View this email in your browser
Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

In This Issue

Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media


Past Newsletters


Keep Up With Brian:


Black Widow, Windows and Being Inside

July 21, 2021

On Feb 28th of 2020, as the coronavirus was just starting to make the news around the world, I predicted that we would see a closing of the windows in response, and that this new paradigm would outlast the pandemic. No one wanted to hear that back then, nor do they now, but the debate about windows has been raging through the interim. It continues, and it got heated this week during the debate over Black Widow, but I think we should pay more attention to Bo Burnham Inside, instead, as it tells us more about where we’re going.
The debate got superheated in August of 2020, as Mulan went to Disney+ for an extra $30 for PVOD, and as Universal and AMC were the first to make a revenue sharing deal for shorter windows. But this week, exhibitors went bat-shit crazy over the Black Widow box office, as it dropped 67% between weekend one and two, and NATO screamed that it was due to its availability on PVOD…and piracy. One knows we’re getting into crazy land when the theaters pull back out the old piracy arguments again. Study after study has shown that popular movies get pirated a lot, but it has almost no correlation with lost revenue. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt – something big did happen with Black Widow. It was a big drop, and with Disney releasing PVOD numbers after weekend one, but not after weekend two, they left themselves open to a lot of speculation from the haters, and even the merely skeptical. 
But who can say much of anything in this box office environmentBlack Widow may have dropped more than any MCU title since Ant-Man, but it was a similar drop to that of F9, and the film isn’t far behind A Quiet Place, Part II which also had a short window and has been out more weeks. And this was during a weekend when the variant started scaring people, LA County started forcing masks again, and people are still discovering the outdoors – and the film hasn’t opened in China yet (piracy may have some impact there, but it won’t be as dramatic as NATO threatens). 
I’m no box office scientist – I don’t study it here or write about it in-depth much – but I think the theaters shouting simply tells us they’re entering the anger stage (of the five stages of grief in the Kubler-Ross model) now, and have a ways to go before acceptance. (Side note, I so rarely agree with him that I ironically call him Lightsaber, but Rich Greenfield of Lightshed tweeted the same sentiment this week.)  I don’t think the pro-streamer Wall-Street gang, or the pro-theater, uhm…theater-owner gang, wins this battle in one weekend’s numbers. The good news is that people are showing up for good films at all, and it’s not just for BlockbustersRoadrunner, the Bourdain doc, did pretty well too, and my friend Deirdre Haj reports that her theater, the FilmStreams in Omaha is up 50%+ over the National per-screen-average, even while she’s limited at 50% capacity, so the arthouse audience is showing up for good stuff as well. As I’ve said here before, theaters will exist and can thrive in a streaming-dominant world, even with shorter windows.
In fact, I’ve also argued that if done right, we could reverse the windows and show films in theaters after they’ve premiered online, too. And now we have proof. This coming weekend – Bo Burnhams Inside will be playing in more than400 theaters across the US and Canada for one weekend – it was originally planned for one night only, a Thursday, but has been extended through the weekend due to demand, and this is after it premiered on Netflix back on May 30th – almost two months ago. A reverse window of 60 days for a comedy special that almost anyone can see for free with their subscription. And for which the album version has been available since June 9th. The distributor – a new, events based distributor called Iconic Releasing, told me last week that almost all of this demand came from just two tweets that Burnham did to his 2M followers, and that it validated their belief – like mine – that the right shows can reverse window to success. 
Of course, that only works if you know your fans, have a direct relationship with them, and handle that marketing yourself. Because neither the theaters nor the distributors do this for you. Note that it was Burnham’s tweet that filled those seats, not anything coming from the theater or the distributor – and arguably not much in terms of this engagement from Netflix either, beyond the initial release having earned a following – meaning, they did more than anyone other than Burnham here. In fact, I watched Inside on Netflix not long ago, but only Netflix and my internet provider have that info. None of them used it. People talk about the SVOD’s owning their audience, but they don’t do much with it. Burnham has 2M followers on Netflix, which has data on gazillions of viewers and they could have partnered on this instead of just allowing it to take place. That they didn’t shows that the power remains with the smart creators who own their fans and can engage them -  and that’s a small group in the film world (Kevin Hart is another, so maybe is Gary Hustwit), so I recommend that everyone look to Burnham and his fan relationship as we think of the future of windows, and argue less about them. 

But if you want to listen to an argument about windows, early in the morning, I'll be on a panel about them for the Fest: New Directors, New Films in Portugal tomorrow at 5am ET (11am CEST) and info is here. Or don't, because this article includes most of what I'll be saying.

Stuff I'm Reading

Documentary Ethics & Bourdain Doc:  “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later," said Morgan Neville, the director of the Road Runner doc on Anthony Bourdain said when revealing that he used an AI to fake Bourdain's voice in a few instances. That entitled-as-F answer might be the main reason that the internet and most doc industry folks went ballistic this past week over doc ethics and whether or not Neville was on the wrong side of the line in this case. Owen Gleiberman at Variety liked that "cavalier" response, but ethics aside, it was an awkward line to use at a time when the entire sector is debating the ethics of who tells what stories and how. And it turns out, you don't have to look far for smart people already having this ethical debate - people like Sam Gregory at WITNESS have been debating the ethics of AI and synthetic media for a while now. Tech Policy Press caught up with Gregory to debate the issue, and it's worth a read. Gregory argues that people are upset around issues of consent, disclosure and context, and that it's a debate we should be having more frequently, not after the fact. My take - Neville's assertion reads like someone who outed themselves on purpose to try to preemptively absolve themselves, while knowing they had crossed a line...but, it's also a minor transgression and one that hopefully sparked a larger conversation that we needed all along. After I wrote this, Helen Rosner from the New Yorker, who broke the story, did a follow-up which is worth reading as well. 

First NFT Funded Doc - The Infinite Garden - Producer Carrie Weprin emailed to let me know that her NFT funded doc on Ethereum was recently full financed via selling NFT's - and it was a huge success. The team aimed for 750 ETH and raised just over 1,035 – that's $1.886M and in just three days. Check out the campaign page for full details on how it worked. She tells me it was an experiment that seemed to fit the story of the film, and they were actually surprised at how well it worked. I am too - I would've guessed that this would work better for fan-boy films, but clearly it also works for smart docs on the subject, and it's a subject with some passionate fans, so it does make sense in hindsight. 

The Movies Are Back. But What Are Movies Now?: The New York Time’s A.O. Scott meditates on the evolving meaning of ‘the movies’ and how our relationship with the movies – how we watch, where we watch, and what we watch – has changed over the years. There was once a time where if you didn’t catch a movie in the theater, you’d have to scavenge local video stories to find a DVD. Now, virtually everything is just a few clicks away. Going to the movies was once an intimate, anonymous experience. Now the movies act as “tools of surveillance. When your Netflix screen asks, “Who’s watching?” the real message is that Netflix is watching you.” Scott concludes his piece with a question: “The question isn’t whether the movies will survive, as a pastime, a destination and an imaginative resource. It’s whether the kind of freedom that “going to the movies” has represented in the past can be preserved in a technological environment that offers endless entertainment at the price of submission.” (GSH)

Getting fans back in theaters is hard. Tech and celebrities like Ludacris are helping: In our digital age, consumers of film and TV – especially young ones – are thirsting for interactivity. According to this article in the LAT, that’s why studios like Universal pictures are “doing virtual, audio-only forums on Twitter where actors can tune in remotely and take questions from fans.” It’s also why studios are now more than ever “working with influencers to create viral videos on TikTok that highlight a film’s theme or music to spread the word.” And if you’re skeptical about how a platform like TikTok can blow up a film, just look at the numbers: “In three or four days, the Conjuring [TikTok] challenge amassed more than 2 billion views.... Since then, total views for the challenge have grown to more than 10.3 billion, according to TikTok.  In June, the third installment made $24 million in its opening weekend, the most of any R-rated movie released during the pandemic.” Studios and indies should take note of these record numbers and incorporate consumers (fans) into the marketing experience on personalized platforms like TikTok. (GSH)

The Rise of Must-Read TV: As more books get turned into movies and shows, it's starting to influence what gets written and how. The Atlantic reports that for the first time, scouts are talking with publishers and production companies, and agencies are hiring publishing veterans, agents and editors and TV adaptations are starting to enter conversations about a book’s viability in the market. It's starting to impact the style of what gets written too, and we'll probably start reading even more books that read like a movie or show.

Big Sales Ahead - Meaning the End of the High Times is Near: Variety reported this past week that A24 was offering itself up for $3B, yes that's a B. A little crazy when you consider that SpringHill, LeBron James' company is for sale for "just" $750M (Deadline), possibly to Nike (that would be some major branded content), and Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine is selling for "just" $1B (Variety). Both of the latter companies own and create more successful IP, and while I love A24's branding and marketing, their movies have never been big enough to warrant that price tag. But this just shows that their owners - Guggenheim Partners mainly - know that the market is nearing it's peak and they better go big before things go downhill. Unfortunately, one of the biggest potential buyers, Netflix, just said they don't see "any assets as ‘must-have’ and we haven’t yet found any large scale ones to be sufficiently compelling to act upon." Ouch.
Branded Content
Pornhub Museum Tour of Classic Nudes: Pornhub, that site you've never heard of, has a great campaign going on called Classic Nudes, where they feature "naughty" works of art from around the world - the Met, the Louvre, and others. And because many of them are from a white and Western perspective, they also added a section called Another Perspective to showcase more diverse examples. The series has video and audio tours with some pornstar ambassadors, and some amateur recreations of works - most NSFW. Laugh all you want, but this is some great branded content for a platform that shouldn't need much marketing in the first place. AdAge Reports.

Randall Park Hosts Comedy Talk Show From Roku, Sponsored by Maker’s Mark Bourbon: Randall Park from “Fresh off the Boat” has a new talk show called “The Show Next Door,” and it’s brought to you by Roku’s new brand studio, formed a few months ago. This is Roku Brand Studio’s 2nd production, following “Roku Recommends”, a short weekly entertainment show that seeks to help users choose what to watch and places brands in front of users. Variety reports.

RIP FinTok: TikTok Has Banned Financial Branded Content Including Cryptocurrency:“TikTok has officially banned users from promoting financial products and services including cryptocurrency, and has additionally issued a ban on advertisements for cryptocurrency products and exchanges.” Gizmodo Reports. Previous to the ban, finfluencers and financial services could post “unsolicited and unregulated financial advice, which is particularly risky given the volatility of the cryptocurrency market”, and were targeting young (less-informed) investors. Sub-Genre’s Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman writes, “in my opinion, influencers are just going to find another platform to target younger users. In the past 2 weeks, I’ve received a handful of unsolicited direct messages from accounts that claim to offer top-notch financial services on my Instagram (a business account I use to post videos of my music). One financial services “agent” actually commented on a post of mine and wrote: “ The way you helped me is a clear demonstration of why you’re a shining example in Our City. You’re embody of kindness,generosity,and so much more”. I’d question the Australian Financial Services Minister’s nonchalant attitude that “Some of the information and opinions that consumers receive from online forums will be bad but some of it will be good, and a lot of it will better engage younger generations in investment and financial markets.’” (GSH)

Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies need to be treated like Big Tobacco: “Thursday marks a turning point in internet history. For the first time, the U.S. surgeon general has declared the barrage of misinformation spreading on social media a public health hazard.” Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls on tech companies to “‘take responsibility for addressing the harms” their social media products impose on consumers by prioritizing the early detection of misinformation, providing researchers with meaningful access to data, and protecting public health professionals from harassment.” Like previous Surgeon Generals did with Big tobacco, Dr. Vivek Murthy “is taking on the technology industry by defining how misinformation hurts Americans.” The takeaway: Misinformation doesn’t just affect the user (social media reader/consumer). “For social media companies, misinformation is like secondhand smoke, spreading falsehoods to millions before the truth can be known. It causes harm to the public’s health by contributing to vaccine hesitancy and sometimes prompting life-and-death decisions based on lies.”  Read more on NBC News and (GSH).

Netflix's move into Video Games: In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about new ways Netflix might expand its revenue – especially as SVOD competition increases – and one of these ways is through gaming. This week, we saw clear-as-day signs that Netflix is stepping into the arena. Last Wednesday, the streaming giant hired Mike Verdu, “a veteran of the gaming companies Electronic Arts, Kabam and Zynga, to be vice president of game development”. The quick takeaway: "Netflix doesn’t just compete with other streaming services. It competes with almost everything consumers do and just about everything that has a claim on their time — and, increasingly, consumers are spending more time playing video games” (NBC). But according to Forbes’ Dawn Chmielewski, experts are skeptical of Netflix’ ability to make a name for themselves in video-games: “Gaming industry analyst Michael Pachter says ...“Netflix hired a coach. They have no players… I say they have a zero probability of pulling this off, because of the technological hurdles.” (GSH)

Note: I am now adding a note to some posts - Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman helps me gather news stories, and increasingly, he's writing the synopses. So, If I am pasting it almost verbatim, it will now be credited (GSH). But even if he's not credited directly, he's helping me find these and put them together. 
Like This Newsletter? Subscribe & Past Issues
Copyright © 2021 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.