Category: content

What is your content tolerance?

There was a time when I would subscribe to HBO solely for seeing “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Deadwood,” but today’s crowded field of content providers means that you’ll likely be forking over cash for access to beloved content. You can access HBO through HBO Now, as well as offerings from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and now, Fullscreen.

Assuming you’re an aficionado of Bret Easton Ellis or “Electra Woman & Dyna Girl,” and you can afford the $4.99-a-month subscription fee, you may be a Fullscreen customer. But this begs the question: With limited resources, how will you prioritize both your time and money to see certain programs? This will be the question many of us will face as the days of broadcast networks fade away in lieu of subscription fees become the norm. Already, the advent of cord-cutters have viewers getting the bulk of their content from the likes of the aforementioned content distributors.

There is a lot to be learned about how viewing habits are acclimating to this brave new world of media, and the days of channel surfing have given way to ordering from a menu, knowing that even the menu is limited by who owns what. Or will advertising-based content take over subscriptions because of the cost and time limitations?

Content is back to being king!

Media’s love affair with content has been in an ebb and flow for years. But as the means of distribution continue down the path of more choices for less cost, the value of owning content has returned to its throne of supremacy in this digital age. Increasingly, content consumers are choosing their online destination by virtue of where it can get the desired programming.

Once upon a time, the major studios would supply content to the highest bidder, even if that was a direct competitor. Indeed, it was common for Warner Brothers Television and others to supply the spectrum of broadcasters, without regard to who was distributing it. But in this age of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., owning content takes on greater importance.

That is what makes this Ad Age article particularly enlightening. Clearly, Comcast is pursuing a strategy of owning as much of its content as possible, with its move to acquire DreamWorks Animation.

“Content owners have become increasingly valuable as of late and we could argue Comcast sees potential value in the library of franchises, characters that could be integrated,” said Eric Wold, a B. Riley & Co. analyst covering the entertainment industry.

It is likely that the success of Netflix has been largely a result of its being the sole source of programs like “House Of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black.” And, apropos of the DreamWorks Animation news, Amazon Studios has been an avid producer of children’s programming.

This is good news for creators, but like everything in entertainment, conditions can change on a moment’s notice, so get while the getting is good, because it may not last. One scenario that I think may be a trend is the sourcing of content via app, as opposed to cable, satellite or SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand).

The game of chicken being played with programming

In what is becoming a common occurrence in the entertainment world, Dish Network avoided a blackout of all Viacom properties (Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, etc.) with a last-minute deal to secure this critical programming. This is just the latest in a long history of brinkmanship between cable and satellite providers, and the owners of programming.

It went to the bitter end, but Viacom needed a boost to its stock price, and Dish’s 14 million subscribers might make a meaningful dent in its advertiser rates, as well as setting a precedent that might come back and bite it in the you-know-what:

“News of the deal should give Viacom shareholders relief. The stock was up about 5% on Wednesday after Ergen’s comments and soared 9% ($3.41 per share) to $40.70 each in early trading Thursday. Analysts had feared that losing Dish for any length of time would affect future carriage deals with other distributors and set the stage for continued pushback against other content companies concerning the high cost of programming.”

Not that Dish was in the driver’s seat either:

“Dish was also incented to do a deal after losing about 23,000 pay TV customers in the first quarter, a loss that was tempered by gains in the Sling TV service. MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett estimated that Dish lost about 158,000 satellite TV customers in the quarter, offset by a gain of 135,000 Sling TV subscribers. Some analysts had predicted that losing Viacom could result in as many as one-third of Dish customers heading for alternative providers.”

This is further proof that there is significant pressure to produce and own programs to avoid these showdowns, and with the advent of new means of distribution, these battles will morph into different battles with new stakes.

The king is dead! Long live the king! And then there’s Louis CK…

And when I say king, I mean content… as in, content is king. In the halcyon days of multi-million dollars “overall” deals for show creators in network television, the idea was that major TV studios (WBTV, Twentieth Television, Carsey Werner, Castle Rock, etc.) were keeping folks like David Kelley, Stephen Bochco, Dick Wolf, and Angell, Casey & Lee, under their respective corporate umbrellas. The arrangement would go something like this: They would be guaranteed a few million dollars a year over the course of a few years, and anything they created would first be offered to the studio to develop. If they passed, then the creators could take it to other buyers (usually, but not always). If nothing resulted in a series that particular season, then they could either just sit and create for the next season, or might be placed on another of the studio’s shows to help.

After reading this item from Business Insider, I am increasingly convinced that we might be returning to those days. As network loyalty is becoming a quaint notion, the providers of digital media will simply auction their talents to the highest bidder. But this won’t be just a matter of dollars. As Kevin Spacey and David Fincher have demonstrated with “House Of Cards,” artists are willing to exchange some of the upfront money for a piece of the company or greater creative freedom. I recall some rather upset writers who were forced to acquiesce to the “network suits” of yesteryear.

I guess what I’m saying – and seeing – is the creative path will go one of two ways. One is to follow folks like Louis CK and create your own product and distribute it yourself. But as he’s learning, that path has its own challenges. The other is to ply your wares to the highest bidder, and that bid may be in the way of dollars, creative freedom or a piece of the action.