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

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Brian Newman & Sub-Genre Media

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Towards a New Public Media

Well, my last post seemed to touch a chord with more than a few people – apparently, many others are feeling the pain of being stuck in the indie film middle-class, and are ready to think about advocacy once again. There are myriad issues to be addressed, but my mind keeps coming back to one idea, and it’s a big one.
It seems to me that one of the biggest problems we have is a lack of imagination about what it means to build a space for public media – and the public good – in an online world. The beginnings of public broadcasting weren’t only tied to spectrum scarcity. Sure, in a broadcast, linear world it took government (starting in the UK) to force a set-aside for public media. But public media was equally tied to a more important underlying realization: that it was in the public’s interest to support media that wasn’t inherently commercial, or it wouldn’t get supported at all, and such a situation would be bad for democracy.
We’ve now spent decades allowing the market to dictate what happens in the online world. At first, it seemed that unlimited space for ideas would mean that the long tail might prevail and all voices were but a click away. And to some extent, this remains true, but similarly to the broadcast world, the illusion of infinite choice can mask many failures in the market.
On the plus side, anyone can distribute their work online, and indeed, YouTube proves that even some kid reviewing toys can amass millions of followers. And let’s give credit to Netflix for backing more diverse filmmakers and subject matter than perhaps any entity ever has in the past. But just as we didn’t count America’s Funniest Home Videos as being ample accommodation for diverse voices to be heard, we shouldn’t mistake UGC as solving this problem either. And when Netflix can cancel diverse shows that are gaining in popularity just because they don’t need the extra cost associated with going beyond a third season, we should realize that businesses don’t have our best interests as a society at heart either.
We need a new public media. It won’t look like the old public media, but the underlying concept is the same – to use a combination of public funding, policy, foundation and (later/even) corporate support to address the failures of the market to support media as a public service.
Now I say this in full realization that it can sound unrealistic and maybe even boring. While public media around the world remain active/vibrant in many ways, there are also many failures, capitulations to the market (and to crooked government leaders), and let’s just admit it – it’s problematic as an ideal. But a new public media, re-imagined properly, could be a game-changer, while addressing the failures of the past.
I’m definitely not the first to think about this, and while there are many other examples, I recommend looking at Sue Gardner’s recommendations to the Knight Foundation for inspiration (from 2017). She gives a comprehensive, but short and easy to read summary of the history and background of public media and then goes on to recommend:
Public broadcasters were designed to elevate the societies in which they operated: to help them be smarter, better informed, healthily pluralistic and successful. For decades they did exactly that. Their impact faded because of technological and public policy changes: we cut their funding, we deregulated their industry, and we didn’t make the kind of policy interventions in the digital world that we had been making for decades in conventional radio and TV.
Today, we’re in a mess. Our societies are fractured and fragile, and we need to heal the rift between the people and the institutions intended to serve them. I believe that calls for a reinvestment in public institutions, including public broadcasters, and for those institutions to re-center themselves on public service.

Now, she is thinking much more broadly here than I am – she’s focused on news, education and other underpinnings of democracy. Those are just as important, if not more, than supporting quality, non-commercial media, but I am focused more narrowly on how a new public media might solve the problems we’re facing in film.
A new public media would mandate that adequate space is given to independent and non-commercial voices. While I’ll stop short of saying Netflix should be forced to carry such media, that shouldn’t be off the table for contemplation. But somehow, policy needs to dictate a space for such films. It also means that carriage/distribution is not enough – we need mechanisms for discovery and curation built into the system to help people find this media.
A new public media should also address diversity, and this means across the spectrum. For example, American-born Latin Americans should be represented closer to proportionally and not just the broader “Latino" media. It should include narrative filmmaking, not just documentary (and not just period pieces or cooking shows, either). And short form as well as long form content.
And a new public media would need to more broadly serve a global and a local audience. Meaning – we need to acknowledge that one failure of the marketplace is its inability to bring global voices to the US, and that we’re a global society. But at the same time, this doesn’t lessen the need for more local and regional voices, which have also historically been shut out of the mainstream.
A new public media would also bring new funding streams, and my hope is that it would be a hybrid of public and private support, including the support of brands. I know this last part is controversial, but I refuse to believe that taking money from Patagonia is any worse than taking it from the Ford Foundation (to pick on two friendly places).
What else do we need, and how do we get there? Well, once again, this is where advocacy comes in, and why I said last week that we need a new AIVF. It’s only by listening to the field and advocating for what people want (beyond my ideas) that we will get to any kind of solution for the future.

Stuff I'm Reading

“Everything is Changing” - Sundance ran a Nice Interview w/ MoMA’s Rajendra Roy about the current state of the field, and it’s a great read about what’s going on in film exhibition, curation, archiving and more. Raj has some smart thoughts about the role of Netflix (positive) and the need for the Academy and Cannes (etc.) to change and face the future. I also appreciate his comments on the true value of critics: “The truth is I haven’t read reviews before I see them for over 10 years. I just will not read a review of a film I know I’m gonna see because I want to inform myself first, then I will ravenously read them. So if we are doing that, why would we expect that anybody else would depend on the voice of God ordaining this film as worthy of my attention?”  That doesn’t mean we lose critics, but that we need to think of curation a little differently.

One minor quibble- Raj speaks highly of the “museumification” of cinema - where institutions like TIFF (and he hints, possibly Sundance) are building museums and “centers” for film - and suggests this is the future. I can only hope not - to me, that would be the death of cinema culture. The last thing we need are more buildings - institutions do this because that’s where the funding from rich people resides, in putting their name on a theater - but it’s not what the field needs at all. That said, Raj is one of the good ones, thinking good thoughts about the future of the field, and I highly recommend the interview.

The WSJ reports that consumers can’t handle more streaming services (paywall for some). According to research firm, Magid, the average consumer will spend about $38 a month on as many as six services, but can’t handle much more, making it tough going for all of these new streamers (including Warner, AppleTV, etc.) And if you aren’t sure there’s too many already, just try to make it through IndieWire’s Streaming Bible without falling asleep before the comments (where some crazy people point out they missed a few services). And of course, BusinessWeek is already reporting that this glut of services might lead to some M&A activity.

Youtube is Backing out of the Streaming Wars, showing that even Google may not have deep enough pockets to compete with Netflix, but hey, one less service!  While they keep denying it, Bloomberg reports that YouTube will no longer be creating new expensive scripted shows, that all original content will now be free (ad-supported), and that Youtube Red is transitioning into a music streaming service. Some key execs are leaving as well. When even YouTube throws in the towel, you have to seriously start thinking about new meanings for monopolies and anti-trust.

If you still care about MoviePass and Theater-subscription plans, Screen has a good breakdown of the current state of affairs.

Former MoviePasss CEO Stacy Spikes Launches New Tech/Film Venture: And it has almost tripled its Kickstarter goal with twenty-four days left. The idea is that in exchange for watching fifteen minutes of branded content, one gets a free movie ticket. What makes this appealing for brands is that through user data, ads can be specifically targeted toward individuals and create calls to action. And given Stacy’s track-record, it’s a just-crazy enough idea to keep watching.
Netflix’s plan on owning your kids screentime: Going Brandless : Unlike Disney and Dreamworks (and other animation studios) Netflix animation doesn’t aim for an all-encompassing brand, rather they are seeking diverse creators to do what they do best - create great stuff. This could be a sound strategy given that the audience that Netflix is serving  is global, and diverse. But I’m a fan of building a brand, so I’d recommend they build sub-brands within Netflix (not unlike Amazon’s private labels).

Avengers: Endgame Broke the Internet: or at least several ticketing systems, most notably AMC’s for nearly 8 hrs. This may seem like a minor story, but it’s a serious f-up with a huge fan base - one that the studio was already teasing mercilessly for weeks (on timing of ticket avails). You had one job, AMC, and it wasn’t popping corn...

The folks at Union Docs are looking for applicants for their Collaborative studio. Highly recommend for aspiring filmmakers. as it is a comprehensive program that will get you in the room with other like minded filmmakers. From them: 

UnionDocs is currently seeking artists, thinkers and makers from across disciplines to apply for our 2019-2020 COLLABORATIVE STUDIO. This is a singular opportunity for 12 artists to participate in group research and production. Spend 10 months in an expansively designed program that fosters and deepens an understanding of documentary theory and practice, develops creative partnerships and output, and immerses participants in a community of active, like-minded individuals with a shared goal of making something together. Application deadline is 4/4 (tomorrow).
VR/AR/Branded Content:

  Burger King is encouraging users to ‘burn’ rival ads in augmented reality campaign
  In a fun new ad campaign, Burger King is having users download their App, and play an AR game in which users ‘burn away’ a competitor's ad, revealing a coupon for a free whopper. While this is gimmicky, remember - someone soon will create a similar application where anyone can block ads via AR, and I for one can’t wait til I have Android-specs that allow me to ad-block every billboard in Manhattan and replace it with cool artwork instead. That’s the real future of ad-blocking.
Copyright © 2019 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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