Archive for Movies

Stan Was The Man… ‘Nuff Said

Stan LeeIt’s with a heavy heart today that I read about the passing of Stan Lee. Stan was the leader who originated much of the Marvel Universe in concert with his team at Marvel. While there may be some discussion about his exact role in the creation of the many characters invented under his watch, there can be no dispute that he was the orchestrator of the development of the Marvel Universe.

While his time at Marvel dated back to the 1940s, and he left the comics side of Marvel in the 1980s, it can be put forward that he is one of the most influential creators of entertainment IP of this, the 21st century. Perhaps no single person other than J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter franchise can put claim to having such a strong hand in creating the media IP that power today’s media companies.

Superpowering Disney

The acquisition of Marvel is what keeps Disney successful, and a buyer rather than the target of acquisition. The amazingly successful implementation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has spawned 20 films – with different but interconnected characters – in 10 years. The Marvel IP will help drive the new Disney streaming service, Disney+, as well as new rides and lands in the Disney theme parks. And don’t forget all the lucrative licensed goods that come out of Marvel as well.

The success of the MCU might also have an influence from Stan Lee. While the movies have had many writers and directors, Kevin Fiege has been the ringmaster who has shepherded the separate pieces into a successful continuum. This is quite similar to Stan’s role with the original comics, and has helped avoid the chaos that marks the DC Comics movie franchise.

On a personal note, I will always remember Stan taking a minute to talk to my son, who was 10 at the time, as he was traveling between panels at the 2007 New York Comic Con. It as quite a thrill for young Philip.

Excelsior!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: Appreciating “Grand Prix” amid the debris of racing films

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Poster from "Grand Prix"I’m a big fan of car racing and racing films. Not so much today’s scene, but racing from the early ’60s to the late ’70s. Thus it was with a pleasurable surprise that I saw this week that a film is heading to production this fall, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, about the mid-’60s battle between Ford and Ferrari for supremacy at Le Mans.

It has all the elements of a good story. Two industry titans (Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari) going toe-to-toe. Ford depending on good ol’ Texas boy and racing genius Carroll Shelby to design and produce his challenger, and British driver Ken Miles to test the beast. A classic story of New World versus Old World at the macro level, and an oil-and-water buddy story at a personal level.

The Curse

However, despite A-list actors and director (James Mangold), this film will have a hard time to avoid the historical curse on movies about car racing. Ron Howard’s Rush was the last attempt at a prestige racing film. It failed miserably at the box office. Racing films are unfortunately more represented by candidates for the annual Razzie awards, including Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder, and even Elvis Presley’s Speedway (apologies to The King).

One has to go all the way back to 1966, to John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix – starring James Garner and featuring many real Grand Prix drivers in cameos – to find a racing movie that was both a critical and a box office success. It was a technical and editing tour de force. Grand Prix remains one of my all-time favorite movies, period.

Others might point to Steve McQueen’s Le Mans (1971). It’s more a product of the late ’60s confusing creativity with a hot mess. But the filming of the cars and racing of this era is undeniably well done (and features my favorite Porsches!).

Looking for a Win

Ironically, documentaries have recently fared better than features. Senna (2010), Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015), and The 24 Hour War (2016) all present interesting stories (the latter also being about the Ford-Ferrari battles in the mid-’60s).

As for the new Ford-Ferrari feature, if having Matt Damon and Christian Bale can’t open it and get it past the checkered flag, then this niche market may have seen the last racing film for some time. Heck, since Damon somehow got The Great Wall to pull in $45 million in US box office, he might be able to drive this new film to a win and beat the curse.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Getting media companies closer to consumers

image of TV set and remoteLast week’s profile in Variety of Turner’s Kevin Reilly had an interesting line about media distribution that struck a chord. Reilly is quoted as saying “Probably the biggest frustration of the age is that we’ve tied ourselves into a distribution partnership for the most part with partners who have not been focused on the consumer experience,” in reference to MVPDs.

I recently spent about two years as the global manager for the Disney account for a market research firm, and there too one sees the interesting disconnect of “traditional” media brands from their end consumers – something I hadn’t really recognized until it sort of slapped me in the face.

For as much as media giants such as “Disney” or “Warner Bros” are household names, the truth is that (putting aside theme parks and smallish direct-to-consumer specialty sales) they have been totally dependent on third-party intermediaries to deliver their product to consumers.

TV content: whether on their owned networks or another network, it relies on an MVPD to distribute it via pay TV, or a broadcast affiliate to send it out over-the-air. Through rental services, SVOD services, or retail outlets for home video.

Movie content: distribution through movie theatre chains for first run. Through rental services, SVOD services, or retail outlets for home video.

Consumer products: almost all brand or character products are designed and manufactured by third party licensees, and sold through online or brick-and-mortar retailers.

Thus one begins to understand the great business opportunity that streaming and digital offers these giants – taking back control of their relationship with the end consumer, either directly or by using it as leverage to demand better performance from their partners.

The drawbacks of not owning your relationship

Imaging having your business tied to cable TV companies. Deservedly or not, they are among the most disliked and distrusted companies with which consumers have to deal. And they are responsible for delivering your content through networks or VOD to consumers, and the consumer relationship?

Movie chains are not so reviled but they too are no paragons of consumer value. Many people consider movies to be over-priced and most people understand that the cost of concessions are exorbitant. And don’t get me started on the up-charges for “assigned seats” and buying your tickets online. But that’s where consumers have to go to experience first-run films.

And Amazon, a bastion of home video and licensed sales, while being extremely focused to create good consumer experiences, is no bargain. To keep prices low, it drives deep discounting through wholesaler relationships, as well as other considerations that impact placement, display, promotion, and the like.

Get down(stream)

While the above covers far more ground than strictly TV or movie content, it does show that a move away from the traditional distribution channels could benefit media companies in a number of ways. By increasing their direct dealings with the consumer, it offers a way to control the experience – which is great as long as it’s done right! And, as is so important in today’s world, it would also give them first-party data from their interactions with consumers.

So whether it’s a stand-alone SVOD/OTT service, or the advent of day-and-date home distribution of theatricals, movement downstream to get closer to the consumers’ actual touch-points could pay big dividends (figuratively and literally).

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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MoviePass and how much are your data really worth?

MoviePass logo

An interesting article about MoviePass was recently published in the NY Times. MoviePass, for those not familiar, is a subscription service for going to the cinema. It has been around a few years, since 2011. Its original offering was priced at $50 a month, later reduced to $35. Its current offering is now a somewhat unbelievable $9.95 a month, which allows each subscriber to attend one movie a day.

The service operates outside of the movie theater chains. It uses a type of debit card that loads the value of the movie once you activate your MoviePass app – so to the theaters it just looks like any other debit card transaction. You can pretty much watch whatever film you want; you aren’t stuck with second-run or bad films, or a specific chain.

It certainly seems like an unbelievable deal for consumers. In the extreme case, for $9.95 you could attend 31 movies in a month. Assuming an average value of a movie ticket of about $9 (yes, I know it’s much higher in many metro areas, but that’s the national average per the National Association of Theater Owners), a subscriber could thus get $279 in movie value for their $9.95 monthly investment – an ROI of 28 to 1!

According to the article, the CEO of MoviePass “believes that ticketing can at least be a break-even business for MoviePass. The real treasure in this venture, he contends, is the trove of data about consumer tastes and habits that MoviePass can collect”. He believes the combination of fees and income from data sales can make this venture work.

What do the Green Bay Packers have to do with this?

The NFL and its teams are famously tight-lipped on the finances of the league and the teams. However, the Packers are owned by the community through shares. The shares really give fans little value, but like any other shareholder business, the Packers have to publish financial reports. Thus, the world finds out much of the otherwise secret financial dealings of the NFL with their TV partners, etc.

In the same vein, we sometimes can get a window into the black box of value of digital data in situations such as this with MoviePass. Now, it could be MoviePass is blowing smoke and trying to cover up a ridiculous burn rate. But if we take them at face value, it provides us with an opportunity to make a guess as to what our personal data are worth in this particular situation.

Let’s make some assumptions

Now, as the article rightly points out, a subscription model is built on the fact that few subscribers will ever make use of the total value of their subscription – some may never make use of it, and many will make infrequent use of it. Thus for the sake of argument, let’s be conservative and say only half of MoviePass subs ever use the service each month, and those who do only attend three movies a month. This would mean the average MoviePass sub attends 1.5 movies a month, putting an average monthly subscriber cost to MoviePass of $15 ($13.50 in tickets plus assume $1.50 in overhead) against a subscription of $10. If MoviePass expects to break even, then this would imply a $5 value of each subscriber’s data each month. (Please note that I have no inside information – I’m just making some educated guesses on all the above)

And there you have it, the value of your data in one particular category (movie attendance tied to your demos, overall movie viewing behaviors, and whatever other data could be appended or tied to your profile) for a particular set of clients (movie studios and theater chains) can be guesstimated to be roughly $5 a month.

Let’s do some math

We’ll go a bit further and assume that many apps we use have a similar value proposition – and some multiplied due to the wider range of potential categories and end clients. A quick look through my phone and I see Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Weather Channel, Fandango, Amazon, a parking app, Realtor, FiOS, The Economist, and many others. That’s a lot of apps collecting, and likely selling on, data about me. The point here is not if $5 per app per month is a correct estimate; even if it’s a few dollars off either way, the point is that the value of our personal data is a non-trivial number when summed up over the dozens of apps and websites we use each month.

Many apps/services will make the argument that the value to the consumer of their service is in excess of what they make from consumer data. This is similar to the ad-supported media argument that ads pay for your content. But a key difference here is that the assumption in the digital world is that the digital firms own your data from the start – consumers never have an opportunity to trade on the value of their data; you either sign it over via Terms of Service/opt-in or you don’t get to use the app at all. And also that the data can take on a life of their own, being sold on to or used by many advertising technology businesses that operate in the background of the digital ad ecosystem.

Whose data is it?

The EU is taking steps to address this through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will be enforced as of May 2018; the GDPR is intended to provide for a  high level of protection of personal data and to give citizens back control over of their personal data. In the US, some consumer advocacy and consumer privacy groups are also pursuing such a flip in rights in order to provide relief to consumers whose data are being bought and sold along the digital food chain without any transparency to the consumers themselves.

That is unlikely to happen quickly in the US, although EU rules may nudge things along if digital companies want to standardize globally. Or, just as with car emissions, a large state like California could drive the US discussion. As for we consumers, there isn’t a lot to do on an individual level other than to be more aware of which app/website is tracking what. And think about if an app/website is offering $5 more in value than you’re paying for it.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: “The Shape of Water”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: The Shape of Water
Genre: Sci-fi drama/romance
Origin: Fox Searchlight
Find it on: your local movie theatre

The Shape of Water posterWhile Friday Finds is nominally an occasional column on TV content, I was so impressed by The Shape of Water that I feel I must include it here as a recommendation.

With an appreciation for Guillermo del Toro as well as a weakness for period pictures set in the mid-50s to mid-60s, I had an interest in The Shape of Water to begin with. With the ads already giving away the main plot line – woman falls in love with fish-man – I had expectations of a film that was going to be weird but made interesting enough by GTD’s talents.

I came out of the theatre thinking this may very well be the best movie I saw in all of 2017. The story, characters, and acting all were a surprise to be experienced. The main cast of Sally Yates, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones do a great job. GDT does a fine job directing with some impressive sequences, especially the first few minutes that introduce us to Yates’ character and her world. As usual, GDT also imbues his creature with empathy and life in partnership with his long time collaborator Jones.

Despite Jones’ resemblance to the monster from the Black Lagoon, the film does not include anything horrific. There is some “standard” violence and  blood, but nothing worse than any other contemporary action movie. It’s a romance crossed with action crossed with caper, and a most enjoyable two hours.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Revisiting Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers Neighborhood logoAnother piece of news that came out right before the holidays is the release of a new documentary on Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame. Coming out in June of 2018, this documentary will examine the long-term impact of Mister Rogers. As its production company puts it, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor explores the question of whether or not we have lived up to Fred’s ideal. Are we all good neighbors?”

Shown nationally on PBS for 33 years, from 1968 to 2001, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood presented Fred Rogers as a calm, peaceful presence who wasn’t afraid to touch on contemporary topics in an appropriate way for his audience. I imagine that I was slightly old for his target demo, being 8 when the show debuted in 1968. While I outgrew the puppet parts of the program rather quickly, I still found his “one-on-one” talks to the camera (and me) to be worth tuning in to watch on a regular basis for a number of years.

Turning the calendar ahead a few decades, a colleague of mine had a great story about Fred Rogers. In the early 1990s, my first boss and mentor in media research, Maura Clancey, was to present for the first time at the PBS annual conference. It was to be the largest crowd to which she ever had to present, and she was nervous even before leaving for the conference.  Flying on USAir, she had to change planes in Pittsburgh to get to the final destination. By some trick of fate, she ended up sitting next to – you guessed it – Fred Rogers.

Over the next couple of hours, Maura shared her story with Fred and, as she would put it, Fred Rogers was exactly like he was on his show. He told her how it was normal to be nervous, it happened to everyone including him; and he had complete confidence everything would turn out fine for her. She walked off the plane with no worries after her personal pep talk from Mister Rogers!

I’m calling my realtor

Fred Rogers passed away in 2004 so he has, thankfully, not experienced the increasing levels of incivility and crudeness that have become so pervasive in our culture. But if he was here, he wouldn’t be scolding or downbeat. He’d just explain very calmly about how wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all were just a little bit nicer to everyone? Mister Rogers is the neighbor we all need in today’s world.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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WWE beefing up content output

WWE Logo

I took a double-take reading a recent headline “WWE Studios Expands into Scripted Series…”. I mean, isn’t wrestling by definition scripted? What’s the big deal?

It turns out the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is expanding its studio operations to try and take advantage of “peak video.” Moving beyond TV wrestling-related fare, it hopes to  expand into more prestige content. It hopes to do this while still keeping a connection to its roster of stars and the “squared circle.”

This includes a couple of prestige projects. These include a documentary on Andre the Giant for HBO, and a feature starring Dwayne Johnson (aka former WWE star The Rock) that is to be written and directed by Stephen Merchant. A tag team alliance between WWE and powerhouse Hollywood agency WME helps drive this endeavor.

Although not directly mentioned, the WWE’s own SVOD service, The WWE Network, may also be a factor. At a relatively hefty $9.99/month, the service may be finding out what a lot of cable channels have: playing in a very specific niche is difficult, even considering the avid WWE fans who subscribe. Just a few examples are Spike (created as a men’s network), MTV (24/7 music), and Oxygen (women). All had to broaden their content and dilute their niche base to keep growing.

Doubleteam for the win?

While WWE Studios, and the WWE Network, may never go beyond an outer ring of wrestling, they can diversify their content while not tagging out of the wrestling connection completely.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Piracy – an intractable problem?

pirate flagA couple of reports this week, in Arstechnica and MediaPost, discussed findings from Sandvine about piracy by streaming. They estimate 6.5% of broadband homes used “pirate” sites over a thirty day period in August and September.

Over many years, we tracked piracy in an annual report which is published by my former employer, GfK. This report, Over-the-Top TV, has tracked “ever pirated” levels in recent years at about 20 percent – so six-to-seven percent in a given month would seem to be a reasonable number.

As with all passively measured or metered data, Sandvine’s gives no insight as to consumers’ reasons for piracy. From the consumer survey research that is the basis of the GfK report, over the years the general answer is convenience – either consumers want to watch theatrical movies they can’t go and see in a cinema; or they want television content they do not have access to for a variety of reasons.

Sandvine did go further in terms of extrapolating the potential cost of piracy to be up to four billion dollars to US pay TV providers. Since Sandvine, a vendor that sells equipment to consumer broadband providers to help them manage network congestion, has a vested interest in emphasizing the size of the issue, we need to take their estimate with a grain of salt. But either way piracy does add up to a notable level of foregone revenue.

Some initiatives to address piracy, like day-and-date release of theatricals, may increase at-home convenience but are likely to make much of a dent in the problem due to the proposed prices – $40 or more instead of standard VOD movie pricing of $4-5. People who may not be able to afford getting a babysitter and attending the cinema are unlikely to pay a similar amount for at-home convenience.

Piracy has been an issue going back to the emergence of the VCR, and there are no easy answers. There may never be one answer, just a series of initiatives to mitigate the losses.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Will Movies Anywhere go anywhere?

Last week’s announcement of the “Movies Anywhere” app, by Disney and four of the five other major studios, is a welcome collaboration in the digital space among competitors from traditional media. But is it really only an exercise in closing the barn door after the horse has already bolted?

Movies Anywhere logoConsumers already voted with a yawn or confusion to Ultraviolet (launched in 2011) and Disney Movies Anywhere (2014), if they were even aware of them. For example, in a report I did for former employer GfK in Spring 2016, only four percent of digital movie buyers report ever using Ultraviolet.

In many ways, this is similar to what’s been seen in the past in the pay TV world. In that case, the implementation and marketing of video-on-demand (VOD) and TV Everywhere, potential game changers in that market, were not well executed. The former contributed to the rapid rise to dominance of Netflix’ streaming service, and the latter to the rise of the new entrants in the SVOD space.

VOD was not well understood by consumers, particularly suffering from a lack of consistency in marketing exacerbated by every cable operator giving VOD its own branding. Despite being first in market with arguably better content, VOD stalled because people did not understand it and it had a challenging consumer interface.  In many ways, TV Everywhere via pay TV operators suffered the same fate: conflicting branding and lack of consumer education, particularly about authentication. In this case, CTAM did bring together cable operators in 2014 to use a single logo and language, but still these services seem to have only recently improved their competitive position.

The moral

The moral of the story is that pay TV had perhaps the best combined solution (VOD for current content plus TV Everywhere for older and catalog content), but the inability to bring these to market in a way consumers could easily use and understand put them permanently behind the streaming competition.

For the Movies Anywhere service, a similar fate may be in store. Coming up with a better solution six years after the launch of Ultraviolet only means that consumers now have the SVOD or PPV models of movie viewing as permanently engrained habits. Will Movies Anywhere better serve the shrinking niche market of movie buyers? Sure. But will it stem the overwhelming movement from the ownership model of video content to the rental/subscription model? Unlikely.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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