| December 4, 2020
I started writing this two weeks ago. I was interrupted and never finished… for all the reasons I started writing it.
I am not afraid to shoot off my mouth. I have strong opinions. And even if you disagree with my analysis, I have educated, researched opinions.
But all the thoughts cascading through my mind and my heart and some days, my very soul… right now, they feel meaningless.
There are people in this industry who have solid ground under their feet. The television business is a place where they should be doing all the infrastructure work that hasn’t been done properly for decades, so that when production restarts in earnest, they are ready to be the very best platforms possible. Writers can write. Producers can work on writers’ work and make deals that are on shaky ground, but it’s something to do.
But people like me? Putting aside the specific weirdness of specifically being me, I am an analyst and strategist. I am a journalist, though the word never sits comfortably in my mouth. I get information. I contextualize information. I offer information.
And COVID-19 is a giant “fuck you” to anyone who thinks they know anything right now. Unless you are managing something that already exists, you are wishing and hoping and dreaming.
On issue after issue after issue, taking an absolute position on the future is Russian roulette. Movie theaters. Movies themselves. The future of streaming. Non-TV awards. Film festivals. International vs domestic. production. Distribution. Unions.
There is a media obsession with selling the notion—fundamentally stupid—that the entire filmed entertainment universe is going to be on our television sets with 5000 IMAXs for Marvel movies. Idiotic. On its face. But putting that aside… COVID-19 could make that happen. Not directly. But none of us can be sure that traditional brick & mortar—not just cinemas, but every mall and restaurant—is going to look the same after this all settles in however long it takes. I don’t know if theaters will survive another 15 months of the virus. If Los Angeles’ Century City Mall becomes a condo, I wouldn’t expect an AMC, or maybe a much smaller AMC.
The question of whether people would want to change their primary content provider in the midst of the pandemic was up in the air a couple months ago. I leaned towards more conservative choices by consumers. But time and the virus may change that dramatically. As people have less money from working, the $50 each month that cable or DirecTV costs over cutting the cord might look attractive, even if it requires effort. But access to a strong internet connection is also part of this equation and do people want service people coming into their homes to manage higher-quality internet service? The longer this goes on, the more pressure points exist and the harder they are pushed upon.
Many of my opinions are unchanged since March. Others have changed dramatically. My position on the now-cancelled Telluride Film Festival started with spreading the event into 12 days, with one-third of passholders invited to the section of their choice. It seemed like this would narrow the danger and discomfort. Soon, I added to that the idea that media should be eliminated from the mix, included by a digital offering, which could also be the basis for building a full-festival digital footprint as needed. By June, I was 100% in on Telluride going 100% digital, with the outside hope of some local event in Telluride. Last week, the knife was shoved in for the festival, as the local school board disallowed the use of two of the the festival’s three largest venues. But that was a predictable outcome. The festival chose to roll the dice, but the dice were loaded from the start.
Toronto, on the other hand, announced — without asking me, for the record — that they would push all of Press & Industry to streaming. And unsaid, though I expect it may be what happens, is the notion that the entire festival may eventually expand into a virtual event. Same ticket price for a movie and Q&A, but stay home.
Of course, there was another major variable in these festival choices… The Academy. By pushing the Oscar Show two months (which still is 50/50, at best, to happen), they undermined an already problematic situation for the August and September festivals. It allowed the distributors to bow out because the fests were suddenly way too early for launching awards efforts, which they have relied on for hoopla in recent years. So the show can go on… but if there are more than a handful of ambitious awards movies, it will be a surprise.
That brings up the comical date change by The Academy. How will this work? If they are waiting for theaters to open, are theaters more likely to be open in January and February than in November and December? If Academy members are watching movies online and via screener, why delay? If it’s about the show itself, what makes anyone think it will be any safer to do a show live in Southern California in April than in February? All I see is magical thinking… and a shift in the pressure to actually have a competitive Oscar show, as if, in February there is a good chance it would be cancelled but in April there is less of a chance. But based on what? Whim. It’s strategy by awards consultants, not anything grounded in reality that anyone has been able to explain to me.
Look. Maybe Toronto will have a local event that works great. Maybe New York will be a great outdoor festival. Maybe theaters will open in the fall and winter and The Oscars will be a huge winner in April. Maybe distributors will feel compelled to raise the bar higher and higher regarding what they are willing to push to their streaming platforms. Maybe American studios will start prioritizing international distribution in countries that are open and start overseas, then figure out America. Maybe NATO — the National Association of Theater Owners — will make an agreement with distributors to get a piece of the VOD for a films that were intended for theatrical. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe…
I don’t need to predict the future perfectly. I have always been about the ongoing conversation and not about the insta-answer. But I don’t want to do it right now. I don’t want to add to the noise. There is so much noise. And so little reality.
So… thanks for caring. (I assume if you bothered to get this far, you do, either way.) But I don’t want to piss in the wind. And there is a lot of wind right now.
| December 4, 2020
| December 3, 2020
| November 26, 2020
Steven Zeitchik: "It's worth remembering -- because many people seem to have forgotten -- that before the pandemic U.S. movie theaters had their best two-year period ever, with a collective $23 billion in revenue. This isn't some dying model that digital needs to come in and save. Those sales, incidentally, likely include the many people who swear they will never go to a movie theater again. When the new Marvel or Jordan Peele or Mission: Impossible or Parasite comes only to theaters, I suspect they'll be lining up like they always have. What’s troubling is the false binary: streaming vs theaters. You can like both! Netflix is good and theaters are good! Institutions don't have to die just because something new is cool. And historically it takes more than one company in a strategically tough spot to kill a model. Of course ownership can change and experiences can change. We watched silent films and newsreels and serials in movie houses, and then we saw gritty crime films and pop films and dramatic films, and then 3-D films and franchise films. And there weren't showtimes and then there were showtimes, and seats weren't reserved and then they were reserved; we went from movie palaces to multiplexes to downtown dine-in rooms with reclining seats. And studios owned theaters and then families owned theaters and then entrepreneurs did and then big corporate chains and soon studios might own theaters again, and package movies as experiences or events or something new we haven't yet thought of. Of course it's theoretically possible an entire American institution just goes away. But given how durable it's been over the decades, I wouldn't bet on it. And certainly not because one company, for its own internal reasons, at one moment, needs to put its movies somewhere else."
| December 5, 2020
"Stankey decided to use HBO as the centerpiece for a new mission: Build a true Netflix competitor, dubbed HBO Max. When Stankey took over as AT&T’s CEO, he passed that goal to new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who previously launched Hulu. Stankey has dismantled the old Time Warner, spurring dozens of executives from all parts of the company to depart. He is attempting to funnel all of the company’s resources from cable, film, and HBO into HBO Max. Disney, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS are all going through similar changes now to prepare for a world where subscription streaming services overtake cable as the world’s primary form of television consumption. Stankey — the MBA-buzzword, deep-voiced phone guy — was ahead of the trend. Still, his vision irritated some veteran WarnerMedia executives, who question Stankey’s knowledge of media. The execution of his mission, which Kilar has overseen since May, has been marred by strategic confusion and culture clashes, according to more than a dozen high-ranking WarnerMedia employees, about half of whom have left the company in the past six months. For now, investors don’t like what they see. AT&T is trading near a 10-year low."
| December 5, 2020
Nicholas Kristof: "I've spent the last few months reporting this piece about Pornhub. What most people don't realize is that it's infested with rape videos. I talked to child trafficking survivors whose rape videos the company had distributed and monetized. Unconscionable. Let's be clear: The issue is not porn, it's rape. Just as the problem with Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby wasn't the sex but the lack of consent, it's the same with Pornhub. Search "13yo" on Pornhub, and you get more than 100,000 videos. There are playlists called "Under Age." A special question for Canada, because Pornhub is based in Montreal. Prime Minister Trudeau, you are rightly proud of your reputation as a feminist. So why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world? It's not just Pornhub, of course. Companies have enjoyed impunity, so even as we prosecuted individuals like Jeffrey Epstein we allowed corporations like Mindgeek (which owns Pornhub) to monetize rape videos. Pornhub is Jeffrey Epstein times 1,000. Solutions are difficult and complicated. I don't have perfect ways to solve the problem of online child sexual abuse. But I do outline steps that would help. These survivors risked so much to tell their stories."
| December 5, 2020
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019