M&E Connections

Does the Movie or the Theater Make Content Great?

Do we have to say it? Christmas and New Year’s didn’t panning out exactly as we envisioned last year.

Not by a long shot! Even if our local IMAX had been open, there’s no freakin’ way we would have watched Wonder Woman 1984 with 25-plus strangers.

Of course, we didn’t bother to catch the holiday version on HBO Max — they’re not one of the streaming services in our family’s entertainment arsenal. Besides, we wanted/needed two sure-fire, holiday flicks that proved we will overcome anything in 2021 – How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Die Hard.

We thank Patty Jenkins for offering to give us screen viewing options to catch her long-anticipated and constantly rescheduled Wonder Woman 1984, but we’ll wait till … later.

We also understand George Clooney’s thrill of watching his Netflix tentpole The Midnight Sky in a closed theater with eight of his close, personal friends as he detailed in the THR interview awhile back.

Almost in awe he said, “It’s amazing to see it on a big screen — the way you’re supposed to see a film like this.”

Sure, it would have been nice, but we’re not coming out of our home holiday hibernation to spend a couple of hours in a dark theater carefully spaced out with strangers, even if it’s to watch a carefully crafted/executed film.

We’ll watch it on our LG 4K OLED screen when Reid and Ted drop it into the Netflix constantly shuffling schedule and will probably enjoy it just as much. All we will have to do is not think too much about “what if.”

Still, 4H HDR is almost as good as the big one in the theater and it’s convenient to watch what we want when we want it.

Yes, we know, most of the content available isn’t 4K (3-5 percent, according to Omdia) but we’re in this home entertainment thing for the long haul.

Figure 4K streaming it’s just like 5G … a work in progress.

Streaming is here to stay!

Theater chains threw a hissy fit when Universal released Trolls World Tour VOD and Disney moved Mulan D2C. They also saw that folks cared more about watching their content when and where they wanted rather than going to the 1,895 big (and small), expensive, empty theaters.

IMAX decided AMC’s CEO Adam Aron might have been smart to be reasonable with Universal to break the sacred theatrical window, show the film to people who had to see it on the big big screen and also get an undisclosed part of the VOD take.

Studios have tried for years to shatter the window and always backed off because of the threat of theater boycotts.

But when Universal racked up over $100 million of direct sales and Disney generated about the same with Mulan (plus a bunch of new Disney+ subscribers), it got theater folks’ attention.

They realized people weren’t interested in going to cinemas for a couple of years even when they are open and they finally got the message … “the times they are a changin’.”

Universal’s boss, Donna Langley, very nicely said, “With audience fragmentation accelerating due to the rise in digital, streaming and cord-cutting, as well as the unprecedented issues our industry is facing right now, our relationship with exhibition had to evolve and adapt to the changing distribution landscape.”

We get it that director Patty Jenkins was disappointed when people couldn’t see the film as she had envisioned it being seen, but it will still do a whole lot better than Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and will be a lot easier to follow/understand.

The real payback for any director, producer, actor or crew member is not where the project is shown but how many people see, enjoy, appreciate their work.

We understand that it’s difficult for people in the M&E industry to give up “the good old days” (which really weren’t that good), but the pandemic forced/accelerated everything/everyone to change or…

Despite adding a ton of new theaters, attendance had been steadily dropping since the early 1990s but that was offset by higher ticket/concession prices.

Up until COVID-19 swept the globe, industry execs blamed streaming services — Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, others — for the drop in attendance.

Before that, it was TV.

Jeez folks, haven’t you noticed that studios and indies are simply putting out more movies, shows that are really good and people want to see them now, not when people are in the mood to show them in “their” theaters or on “their” TV schedule.

COVID-19 only accelerated the inevitable.

Organizations have been moving at breakneck speed to become a major player in the streaming services market.

Warner’s CEO, Jason Kilar, has been restructuring the organization, hiring/firing, slashing jobs to shoehorn the company and HBO Max into the middle of the streaming stampede.

Disney has slashed more than 30,000 jobs and reinvented itself nationally and internationally to be a streaming powerhouse.

NBCU, ViacomCBS, Sony, Paramount, Columbia and major/minor studios around the globe have been reinventing themselves to keep pace with the tech industry leaders.

Heck, even the tech players (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple) have been shuffling projects and people to get/maintain their positions in the rankings … everywhere.

The Nordic Entertainment Group, Bollywood, Nollywood and the BBC’s ITV BritBox are focusing on expanding in Europe, Americas, APAC and EMEA to grow their share of the subscription pie.

Even China’s big three (Tencent Video, iQiyi, Youku) are hungry to grow beyond the country’s 1.4B plus marketplace; and yes, everyone else wants in.

All of the services are focused on developing, buying and building libraries that will attract a widely divergent interest group because we all know not everyone likes the same content.

We like sci-fi so, when we need a little unreal world content, we relinquish the new screen to our wife and settle for the “old” HD set.

And to broaden the family’s entertainment interests we go to Netflix and catch up on the great content. They’ve been acquiring and/or producing in Nigeria, India, Australia, Latin America and everywhere they’ve expanded their footprint.

Except for Japan’s animi content, the kids really aren’t interested in foreign-produced films/shows but the stuff is really good.

What we’re going to see more of in the year ahead is all of the services (except maybe Netflix) experimenting with options to entice consumers — free/subsidized AVOD, SVOD, PVOD.

Great content is important but so is your bundle cost.

Cost is the reason we passed on YouTube TV (right up there with our old pay TV bill) and Hulu (just didn’t think they were worth 10 bucks … more).

We didn’t bother with HBO Max or Peacock because their parents (AT&T, Comcast respectively) have excellent reputations for raising prices and shaving service.

We’re really happy with the entertainment value we get with Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and daughter’s Apple TV+; but sometimes you just want something different.

So, we’re pretty regular users of Pluto and Tubi TV because the selections are okay, and the cost is right … free.

Sure, we know what you’re saying, “OMG, you have to watch ads?”

Obviously, you haven’t looked at streaming AVOD lately:

• Max ads right now, one minute of ads every 15 min of program vs. pay TV’s 15-17 minutes of ads per hour.
• Ad sound volume is the same or less than the show vs. a 20 dB increase with pay TV.

Contrary to what snotty folks say, people didn’t drop pay TV because they hated the ads. In fact, Ampere found that 44 percent of consumers said they don’t mind seeing ads on TV–especially when they don’t jam in as many as possible and the entertainment is considered filler.

In other words, a tasteful number of ads that aren’t repeated again and again and again are a pleasure to watch.

Periodically, we’ll bypass our subscription services (Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Apple TV +) and grab old stuff we’ve never seen before (hence, it’s new to us) on IMDb, Pluto or Tubi TV.

But that’s just us.

There’s just something about watching a show/movie in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic (or third, depending on where you live) that says it isn’t about the pandemic.

It’s diversion entertainment.

When you can escape from the present and spend a couple of hours in the past or the future, it’s a lot like Neville Flynn said in Snakes on a Plane, “See, things are looking up already.”

Jenkins and Clooney will each have another crack at creating a great video story that has to be seen in a wide-open movie theater.

Maybe by then we’ll be ready to buy some expensive popcorn and enjoy their projects the way they wanted them seen … maybe.

Andy Marken, President, Marken Communications, is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications.