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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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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch