Access succeeds, who else will follow suit? True, NBC is linked to Comcast and ABC is linked to Disney, but will new, more labyrinthine bundles appear de facto? For example, will Disney apportion streaming services for ABC and ESPN and Disney and, perhaps have a Marvel channel and Star Wars channel? How many nickels and dimes will come into play?

In the next two years, I think we’ll get a whole new idea of how “channels” and “networks” and “streaming services” are defined — and most of the definition will come from the media corporations eyeing profit over service or convenience. I’d love for their to be 21st century aggregators curating content, but so many of the players want as close to complete vertical integration that I don’t know if that kind of consumer-centric model will be allowed. And in fairness, I’m not sure consumers agree on a model beyond “I want to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it,” which will likely never work 100% of the time.

If readers have additional articles and analysis they want to share, I’m sure to be writing more about this in the months to come.

(BTW, for those wanting more on Star Trek: Discovery, here’s a review from Nerdist and a review with clearly marked spoilers from Vox. I liked it, flaws and all, and will be checking out episode 3 next week).

 

Somewhere between the Nexus and Planet Hell

This is the 31st entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. In some ways, I hope this is the penultimate entry.

And so, in a few more hours here in the United States, we’re about to see the launch of Star Trek: Discovery, the seventh (!) Star Trek TV series (yes, I’m counting the animated series, too).

I had planned on having a longer Star Trek retrospective finished by now. I’ve been working on it for a good chunk of the summer as readers may recall, but I’m still wrapping that up. In the meantime, you may be interested in my July post about what to look forward to with Star Trek: Discovery.

The stakes for Discovery are uncomfortably high. Perhaps not since The Next Generation (TNG) first aired 30 years ago has a Star Trek series got the same scrutiny about its potential success or failure — and I doubt fans will be as forgiving as they were back in the 80s, when many TV shows could try and “find their audience” for the first season or two. This was easier when you had less channels. Even TNG, which was syndicated, didn’t have the multi-faceted media competition Discovery will have now.

I’m happy to hear the beginning buzz is positive. Nevertheless, the expectations are very high both by longtime Star Trek fans and modern audiences. Many doubtless want to experience sci-fi bliss akin to being in the Nexus, that other dimension of delights favored by El-Aurians and Enterprise captains.

It’s almost certain that Discovery won’t be perfect. None of the series are. Nevertheless, it feels like knives are already being sharpened on social media, either to defend or attack the series (it’s probably because I visit a “briar patch” of Star Trek sites and Facebook pages). The dissection, dismissal, and defense of Seth MacFarlane’s recent Trek-inspired series, The Orville, almost feels like it’s a Spanish Civil War for fans looking forward to Discovery and those just waiting for it to let them down. I doubt it’ll be “Planet Hell,” but it sounds like anything less than 90% Nexus won’t do.

Adam Rogers has a great piece in Wired which charts out the very tricky bit of navigating Star Trek: Discovery needs to do as it attempts to win over longtime fans, fill corporate coffers, and become the poster child for how to be a flagship show for a streaming service. Check it out before you check Discovery out. I’m sure I’ll compare notes with some of you on the aforementioned social media.

I’ll be back for at least one more Crisis entry.

Questions of Quality and Quantity in Prestige TV

So now that summer is over, including that show with the dragons, you may be wondering, “What shows are actually coming back this year?”

Jen Trolio and Caroline Framke over at Vox have answers.

This is one of those perennial Vox pieces I’m glad they do every year, because there’s a lot of shows. In fact, some might say there’s a glut of shows out there, which has led to occasional questions of whether we’re at “peak TV.”

Incidentally, I previously linked to a piece discussing what “peak TV” might mean anyway, but I find the way Variety tracks it is works for me: the number of scripted series. The concern, then, is not necessarily that we would exhaust the supply of talented storytellers making the various series, but that the series become so numerous that too many of them fail to find an audience and economic security (i.e., continued survival).

Todd VanDerWerff explores this more in-depth (also in Vox), including both the cyclical nature of notions of TV being horrible and then wonderful as well as the ways in which the quantity of media coverage on a particular TV show does not necessarily track to its quality.

Recommended Reading: Universal Basic Income as a Way to Grow the Economy

Between Labor Day and chatting with some very bright people about the future of finance at Escape Velocity this weekend, it felt like a good time to post something about the future and universal basic income (UBI).

One of the things I like about Dylan Matthew’s article in Vox about the Roosevelt Institute’s recent study on the potential effects of implementing UBI is that he explores the premises behind both the study and the critics of said study.

I’ll update with related articles on the study if I come across them.

The Kirby Centennial

Monday, August 28th (yesterday) marked Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday.

He isn’t still around to celebrate it, but we certainly have a tremendous body of work with which to celebrate his storytelling.

I had made a comment on social media, but he seems to have cast a large enough shadow across pop culture that people may well be celebrating his centennial all week.

One of his assistants, Mark Evanier, who also wrote the biography Kirby: King of Comics, has a nice remembrance of the man and the impact he had.

Comic-con also has an impressive 60-page PDF of artwork and anecdotes about Kirby.

There’s also pieces you can read in Forbes, the Washington Post, CBR, and Techcrunch among others. Bleeding Cool has its picks for his top five creations.

( I personally have a soft spot for Kamandi).

Finally, Jeet Heer has a great article in the New Republic about Kirby and his impact, which dwarfs his outsize artwork.

 

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!

Will the Oil Industry Collapse in Less than a Decade?

As the engines of disruption continue in the form of automation, one trend I keep following is the coming changes to transportation. No, I don’t mean the fabled hyperloop (though I’m following that too). I’m thinking of electric vehicles.

Seth Miller over at an outfit called NewCo Shift hypothesizes that a major shakeup in the oil industry and our car culture is coming sooner than we might have thought — all based on replacing the internal combustion engine. You can compare his predictions with what the car companies themselves have predicted.

I’d say their predictions would place the collapse or restructuring would happen closer to the 2025 – 2030 timeframe, but it I’m wondering how many more cars any of us will individually own in the future.

In Which a Domino’s Patience is Rewarded

Some of my past few Monday posts on motivation have been a bit on the grimmer side, so I wanted to share something that was more in the “You Can Do It” vein.

On Scriptnotes a couple weeks ago, John August’s One Cool Thing was a physics paper about the power of dominoes to topple bigger dominoes. In fact, the domino the size of a sliver can start a process by which dominoes the size of tombstones topple.

Can you extrapolate this to mean your tiny efforts can lead to big results? Of course you can! That’s the 20 minutes a day of writing. That’s doing at least one film project a year or every Christmas.

It adds up.

Many, Many Bewildered (and Sad) Breakfast Faces: RIP, Sam Shepard

There will be a general lack of toast in the neighborhood this morning. And by “toast” I mean theater-related joy. And by “the neighborhood,” I mean “American theater.” And by “this morning,” I mean… well, I don’t know how long, but it’ll be longer than a morning.

Actor, playwright, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.

I first learned about it in a piece in Broadway World, which is worth checking out. You can also read about his life and work in:

Many of us picked up this book yesterday and leafed through it.

I’m not the only one of my generation of theater folk who feel this loss on a personal level. There are many playwrights like Shakespeare or Pinter or Wilson of whom I’ve either read or performed or seen productions of nearly all their works. But Sam Shepard is somewhat different.

Shepard has a distinct, American voice that resonated with so many of us. It was years since I had read or seen all of Kaufman and Hart. It would be years before I would connect with the work of Eugene O’Neill (that’s another tale). Sam Shepard was alive now and pushing his creations out into the world, where we too were training and working to make our marks.

Decades before Neil Gaiman was to tantalize us with his tales of American Gods, Sam Shepard was constructing a uniquely American mythology with plays that were simultaneously gritty and real, yet surreal and absurd. His characters often lived on the edge of society and frequently violated societal norms. There were no gods so much as forces of nature and Fate that his fabulously flawed characters would contend against when they weren’t fighting with one another.

I had many classmates who never looked at me quite the same way after they had seen me play “Mike” in a college production of “A Lie of the Mind.” It’s a disturbing yet incredibly human fairy tale set in a immediately recognizable yet unknowable America. At first, Mike seems like a more sensible character than his parents or brain-damaged sister. By the time he carries half a deer carcass on stage, you realize just how quietly crazy and savage Mike might truly be (and his exit from the play, presumably to start a whole new dysfunctional family cycle, is uncomfortably real). Sam Shepard wrote characters that rich into which actors can dive and explore, with motivations so plausible, audience members can wonder where the character ends and the actor begins (hence my classmates’ apprehension).

And those plays are still with us, thank goodness. If you haven’t checked any of them out (or any recently), do as Craig Mazin advocates: locate a copy of True West and read it out loud. His many parts in films are likewise, thankfully preserved for the ages — and his appearance always bodes well for whatever film in which he appears. Outside of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, is there a better film icon for American manhood than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager?

(Come on! I can’t be the only guy who watched The Right Stuff repeatedly growing up).

Yeah Harold Pinter had acting turns too, but he subverted the sound barrier with pauses, not breaks. You see, I’ve studied Shakespeare, I’ve enjoyed Pinter, but with Shepard, you had someone to aspire to, with a voice from your tribe. On the one hand it’s silly and illogical and not something to motivate you… but in the best tradition of so many of his characters, by God it did.

He was inspirational as a playwright. He was moving as an actor. As both, he connected story to audience in a way you long to do as an artist.

Is that a man? Damn right it is.

Threat Alert Thursday: Cyber Attacks on Small Businesses

Since mentioning yesterday about creatives needing to put their marketing hat on and be the small businesses they are, it seemed like a good idea to share this article from The Hartford about various types of cyber attacks that can befall small businesses. Our creative endeavors often fall into this realm.

The article also links to a brief guide that, in order to get it, harvests your email (again, a reference to yesterday). It’s not a bad trade off in my mind, but relationship disclosure: I’ve used The Hartford for my general business liability insurance and found them great to work with. Therefore, I’m inclined to pay more attention to their articles and am already on their mailing list.