Internet, Movies, Television

Content Matters Most

September 20, 2015

This thrust of this article is exactly the subject of a series of conversations I had with a couple of Hollywood suits a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. It’s really why we had any conversation in the first place, as it turns out.

My writing portfolio ended up in the hands of a half dozen ‘studio types’ who are involved in the creation of a new entertainment venture. The key to this venture is, plain and simple, content – written content. (A friend passed my portfolio along to a couple of executives, and they in turn handed it to a few others – I had no idea this was happening!) At the end of these conversations I had a ‘first look’ deal for a book with an option on two others in the series.

The whole confab went kind of like this…

Most of the traditional studios – majors and mini-majors – are scared to death of entities such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. They are also very concerned about cable networks like AMC (i.e. The Walking Dead, Mad Men), USA (i.e. Mr. Robot, Graceland), and Starz (i.e. Outlander, Blunt Talk). They are scooping up writing, directing, and acting talent for lower budget fare (film and television), and telling motion picture-style stories in longer arcs. Instead of 92-minute movies, or two-hour films (sometimes even three-hour epics), much of the material is ending up on the outlets mentioned above (and others) as ‘short stack events’. The new “X Files”, for instance, is only six episodes, and they refer to it as an ‘event series’.

The bottom line is the paradigm has shifted once again. Hollywood will always make block-busters with budgets in excess of $100 million dollars (some way in excess of that figure) – the superhero films coming from Marvel would be a good example. But what about everything else – the thrillers, the romcoms, the biographies, the mysteries? And what about all the new distribution outlets, the ‘agnostic screens’ (tablets, smartphones, laptops, computers)?

If it all begins with the written word, then why not have a single, powerful business that starts with the written word (book publishing), and shepherds that book through global distribution and sales (book copies), followed by multimedia exploitation (film, TV), all aided and abetted with purpose-produced social media? Why indeed. The outlets for this ‘word’ can be anything and everything: film chains, TV networks, online streaming, etc. The surprise here (if there is one) is the addition of ‘publishing’ to the overall mix. How that affects and changes the traditional business model of book-to-film is a subject for another time.

This Variety article about the head of AMC Networks is really the first time I’ve seen someone in the business address the subject of ‘content as business model’.

As I was leaving Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Blvd. (where better to have an industry meeting?!) the ‘suit’ who offered me the ‘first look’ deal told me that, aside from content, the corporate consolidation we’ve seen in the entertainment industry is far from over. He said that he and his compatriots are convinced that within two to three years (possibly sooner) someone will make a play for Apple. Impossible, I thought. Who has the capital to make such a pitch? Imagine, he says, Google or Amazon… or a consortium of BOTH (with perhaps a wealthy investment firm as top up)…? NOT impossible, he said. Of course, he continued, the opposite is much more likely – that Apple will buy a major (mini-major) Hollywood studio. They DO have the capital.

And that returned us to the subject at hand: content. Apple doesn’t own or control any content – not yet. But the release of a newly-configured AppleTV barely two weeks later, and rumours of Tim Cook sniffing around some back lots would certainly lead one to believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Is that crazy? Tim Cook secretly toured a handful of automobile race tracks and testing facilities leading to the rumour that Apple was going into the ‘car’ business. Most tech pundits scoffed. Ridiculous, they said. Apple then proceeded to hire several automotive executives after discussions with Elon Musk (Tesla) appeared to go nowhere. Barely a month ago, a former naval base at Concord, California, frequently used by automotive manufacturers as a test track, signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with… Apple.

I’m on this train, and I can’t wait to see where it leads!

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