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David Poland

By David Poland

End of Days: April 26, 2011

Only two stories much worth considering today…

Ms Vachon Regrets… – I dont see much of anything wrong with Christine Vachon’s State of Film address at SFIFF.  I would say that she suffers a little from indieitis, which is what turns up, for instance, in her stated disinterest in discussing theatrical exhibition. Why? Because theatrical as the primary revenue stream for true indie (not studio dependents) is already dead.  Why would she pine for the dead when she’s gotta lotta living to do?  I am amongst those who would like to see theatrical taken seriously, for both aesthetic and financial reasons. But she’s already dealing with an indie universe where DVD and theatrical are not generating enough… so she has to look to streaming as a realistic long-game player.  I would argue that she’s getting in bed with grandma and not thinking about her big eyes, big nose, and really big teeth.  The maturation of the digital world for filmed entertainment is going to hurt a lot of people in a big way. But Vachon is a smart person and a survivor.  And for now, for her, she’s absolutely right. And people shouting down a truth teller is more than a little pathetic.

Netflix YoYo – Nexflix beat their quarterly projections, but still lost on the stock exchange.  Why?  I think because Wall Street is figuring it out.  Netflix has done great building out the streaming future, but perception of what the service can be has been so wildly exaggerated by the media thanks to a non-competitive market, you can feel the slow, steady movement towards reality coming.  Those of us who saw Blockbuster’s future 15 years ago know that there is a business in Netflix… just not the exclusive, ubiquitous business currently perceived.  Even the anti-Netflix rhetoric in the industry is wildly over the top.  Netflix doesn’t have ALL the content, has never had Most Of the content and will never be everything to everyone.  But streaming and VOD are so new that perspective has been lost.

Here is a little Netflix math… Quarter 1, 2011 compared to Q1 2010 saw a $28m rise in net income.  But with gross revenues up by $225 million, the return is not all that impressive. That’s an increase from a 6.5% quarterly net on revenues to a 8.3% net on revenues while the company has grown overall by more than 40%.  And that is without much competition yet… and with some cheap deals, like Starz, still holding as a market advantage without being a greater drain on the company’s bottom line.  Streaming content has gone from $16m a month last year to $64m a month in this last quarter.  And the number is only going up.  Costs for DVDs never hit $15m a month.  

I estimate that Netflix would have to add 3.5-4.5 million new paying subscribers to cover the cost of a new Starz deal with Sony and Disney fully loaded.  And what is the cost of not doing a Starz deal?  What is the cost of competition?  Can Netflix afford to do an HBO Go deal?  

I can’t help but to be amazed by the massive change Netflix has made in its business model.  But it feels like a bubble that just can’t keep growing, yet HAS to keep growing to sustain its position in an increasingly crowded market. 

7 Responses to “End of Days: April 26, 2011”

  1. Joe Leydon says:

    OK, I want to give credit where it is due: Who was it who made the Groundhog Day analogy?

  2. Gus says:

    I love these catch-up posts but it would be great if you included a link to reference what you’re talking about with each story rather than assuming we have all already heard about it. I knew Vachon did the state of the union at SFIFF but had no idea she was being asked to retract.

  3. Chadillac says:

    With Netflix paying more for streaming content, do you think they’re trying to put content prices out of reach for a future, start-up competition?

  4. Michael says:

    Netflix’s biggest cost isn’t buying DVDs; it’s postage. Netflix is spending more than $600 million per year on postage (with a 7% USPS DVD mailer rate increase coming up). That’s $50 to $60 million a month. Combine that with David’s estimate of “under $15 million” a month for DVDs and the streaming costs seem less crazy.

  5. chris says:

    So, based on Ebert’s tweet that he has already seen one of next year’s Oscar winners and the fact that Tilda Swinton will be at his Ebertfest this weekend, I’m guessing he’s seen her in “We Need to Talk About Kevin?””

  6. chris says:

    Come to think of it, Ebert might also have meant Christopher Plummer.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin