Some thoughts on the HBO Max day-and-date streaming releases during the pandemic

Earlier today Keith Calder asked a intriguing question about the Warner Bros. announcement to release their upcoming slate on HBO Max date-and-date with movie theaters.

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So let’s give it a whirl then, shall we?

Warner Bros. is a primarily a distribution company and to some extent acts like a bank. 

Generally most of their contracts are written to protect themselves and their financial interests at the highest end, not the interests of the producers or production companies that work for them. 

Usually they’re acquiring content from production companies and the acquisition doesn’t tie them down to particular release patterns, marketing dollars, or other preconditions. Producers can consult on some of the decisions, but usually the studio is going to do what it wants.

This is done, in part, because it’s in everyone’s general interest that the picture makes the maximum amount of money. Usually the studio is putting (at least some of) their own money up in advance, so it doesn’t behoove them not to maximize their return.

Production companies, directors, writers, and actors all rely on them having skin in the game. In this case, they’re the ones left physically holding the bag.

With this move, the studio is covering its (and everyone else’s) best interest by attempting to recoup as much as they can. Since they control the release from top to bottom on their own platform all the money goes into their own pockets instead of giving a sliding percentage of it away to so many of the popcorn and carbonated sugar syrup grocery stores that masquerade as movie theaters these days. 

One also needs to keep in mind that it’s quite common for talent contracts to fester for long after the start of principal photography and some never get to the point of receiving wet signatures. I’ve seen dozens of contracts get wet signatures long after their films’ theatrical releases.

So it’s entirely possible that they could be waiting until now to drop the bomb. But what is the talent going to do? They’re not going to fail to show up and support their work, that’s for sure. Everyone knows the business is in the hole and not coming back any time soon.

The finance costs of some of these movies would completely eat the studios alive if they don’t do something. What else can they do? The best they can. Grin, bear it, and keep the gears turning.

And let’s not forget about the total turkeys which can be illustrative. There are many movies that get made and acquired and don’t get a release at all. Sometimes the studio makes the determination that it’s in their interest to sit on a film and never release it because the cost of prints and advertising is just too great.

Here’s a great example. Do you remember the 2000 blockbuster hit The Third Wheel starring Ben Affleck and Luke Wilson?

What?! Never heard of it? Affleck shot it between Reindeer Games and Bounce while starting talks for doing Pearl Harbor for Bruckheimer at Disney.

His star was on the rise after Good Will Hunting and Armageddon and it was generally obvious to Mirimax and the producers (which included Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), that an incredibly mediocre film starring him might potentially end his career or the pairs’ producing careers.

So, what the heck? We only spent a few million on it, so we’ll eat the cost of production and maybe release it in a handful of foreign territories in a cheap dub a few years down the road and no harm, no foul. Right?

But what about all the other crappy movies that come out and tank at the box office? It’s often not until your film has had a test audience screening that the studio truly slots its release date. Any dates prior to that are just flexing to scare the competition. 

After a test screening, the last thing you want to hear is that it’s coming out in late August or February. Studios don’t release movies in those time periods—they escape! Those slots are the kiss-of-death because no one goes to the movies then.

The studio knows that but generally needs to recoup some money. Typically they’re also paying interest on production loans or bridge financing which they can’t sit on forever.

So in an effort to clear the books, they push the movie out with the least amount of P&A so that they can begin bundling their films into all the follow up release windows in hopes that those will at least cover their cost.

If there are law suits after-the-fact, they’ll likely be over the back end deal segments that provide bonuses for talent for box office performance. But guess what? Usually creative finance on the studio’s part is done to prevent these bonuses from being paid out in the first place.

And shame on the agents and attorneys of the talent for not adding in bonus payouts for performance of releases in each window segment of the pictures lifespan. You can bet those clauses will be baked into contracts going forward.

I’ve got some first look and producing deals as well as some acquisition paperwork kicking around the office here, but without looking through them, I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing in those contracts that requires the studio(s) to actually release anything.

Of course it only hurts the studio to buy material and just sit on it, so can you fault them for doing the best they can? 

My guess is that with the givens, they’ll get a massive bump in (recurring–everyone’s favorite) subscription income and it will either mostly or completely cover a large part of the gap. And likely better for their part, it’s harder for talent to audit internal numbers and machinations within a studio to prove that the movie made it to profit levels necessary to pay off points on the back end.

If there is a contractual obligation lurking around somewhere, they’ve always got a force majeure clause in there somewhere that would certainly cover the issues they’re living with.

Some of the more interesting questions relate to the studios’ relationships with exhibitors which generally aren’t owned by them. That may be a slightly harder question, but what are theater owners really going to do? They can’t guarantee the box office turn out that they might have before, and a poor box office turn out is more likely to do irreparable damage to a film’s release in all the subsequent windows. 

Generally with a sliding scale of box office receipts going to the exhibitors, they’re really in the business of selling popcorn which is where they make all their profits, but as we all know, that’s not doing very well for them right now either.

It’s actually more likely in the studio’s interest to pull their films. Their smaller budget releases in January and February are far more likely to overperform by being released during the pandemic to audiences who can pay a premium for them and who may feel a dearth of new entertainment options.

Meanwhile all the parents who couldn’t afford the $100+ for the babysitter and incidentals are likely to appreciate their HBO Max subscription all the more.

But wait! There’s more! I’ve completely buried the lede! Peter Kafka alludes to it in his interview with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar earlier today, but I suspect he is completely unaware of it. (This is likely why Vox gets the interview in a soft presser and not a senior legal journalist with The Hollywood Reporter or Variety.) For the careful viewers at home, let’s not forget that the 1948 Paramount Consent Decree died quietly earlier in August this year. This essentially makes it much easier for studios to become vertically integrated again. The studios can now own the entirety of the finance, production, distribution, and exhibition chain like they could in the “Golden Era” of Hollywood. If you want to ask questions about something, this is the area to focus on! 

Give it another couple of years and studios will eventually own talent agencies again… Who’s going to be the next Lew Wasserman?

If only we had a President who was also in the entertainment business who could monkey around with this arrangement the way Reagan did…

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Facebook is Censoring My Notes

Facebook is Censoring My Notes

I don’t post “notes” to Facebook often, but I’d noticed a few weeks ago that several pieces I’d published like this a while back were apparently unpublished by the platform. I hadn’t seen or heard anything from Facebook about them being unpublished or having issues, so I didn’t realize the problem until I randomly stumbled back across my notes page.

They did have a piece of UI to indicate that I wanted to contest and republish them, so I clicked on it. Apparently this puts these notes into some type of limbo “review” process, but it’s been a few weeks now and there’s no response about either of them. They’re still both sitting unseen in my dashboard with sad notes above them saying:

We’re reviewing this post against our Community Standards.

There is no real indication if they’ll ever come back online. Currently my only option is to delete them. There’s also no indication, clear or otherwise, of which community standard they may have violated.

I can’t imagine how either of the posts may have run afoul of their community standards, or why “notes” in particular seem to be more prone to this sort of censorship in comparison with typical status updates. I’m curious if others have had this same experience?

We’re reviewing these posts against our Community Standards.

This is just another excellent example of why one shouldn’t trust third parties over which you have no control to publish your content on the web. Fortunately I’ve got my own website with the original versions of these posts [1][2] that are freely readable. If you’ve experienced this or other pernicious problems in social media, I recommend you take a look at the helpful IndieWeb community which has some excellent ideas and lots of help for re-exerting control over your online presence.

Notes Functionality

Notes on Facebook were an early 2009 era attempt for Facebook to have more blog-like content and included a rather clean posting interface, not un-reminiscent of Medium’s interface, that also allowed one to include images and even hyperlinks into pages.

The note post type has long since fallen by the wayside and I rarely, if ever, come across people using it anymore in the wild despite the fact that it’s a richer experience than traditional status updates. I suspect the Facebook black box algorithm doesn’t encourage its use. I might posit that it’s not encouraged as unlike most Facebook functionality, hyperlinks in notes on desktop browsers physically take one out of the Facebook experience and into new windows!

The majority of notes about me are spammy chain mail posts like “25 Random Things About Me”, which also helpfully included written instructions for how to actually use notes.

25 Random Things About Me

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

Most of my published notes were experiments in syndicating my content from my own blog to Facebook (via POSSE). At the time, the engagement didn’t seem much different than posting raw text as status updates, so I abandoned it. Perhaps I’ll try again with this post to see what happens? I did rather like the ability to actually have links to content and other resources in my posts there.

Facebook is Censoring My Notes was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Brief Review of The Atlantic Interview Podcast

Brief Review of The Atlantic Interview Podcast

I’ve now listened to a dozen of the opening episodes of The Atlantic Interview and am enamored. It’s officially ensconced at the top of my regular rotation.

The weekly show, hosted by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, features him doing a relatively in-depth interview of a single guest for about thirty minutes.

I almost look at this podcast as a far better version of some of the “Sunday shows” where the guest isn’t always so heavily guarded because it would be impolitic or that they’re lost in a sea of voices amongst a larger panel where they just can’t develop some longer coherent thoughts or theses.

To some extent, this podcast is starting to fill a hole in my daily schedule that was created by the disappearance of The Charlie Rose show late last year. The sad part is that, at only once a week, I’m going to wish I had a lot more when I’m done binge-listening to the short backlog I’ve got. On The Atlantic Interview I appreciate that the “thing guests may be selling” (book, article, show, film, etc.) takes a pointed back seat to the broader topic(s) at hand.

Much of the strength of what I’ve heard thus far stems from interviews with people that are slightly off the beaten path, but with serious messages and interesting viewpoints. They’ve all been journalisticly solid and almost always provide me with news, viewpoints, and subtle information that I didn’t have before. Another strength is that the show can give guests additional time and depth than they might receive on other traditional shows. The guests so far have been very smart, cogent, and interesting. Their selection has been well balanced for gender, topic, and general variety within the space the show occupies. The show has generally impeccable audio and production values.

While initial guests seem to have an air of familiarity with the host as the result of closer (disclosed) interpersonal connections, I suspect that even when the list of immediate friends in his Rolodex runs dry, the show will easily have enough value and gravitas to successfully run on long beyond this.

One of my favorite parts of these podcasts are the somewhat snarky bumpers that Goldberg puts onto the the end encouraging people to give reviews and subscribe. I kind of wish he’d let loose a bit more and inject some of this kind of snark into the interviews too. If nothing else, he’s at least having fun with a part of the show that would otherwise be typically painful to trudge through.

Suggestions

I’d love to hear more about education policy, health care, public heath, internet, and foreign policy. A few guest ideas I’d love to hear in this format: Tressie McMillan Cottom, Mike Morrell, Susan J. Fowler, César A. Hidalgo, Tantek Çelik, Ellen J. MacKenzie, and Ezekiel Emanuel. Continuing in the vein of interviewing the interviewers, which I find terrifically fascinating, I’d love to see Judy Woodruff, Fareed Zakaria, W. Kamau Bell, Trevor Noah, and John Dickerson in the future. These aside, I suspect that anyone that Mssr. Goldberg finds intriguing, I’m sure I will as well.

Additional Technical Commentary

I really wish their podcast had individual web pages for each episode so I could more easily email, share, or target individual episodes for people. It would also be nice if the main page actually had .mp3 versions of the audio embedded in them to make it easier to bookmark and share through services like Huffduffer.com. I really don’t know why podcasters insist on using third party podcasting services to hide their .mp3 files from the outside world–it’s literally their most important product! Stop it! I find the practice to be as irksome as newspapers that use Facebook as their primary means of distribution, and just like that case, they’ll regret it in the long run.

While Megaphone.fm is a nice hosting platform for the show, I’m not sure why a publication the size and scope of The Atlantic isn’t simply self-hosing their own content using their own URLs.

The content for the show is still a bit scatter-brained. The main page on The Atlantic has the best and most comprehensive meta-descriptions of episodes, while the Megaphone page has some nice individual episode artwork that The Atlantic doesn’t have or present. This is sure to cause uneven experiences for people depending on how they choose to subscribe.

I appreciate that some of the early episodes went to the trouble to have full transcripts and some additional snippet content and images. I miss these transcripts. I do know that doing this can be painful and expensive, though perhaps services like Gretta.com might have some technology to help. If they want to go crazy, it would be cool to see Audiogram functionality, which they could use instead of relying on Megaphone or some other platform.

Brief Review of The Atlantic Interview Podcast was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Feed reader revolution

Feed reader revolution

The state-of-the-art in feed readers was frozen in place sometime around 2010, if not before. By that time most of the format wars between RSS and Atom had long since died down and were all generally supported. The only new features to be added were simple functionalities like sharing out links from readers to social services like Facebook and Twitter. For fancier readers they also added the ability to share out to services like Evernote, OneNote, Pocket, Instapaper and other social silos or silo related services.

So the real question facing companies with stand alone traditional feed reader products–like Feedly, Digg Reader, The Old Reader, Inoreader, Reeder, NewsBlur, Netvibes, Tiny Tiny RSS, WordPress reader–and the cadre of others is:

  • What features could/should we add?
  • How can we improve?
  • How can we gain new users?
  • How can we increase our market share?

In short the primary question is:

What should a modern RSS feed reader be capable of doing?

Continue reading “Feed reader revolution”

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of an Intersession course by the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. I hope fellow alumni in the entertainment and media sectors will come out and join us in Culver City on Thursday.


Join the Hopkins in Hollywood Affinity Group (AEME LA) as they welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the JHU Film and Media Studies Program, and current students of the program for a dynamic evening of networking which features an alumni panel of industry experts.
Open to alumni, students, and friends of Hopkins, this event is sponsored by Donald Kurz (A&S ’77), Johns Hopkins University Emeritus Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and the Hopkins in Hollywood (AEME LA) Affinity Group.
Event Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 8:30pm

Panelists

Donald Kurz, A&S ’77
Moderator

Donald Kurz is Chairman and CEO of Omelet LLC, an innovative new media and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles.   Previously, Mr. Kurz was co-founder and CEO of hedge fund Artemis Capital Partners.  Between 1990 and 2005, Mr. Kurz was Chairman, President, and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, Inc, a global, NASDAQ-traded company providing Fortune 500 companies with strategic and marketing services internationally. Mr. Kurz’s 25 years’ experience in senior leadership includes management positions with Willis Towers Watson, PwC, and the J.C. Penney Company. Mr. Kurz is a Trustee Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University, having served for 12 years on the Hopkins board.  He received an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Johns Hopkins University.

J Altman

Jason Altman, A&S ’99

Jason Altman is an Executive Producer at Activision working on the Skylanders franchise and new development projects.  Prior to Activision, he spent the past 5 years at Ubisoft Paris in different leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Producer of Just Dance, the music video game franchise.  He is a veteran game producer who loves the industry, and is a proud graduate of the media studies program at Johns Hopkins.

Boardman

Paul Harris Boardman, A&S ’89

Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Devil’s Knot (2014), both of which he also produced, and Deliver Us From Evil (2014), which he also executive produced.  In 2008, Paul produced The Day the Earth Stood Still for Fox, and he did production rewrites on Poltergeist, Scream 4, The Messengers, and Dracula 2000, as well as writing and directing the second unit for Hellraiser:  Inferno (2000) and writing Urban Legends:  Final Cut (2000).  Paul has written screenplays for various studios and production companies, including Trimark, TriStar, Phoenix Pictures, Miramax/Dimension, Disney, Bruckheimer Films, IEG, APG, Sony, Lakeshore, Screen Gems, Universal and MGM.

D Chivvis

Devon Chivvis, A&S ’96

Devon Chivvis is a showrunner/director/producer of narrative and non-fiction television and film. Inspired by a life-long passion for visual storytelling combined with a love of adventure and the exploration of other cultures, Devon has made travel a priority through her work in film and television. Devon holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations and French, with a minor in Italian.

Chris Aldrich

Chris Aldrich, Engr ’96

Chris started his career at Hopkins while running several movie groups on campus and was responsible for over $200,000 of renovations in Shriver Hall including installing a new screen, sound system, and 35mm projection while also running the 29th Annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” on the 100th anniversary of the moving picture.
Following Hopkins he joined Creative Artists Agency where he worked in Motion Picture Talent and also did work in music-crossover. He later joined Davis Entertainment with a deal at 20th Century Fox where he worked on the productions of Heartbreakers, Dr. Dolittle 2, Behind Enemy Lines as well as acquisition and development of Alien v. Predator, Paycheck, Flight of the Phoenix, Garfield, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I, Robot and countless others.
Missing the faster pace of representation, he later joined Writers & Artists Agency for several years working in their talent, literary, and book departments. Since that time he’s had his own management company focusing on actors, writers, authors, and directors. Last year he started Boffo Socko Books, an independent publishing company and recently put out the book Amerikan Krazy.

Source: Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni

 

Register Here

More information Office of Alumni Relations
800-JHU-JHU1 (548-5481)
alumevents@jhu.edu

Part of the course:

The Entertainment Industry in Contemporary Hollywood

Students will have the opportunity to spend one week in Los Angeles with Film and Media Studies Director Linda DeLibero. Students will meet and network with JHU alums in the entertainment industry, as well as heads of studios and talent agencies, screenwriters, directors, producers, and various other individuals in film and television. Associated fee with this intersession course is $1400 (financial support is available for those who qualify). Permission of Linda DeLibero is required. Film and Media Studies seniors and juniors will be given preference for the eight available slots, followed by senior minors.Students are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on January 8. The actual course runs January 9-13 with lodging check-in on January 8 and check-out on January 14.

Course Number: AS.061.377.60
Credits: 1
Distribution: H
Days:  Monday 1/9/2017 – Friday 1/13/2017
Times:  M – TBA | Tu- TBA | W- TBA | Th- TBA | F- TBA
Instructor: Linda DeLibero

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17 was originally published on Chris Aldrich