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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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August 4, 2021

Who else is looking forward to VaxDancing in Park City this coming January? In a remarkable show of leadership from the Sundance Institute, Festival Director Tabitha Jackson announced yesterday (Aug 3rd) that proof of vaccination will be required of participants at all Sundance Film Festival venues and affiliated events. Further details on distancing and mask requirements will come as we get closer to the event – which is smart, because we may or may not need masks or more distance depending on the state of the virus come January, but my hope is that they’ll require masks in all tented lines and in theaters so that everyone can feel safe. People catch the Sundance flu every year anyways, so it’s a good practice for all of us to think about doing. My only wish is that EVERY film festival and arthouse theater would follow their lead (except where doing so is explicitly prohibited by crazy Republican politicians). Unfortunately, none of the big fests coming up this Fall have announced similar policies yet - I'm looking at you, Toronto and NYFF. If Cannes did it, and Sundance can do it, what gives?
My article this week was going to be focused on the stunning lack of leadership being shown by the film exhibition community on this subject. To my knowledge, no theaters or film festivals (pre-Sundance, and other than Cannes) are yet requiring proof of vaccination, and especially not in the US, and many have ended mask rules (voluntary compliance is a joke, and everyone knows it), and while some remain at restricted capacity, many are wide open again. Yet the evidence is piling up that the Delta variant is much more contagious and that while vaccinated people remain quite protected against serious symptoms/death, they can spread the variant to unvaccinated or immunocompromised individuals. I know many of the latter camp – people on chemo for example – who aren’t sure if their vaccinations “took” and gave them full immunity or not. None of them, or anyone who has been vaccinated, should have to give up our ability to enjoy movies and other activities for anyone who remains unvaxed at this point. Exhibitors – and that includes both movie theaters and film festivals – need to step up and not wait for the government to make mandates for them. Show some spine and do what’s right for your customers and constituents now. Don’t be lazy and say you’re following local or CDC guidelines – we all know what needs to be done, and the time to step up and lead is now. 
I’m willing to bet there’s a sizable majority of people (roughly everyone who is vaccinated) who are pissed off and done with waiting on this stuff. There’s a reason that box office remains depressed (with some exceptions) – a lot of us don’t trust our neighbors to be vaccinated and wear a mask. If this was enforced, more of us would show up. The percentage of people who are unvaccinated and who also like to go to arthouse movies, and would boycott these theaters based on these requirements, is a much smaller group of people than those of us who find that group to be scarier than a room full of zombies. Me, I’m ready to give two options – take the shot, or get a DNR tattoo on your forearm, but that’s too much for my public health friends. But showing a vaccine card is much easier and less invasive. Sure, people can fake them, but the percentages of fakers will be low, and we’ll probably still have herd immunity in most venues. 
Sundance’s move ensures that I will attend the festival and spend lots of money in Park City – much more than I’d like to spend. I’m hoping that when they say affiliated events that includes the other conferences that take place nearby at the same time, the multiple group meetings, parties, hosted sponsor venues, and the satellite venues around the country. If so, this is a very bold move indeed, and I’m glad that their leadership and board got behind this, which might not have been as easy as it should be given that they had to think of the politics of Utah at the same time. But they did the right thing. What's your excuse, other fests and theaters?
Meanwhile, if you disagree with me – tell me on email, because I won’t be there to hear you yelling your covid-breath all over the screen on social media because August is when I take my annual retreat from social media. Long time readers know that every year since 2010, I take a vacation from the newsletter and all social media for the month of August and until after Labor Day. I’ll be doing that again starting this week. While I’m away, I may re-publish a few pre-programmed newsletters with a few articles from the archives which I think are still relevant (I’m still trying to find the time). If you are a client or someone I work with, don’t worry - I am still on email for work, but you won’t find me here, on social, and I generally unplug from anything online that isn’t work-related. From August 18-30th, I am on a real vacation and not on phone or email.
I highly recommend that others take a month-long break from social media and the web each year. It really helps me reset, and I come out of the break much more relaxed and creative. Last year, I did this more often during covid, and wrote about it here. 2020 was a tough year to disconnect with so much going on (BLM, covid, etc.), but I still found that I was able to stay informed and less enraged by just reading the NYT in print and staying off the social webs. Give it a try. Trust me, it’s worth it.
I’ll be back after Labor Day in the US, and hope that we aren’t stuck in quarantine again due to the anti-vaxxer covidiots and the delta variant. Til then, stay safe, keep those masks around, and gear up to change the film world later this year.

Stuff I'm Reading

There are only 93 Good Movies on Netflix: Don't believe the headline? Ty Burr of Ty Burr's Watchlist has a great post where he breaks down the Netflix catalog - which turns out to only have 3700 movies in total, which is not a lot, really. He then looks into what titles anyone might recognize - and being a film critic, he's seen a lot of films, and he guesses there are just 230 of those. He looks at those and using a very wide lens, accepting blockbusters and arthouse, picks just 93 worth your time/dime. You can quibble with his methodology, but I bet you'll mostly agree, and if you're like me, there might be just 5-10 of those 93 that you missed and need to watch before you consider canceling the service, or at least give up on finding any movies there alongside the great series (does anyone watch movies anymore?).

Facebook's First Ever Paid (ticketed) Movie Premiere: My good friends at Abramorama are launching the first ticketed, live film premiere on Facebook. The film is a good one - The Outsider, by Pamela Yoder and Steven Rosenbaum (also a friend), and it tells the story of censorship, restrictions and other shenanigans that have been going on at the 9/11 Museum. The film will debut globally on Facebook on Aug 19th, followed by a live Q&A and then be available for streaming online. It will then reverse window into theaters and select streaming sites in September. This is a big deal, even though the trades are covering it as just a one-off. Revolutions start much quieter than you'd imagine. This is going to grow, and FB is going to become a major player in this space. I'm not sure if it's public yet, but another friend is leading the effort over at Facebook, and I expect this is the first experiment of many, and it will become the norm to settle in for a film - or a concert, or performance, etc. - with your friends on FB, and over time, that might become a subscription. As I said in this newsletter many times before - Facebook is a network, and networks will launch films and other content. It's only been a matter of time. Read about it at Axios.

Peacock Growing thanks to Olympics (and Sky): MediaPlay News reports that Peacock, the 1 year-old SVOD/AVOD streaming platform, has seen incredible growth, with 54 million sign-ups and 20 million subscribers, in part due to their streaming of the Olympics for free. While growth will likely slow a bit, Sky (the European-based broadcaster and TV platform) is reportedly including Peacock to its millions of subscribers at no additional cost later this year which will increase subscribers and “enhance advertising and brand opportunities worldwide.” The takeaway: In just one year, Peacock has become a household name and will increasingly claim more ground in the streaming wars, but it's growth is gonna be built mainly on TV, not film, perhaps like the rest of streaming. (GSH/BN)

Hello Sunshine Sells for $900 Million and the Content Wars are ON: I mentioned this last week, but the news broke this week that the Hello Sunshine deal went through, for $900M to a company backed by Blackstone that's planning to go on a bit of a spending spree. I think IndieWire has the best analysis of what this means for the business. As I've said here before - get while the gettin's, meaning - if you can't raise funds for "content"or content companies in this environment, you are doing something wrong.
Branded Content
REI Announces New Film, Space Oddity, directed by Kyra Sedgwick - REI has announced that it has come onboard as an investor and producer on the new film, Space Oddity, which is Sedgwick is directing, and it stars: Kevin Bacon, Simon Helberg and Carrie Preston, Kyle Allen, and Alexandra Shipp. The script was written by Rebecca Banner and was a 2016 Black List script. The film is being produced by Sedgwick and Valerie Stadler’s Big Swing Productions. Also producing Space Oddity is Jack Greenbaum and Richard Arlook for the The Arlook Group and Mickey Schiff for Unique Features. EPs are Bob Shaye, Ibrahim AlHusseini, JL Pomeroy, Brent Emery, Susan Cartonis, Suzanne Farwell, Meredith Bagby and Anne Clements. A stellar group.

Space Oddity tells the story of Alex (Kyle Allen) who, after giving up on Earth and deciding to leave it all behind for a one-way mission to Mars, develops an unexpected romance with Daisy (Alexandra Shipp), the enigmatic town newcomer, which forces him to choose between an uncertain journey to the stars and an even more uncertain journey of the heart.

The film is being produced in Rhode Island right now. REI is a Sub-Genre client, and I helped them with the deal. I am biased, but think these kinds of collaborations are the future of brand funded films, and more brands should be looking at value-adjacent projects in this space. Read all about it in Deadline.

BBQ Endorsement Brilliance: The WSJ takes a look at a new phenomenon in endorsements where BBQ restaurants are teaming up to sponsor football linemen - a group that likes to eat - now that the NCAA allows NIL deals (Name, Image, Likeness). Many local BBQ restaurants are sponsoring the entire offensive or defensive line, giving them free food, T-Shirts and exchanging social media posts, etc. This isn't exactly branded content, but it could grow into that, and is a brilliant strategy for local/smaller brands to get attention in non-traditional ways.

Brands as the New Gods? GenZ and Spirituality: AdAge has an interesting new look at GenZ and Spirituality. “Younger Americans are increasingly turning away from organized religion... 47% of Gen Zers do not consider themselves religious, compared to 41% of millennials.” So if not through religious undertones (or overtones), how should brands communicate with younger consumers? An Adage survey reveals that whereas older generations may have found community and connection in organized religion, Gen Zers are finding these in social media, music, movies, and TV shows. And when asked which attribute of religion was most important to them, Gen Zers cited well-being and mental health. What’s more, non-religious Gen Zers aren’t looking so much at the 10 commandments as they are at content to shape their morality: Adweek’s Ashley Lapin writes, “Gen Zers are using content (including brand content) to determine what’s right or wrong.” Are brands rewriting the 10 commandments? Lapin concludes that “In order to become part of the self-exploration and moral setting process, brands should use storytelling to communicate shared values.”  (GSH) This is also scary stuff...(BN)

FACEBOOK WANTS TO MASTER THE METAVERSE: The metaverse is all the rage. Now, Facebook wants to master it. According to AdAge,  Facebook has taken significant strides in building this metaverse. The social media giant is “building commerce through… digital storefronts on Facebook and Instagram…. [and] is pushing into live video shopping. Of course, they’re also building an ecosystem for online creators as well as funding many. But the metaverse still has a ways to go before we’re all connected in an almost tangible digital space. Facebook’s Oculus Virtual Reality headset is just one example of Facebook’s rocky start to master the metaverse: As mentioned in a previous newsletter, people aren’t too comfortable with FB placing Ads in VR experiences… they’re inherently more intrusive. What’s more, Oculus headset parts are getting recalled as they’ve been causing “facial skin irritation and reactions including rashes, swelling, burning, itching, hives, and bumps.” “The US Consumer Product Safety Commission “received approximately 5,716 incident reports, 45 of which required medical attention.” Around 4,172,600 Oculus units have been recalled in the U.S. and Canada. As Facebook navigates uncharted territory, we learn that inhabiting the metaverse comes with virtual and physical discomforts. Not to mention, some dystopian origins. (GSH/BN)

But... The Metaverse has Always Been A Dystopia: I'm so glad that Brian Merchant at Vice has written this great article on the origins of the term and concept of "metaverse" and its roots in a dystopian nightmare vision. As he points out, the idea comes from Neal Stephenson's 1992 Snow Crash, and it served "as entertainment and an economic underbelly to a poor, desperate nation that is literally governed by corporate franchises." People plugged in because the world had gone so bad. Where others saw a cautionary tale, Zuck and others like him see it as a way to grab power and make sure they don't end up having to live in the metaverse, because they own it. Of course, none of them are mentioning this background in their analyses and press releases - or seem unaware that it's a dystopia altogether (Oculus gave out copies of the book to each employee at one time). This article is a must-read (h/t to ReDef where I first found it), but I'd point out - we're already living in this dystopia now, and it’s called everyday reality. Wake up and look around you – I don’t mean wake up from some Matrix-like fictional world, but from the one we’ve built all around us. Our movies, our shows, our entertainment, our culture is built around serving us a fiction that the dystopia is sometime in the future instead of now. But it's here. More on this in a future article, I guess.

Gaming Continues Growth: During the pandemic, “games grew revenues 10% in 2020 and… The game industry is forecast to grow at a 4.4% compound annual growth rate through 2025.” That’s pretty significant, especially considering that adjacent industries in entertainment aren’t doing so well: “the movie theater box office revenues fell 71% in 2020 and the overall global entertainment and media industry fell 3.8% in 2020 to $2.0 trillion, a shrinkage of more than $100 billion.” While video games represent a relatively small slice of the entertainment  industry (gaming is expected to account for $194.7 billion of a $2.6 trillion industry by 2025), Venturebeat’s Dean Takahashi concludes that games are going to continue to rise to dominance as they’re “the most powerful form of entertainment … they are digital, social, user-customizable, and interactive — combining many features of other industries all in one kind of medium that crosses many platforms.” (GSH)

Chinese tech giants are snapping up gaming studios around the world, and changing how things work: CNBC reports: The United States and Japan have dominated the gaming landscape for years. But “China’s influence is growing as its tech giants snap up gaming studios around the world.” How might this shift in power shape what video games look like in the near future? British-Chinese writer Lu-Hai Liang told CNBC that we might see a shift in values and representation: “Chinese female gamers are a massive market (500 million) and there have been many female-focused games and game studios that revel in this sector.” Another expert, Thomas David “told CNBC that he thinks gamers could start to see more titles where the “good guy” is Chinese and the “bad guy” is from the West”. And a flip in the age-old narrative will certainly provide gamers with a breath of fresh air. But there are also points of concern that come with China’s increasing dominance in video games. For one, China’s gaming market is heavily censored. “Abishur Prakash, co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future, told CNBC [that] “One way [China can export its ideals through games] is by banning certain topics, like Taiwan or human rights, from being discussed.” The quick takeaway: “For years, Hollywood has spread American values around the world and championed the country’s military might. Now it could be China’s turn to try to do the same, but through video games.” (GSH)

(GSH indicates written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman)
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