Author: Todd

Thick skins and fragile egos

I read the other day about the passing of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The first line of his obituary in The Los Angeles Times reads:

In the nearly five years it took Robert Pirsig to sell “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” 121 publishers rejected the rambling novel.

If you are a seasoned writer, this should come as no surprise. The business of creative arts require you to risk – perhaps, invite – criticism and rejection in pursuit of success. And this stems from a universal truism that was best explained in the classic Hollywood tome titled, Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting by William Goldman. The author is probably best known for writing such masterpieces as The Sting and The Princess Bride. And while it’s a rich and humorous journey through the vagaries of making movies, he repeats a phrase that every creative type should commit to memory: “Nobody knows anything.”

This does not mean that people who produce, finance and/or distribute films are stupid (and this goes for publishers, editors, agents, etc.). It is a simple distillation of the fact that there is no certainty about what makes a movie, book, series, etc., hugely successful, or a colossal bomb.

Think for a moment about My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This was an inexpensive film with no A-list stars, yet it was a box office phenomenon in 2002. There is no algorithm, no formula (despite the current superhero craze), no secret sauce in differentiating success from failure.

I have read scripts that were so-so, but became huge hits because of the cast, the director, or maybe just the public sentiment at the time of release. I’ve also read scripts that were brilliant, but these same forces resulted in a dismal failure. One of my favorite examples is Die Hard. Based on a book by Roderick Thorp, titled Nothing Lasts Forever, and was originally optioned as a vehicle for Frank Sinatra. It languished in the vaults of 20th Century Fox for years until producer Joel Silver found it while searching for a starring role for Bruce Willis. Who knew?

Anyway, not to belabor the point, suffice it to say that perseverance is necessary (but not sufficient) to achieving success in entertainment. But remember – it’s also important to keep creating. You never know when lightning will strike!

NBC Sport’s “no sh*t, Sherlock” moment…

Apropos of my post yesterday, it was announced that NBC will air the 2018 Winter Games from South Korea completely live. As noted in this article – and the source of my blog title – it was mentioned:

“Live viewers are more likely to sit through commercials.”

And that is the point. It is all about the advertising. As a few cable companies are learning, if you make sports programming a paid exercise, you may lose quite a few viewers. Just witness what has happened here in Los Angeles with both the Dodgers and the Lakers. Plus, getting viewers onto your platform gives a great advantage to promoting other programs that the public might not otherwise be aware of.

There’s also this predictable tidbit about the value of airing awards shows live:

 “Awards shows — which have become major drivers of traffic on social media — have increasingly moved to live telecasts across the country. The Golden Globe Awards on NBC have aired live coast to coast since 2010. CBS gave its West Coast stations and affiliates the option to take the Grammy Awards live starting in 2016.”

The question of expanding sports programming into things like e-games may not hold for awards shows. There seems to be a intrinsic limit to what the public appetite is for more awards programs. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

How sports rule the media world…

I’ve commented on this many times before, but with March Madness almost concluded – and being a graduate of two ACC schools – this article simply reinforces what I’ve been saying time and again. If you need advertisers, and said advertisers don’t want viewers skipping their ads, then sports seem to be the best cure-all for that.

Of course, this is no secret, and the leagues know that. Disney, which owns ESPN, has been feeling the pinch of greater competition and, in turn, higher programming costs. Disney’s stock price peaked in 2015, and pressure from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat has been driving sports programming costs up. Here’s one example of that.

With the advent of so-called “e-sports,” other digital players are seeking out new area’s that will eventually compete with legacy sports. Here, you can read about YouTube’s investment in this new arena, following the lead of singular startups like PewDiePie (which is an incredible story in and of itself). Perhaps we should have seen this coming when watching people play high-stakes poker entered the scene a few years ago.

Granted, the very definition of sports is in flux right now, but it is clear that the drive for viewers that won’t skip commercials are in great demand, and unless we are prepared for a completely ala carte world of consuming content – and that doesn’t seem realistic – we must prepare and predict the future of sports programming.

Two tales of sports domination

As television continues to splinter, with more entrants into the fray on a regular basis (see YouTube TV), what is becoming clear is the struggle of broadcast networks to maintain a hold on their traditional audiences. And the power of popular sports to attract viewers that will sit through advertising is almost unquestionable. There are two recent articles in Ad Age that echo this sentiment.

First, in this article about the IPO of Snapchat (aka, Snap) makes clear that their dependence on sports programming is a paramount concern. The revenue stream depends almost solely on advertisers, and Snapchat has devised a way to make it a preferred source for watching sports.

“In many ways, the NFL is the quintessential example of Snapchat’s dream of becoming the next TV — top media partners producing original content and selling that to advertisers in upfront multimillion-dollar deals.”

For broadcasters, the news just keeps getting worse. As this other article mentions, every traditional broadcast network has seen a decline in viewership, with the sole exception of Fox. And in their case, this is revealed:

“Pull sports out of the mix and Fox’s ratings struggles become even more self-evident.”

So, what does all this mean? It’s not entirely surprising, and with digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as mobile providers like Verizon, all trying to get a piece of the sports action, it is no wonder that Disney stock is suffering mainly due to ESPN, which must now face higher license fees for sports because of the competitive bidding.

The real winners continue to be the owners, and I expect the players will also get a taste. The question becomes, what sport will emerge as demand for programming grows? UFC? Drone racing? Spelling bees? One can only speculate…

Where is this all heading?

I’ve been watching with deep interest the progress of various video platforms as they emerge and develop, from YouTube and Netflix to Twitter and DirecTV Now. Here’s a brief rundown of a few of them from eMarketer that should give you an appreciation for the current state of flux, as well as the huge potential for coming disruption in the marketplace.

It seems that first we had simple websites that provided a platform, notably YouTube and Vimeo. Then we saw the TV Everywhere approach from HBO Now, as well as non-cable providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. There’s a move to applications that can provide video content, from sports leagues to Twitter and Facebook. But it is such a tangled web that there is no clear indication as to where it will all shake out.

I suspect that a combination of advertising strength with high-demand content will drive this initially. Those platforms with which advertisers are comfortable (YouTube, Facebook, etc.), and content that is both timely and popular (primarily sports), will be the leaders in the transition that is currently underway. This is a chapter that is very much being written, and companies will rise and fall depending on their ability to forecast and anticipate the trends. But this much continues to be clear: Those who control the rights to this content (sports, awards) will control much of the destiny, and those who must pay for licensing  those rights will face increased price pressure in the coming days (witness ESPN’s effect on Disney stock).

Discuss…

That didn’t take long…

emerge JPEG logo - from Sulmonetti

As I mentioned in my most recent post, the merging of entertainment with devices really signaled the arrival of the digital era, epitomized by the iPod and iPhone. Now, this article just landed, detailing how Sony and the Playstation have been working on getting back into the streaming media mix.

As Variety reports, HBO Now will now be available on the Playstation. I’d be very interested to hear more about the financial arrangement behind this, but if you’re going to be in the console game, you’re going to need content.

This is what e-merge is all about!

When I first devised the concept of e-merge Media (back in 2003!), my thought was that the landscape of entertainment would be forever changed by the adoption of digital media. We see it on our mobile devices everyday, and now there is increasing convergence of media devices with entertainment. Apple was the first with its wildly popular merging of iTunes with the iPod and, eventually, iPhone.

Today, we are seeing Amazon, initially a online retailer, using music again to promote a tech device. In this case, its Echo. It already has experience with the Kindle and ebooks, but this now puts it squarely in competition with Apple, Spotify and Pandora. But this poses a larger question…

Will it become necessary for device makers to create (or own) the content it provides? Microsoft tried it with the Xbox, and Sony tried it with the Playstation, but each has had varying degrees of success, and the outlook is still hazy.

I will be watching very carefully to see what happens with Verizon and Yahoo! I will also see what develops with AT&T and DirecTV. Now that Netflix is enjoying success with its original programming, and previous suppliers becoming reluctant to sell to a direct competitor, will the it become a takeover target for a television manufacturer or wireless provider?

I am very excited about the prospects of this merging of entertainment with technology… and I humbly (or not) say that i saw it coming way back in 2003.

All hail e-merge Media!

An authentic tale of success in Hollywood

 

emerge JPEG logo - from Sulmonetti

“Don’t Breathe” from director Fede Alvarez scored big at the box office this past weekend, surpassing all others to debut at #1. And while I haven’t see the film (yet), I thought the trailer was pretty compelling, and its success came as no real surprise.

What I didn’t realize was the lineage of its director and co-writer, Fede Alvarez. I had actually seen his early work years before when this YouTube video was garnering a lot of buzz, for what amounted to five minutes of cool special effects and terrific directing. I’ve seen some promising artists create interesting work online before (most notably, “405 The Movie,”) but Fede actually had a lot of luck to match his talent, leading him to Sam Raimi and his first Hollywood film, the remake of “Evil Dead.”

The story is told best in this interview with John Horn from public radio’s KPCC, and it is fairly detailed in how it all happened. The reason why this stood out for me was it seems that, too often, we hear success stories that omit huge steps in how a project came to prominence. In particular, I reference this article from The Los Angeles Times a few years back about how “Grand Torino” got made. It was this passage that frustrated the hell out of me:

“Schenk managed to get the script to two younger producers, Jenette Kahn and Adam Richman, who optioned the story with their own money. Schenk says everyone they took the script to passed. They finally got the script to Gerber, a veteran producer and one-time Warner Bros. production chief who had worked on a number of Eastwood films. Gerber gave the script to Eastwood, who read it and simply said, “I’m doing it.”

Having been an agent for years, I know that this really gives short shrift to the process, and I felt that this particular series of events warranted much greater attention, for the sake of aspiring screenwriters everywhere, if nothing else.

Anyway, I had to write about Fede’s path to critical and financial success in Hollywood because I still harbor frustration over that LA Times article from 2008. I guess I’m still learning to just let things go. And in the end, as difficult as it is to make it in this business, you can’t succeed if you don’t try, and it helps to have a lot of luck – perhaps more so than talent…

Enjoy!

 

Is this the beginning of the end of programming middleman?

It seems that, with every passing day, the importance of traditional content distributors is on the wane. Nowhere is this more stark than the plight of sports programming. As the stock price of Disney continues to fight the inexorable gravity of ESPN’s fate, these kind of comments are exhibit A for the future of not just sports, but all content on the internet:

“The NFL is constantly looking to serve our fans premium NFL content where and how they want to see it,” said Hans Schroeder, senior VP, media strategy, business development, & sales for the NFL.

With the emphasis  now on OTT distribution and mobile devices, the status of ESPN and DirecTV’s NFL package are being seen as bloat. In the past, broadcast networks and cable stations were essential links to the public, today’s growing number of alternatives make these programming middlemen unnecessary. As stated in this article, the leagues can now turn to multiple distributors, such as PlayStation Vue:

“PlayStation Vue offers more than 100 live TV channels. It has deals with programmers including AMC, CBS, Discovery, Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal, Scripps Networks, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom.”

So, instead of set-top boxes turning to ESPN for sports, they can turn to the leagues themselves and eliminate the middlemen (and its accompanying fees) to provide the same experience with added savings. And I would think that it won’t be long before Warner Brothers Television, Alcon Entertainment, and the other myriad scripted content providers completely bypass the networks and just license their wares directly to OTT services, or other online streaming companies.

The shake-and-bake state of the media landscape…

Increasingly, the means of digital content distribution are being revised, altered and shuffled. As this article reports, cable providers are facing reductions in subscribers, and the outlook is not good. So what does this indicate?

It seems that, with every passing day, there is another video platform, phone app, or HDMI plug-in device that promise to wean you off of the exorbitant cable fees that you pay every month. First, it was telecoms, then it was Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, then it was the Roku stick and Chromecast. We are seeing a rapid fragmentation of how we receive video content, and that bodes ill for the traditional distributors.

A few things have transpired recently that hammer this point home. AT&T acquiring DirecTV, ESPN being a drag on Disney stock, Netflix and others producing more original content, and Twitter getting into a content deal with the NBA. This doesn’t even take into consideration the growing popularity of live-streaming, altered-reality gaming, and real virtual reality. As old-timers like myself become less important to the subscriber bases of legacy providers, and advertisers scramble to reach the youth demographic, money and eyeballs will migrate to new means of content delivery.

This is just the end of the beginning, if that. Things are moving very fast in this segment of the media, and a new, transformational technology is likely just around the corner. For now, I’ll go back to my DirecTV and watch some reruns…