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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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Winds of Change

October 21, 2021

It’s become increasingly clear that things are not going back to normal anytime soon. You can make that as a general statement about the world today, but of course I’m focusing on the world of film. A few articles caught my eye this week, each of them showing some aspect of major, lasting change in the business – none of which bode well for arthouse/indie/specialized film (and I’d argue for brand funded films either, for those of you in that business too, like me). 
First up was an article – one that actually launched last week in Filmmaker Magazine, but after I had pressed send on my newsletter – from Dan Mirvish – co-founder of Slamdance, filmmaker, author, multiple-hat-wearer – titled The Year of the Hybrid: 9 Ways to Make the Most of a Hybrid Festival PremiereDan takes a look at the current state of film fests- most going hybrid in some fashion due to Covid - and in his cheery, subversive way, proposes many ways that a filmmaker can take advantage of the situation to have a great premiere and festival run. He also proposes some new rules for how to evaluate a festival: are the Q&A's live or taped?; can you meet other filmmakers in person or online?; what else can you get/make out of this festival? 
He also proposes that critics and distributors think differently about festivals as well, namely, in not relying solely on the big fests to set their agenda. As Dan writes, "To adhere to the same festival schedule and rules that guided us for the last 40 years is to deny the earth-shattering realities of how the festival world has changed around us." True, but I am fearful that all parties are too lazy to change their habits. Most are just trying to get by and keep hoping some semblance of normalcy will come soon. And sales agents/distributors are as lazy as festival organizers are hardworking. Plus, they’re moving more towards paying attention to even less film fests – and building their own market platforms to bypass the festival system altogether – more than they’re including them in some new reality. The top film fests are now slightly good for discovery, mainly good for industry press/buzz, and all of those below that level are mainly (and rightfully) there for building local cinephile buzz. Which is what Dan did, quite well, so the article is worth a long read. But it also points out that a lot of the changes that hit the festival world are here to stay – and it’s up to the filmmakers/rights-holders to make them useful for your success, because no one else will be there to help you. 
Second up, and more depressing was Anthony Kaufman, once again at Filmmaker Magazine, with Arthouses Adjust to a Reconfigured Landscape. Kaufman takes an in-depth look at what's happening in the US arthouse market, and while often filled with portraits of innovative hope, it’s got a lot more doom and gloom. From folks closing down, to others programming more mainstream fare so they won’t go bankrupt, to many contemplating smaller runs for even the best films - there's a lot of change going on. I'm pretty bullish on the survival of theaters, usually, but this article started getting me worried. And once again, it pointed out that the most indie of indies are going to need to fight for their success in this new marketplace. 
Of course, the pundits will say – but that’s because everyone has shifted to streaming, and the rest of the market needs to adjust. Amen brother, but that’s not working out so well either. Because next up was a series of articles focused on new research and charts released this week from ComScore and Lightsaber Lightshed about the state of the streaming market. Here’s one of the better summaries of the data, but all you need to do is look at these two charts:

Everyone and their grandmother have spent the last year or two trying to launch a new streaming service of some sort. All of them are trying to get in the game of peeling a few eyeballs away from Netflix and YouTube, in the hope that somehow, they’ll establish a direct connection to audiences/fans and build the riches. This has started the content wars, where everyone is trying to aggregate services, libraries and new “content,” in the thought that this will somehow help them compete. On the giant side of the spectrum, this means Discovery/Warners, or Amazon buying MGM. On the small fry side, it’s seen every day with places like Cinedigm launching new/rebuilt channels, or FilmRise buying up libraries for niche channels, or Struum giving you ClassPass access to all of them. 
But it’s not working. As everyone should have learned in the decade and a half since the long-tail theory was popularized– there’s no riches in niches, it’s all in the hits. Ok, there’s some money in them hills, but not what everyone thinks, and in the grand scheme – the one that matters – they are barely making a dent. None of the aforementioned services even make it into the above charts - they are mixed in with “other.” 
As you can see from the charts, no one is getting close to stealing eyeballs from Netflix and YouTube, and the new services seem to just be peeling a few eyes away from Hulu and Amazon. Sure the “other” adds up to 18%, but you have to own all of other for it to matter. And the news is worse for the biggest players of all – the Disney’s, Hulu’s, Peacock’s and Pluto’s of the world – heck, even for Amazon. 
This is not sustainable. I call it the (soon to come) great streaming implosion of 2023. I give it about two years; a smart friend of mine who knows this space gives it three to four. But it’s coming. It will implode on its own – from overspending, from consolidation in hopes that a merger will save the day (it won’t), and more likely, from consumers getting fed up and cutting the new virtual cord(s) and just sticking with TikTok or some new competitor. The little folks will just disappear, or be absorbed into the big guys, but with at least half of their libraries jettisoned due to the reality of how few people watch their library shows/films. The biggest will get bigger. 
But “discerning” consumers/audiences will undoubtedly find themselves stuck back in cable-land days, with a big bill, but little they want to watch.  Because streaming is just like TV – it starts with big ideals, and ends up looking like Bravo, or Discovery. Heck, you can see that trend already in the bigger streamers – there’s a reason Netflix doesn’t want your arthouse film, but does want another true crime series. And if you look closer at the charts and the articles, most of the growth for Netflix was from outside of the US, which has been stagnant in subscriber growth for a long while now. This, of course, will lead to more popular fare (and often some good shows end up there too, by accident) to attract new, sizable audiences, and less films, especially if you’re trying to distribute something other than a Blockbuster or a facsimile of one.

And that brings me to the last two articles to hit my virtual desk, the first being the fact that Magnolia being for sale is no longer a private-matter – Cuban saw the prices for Hello Sunshine and SpringHill and is ready to try to get some mega-bucks for premium indie/genre fare (they also own Magnet). Don’t think for a second that any buyer will keep their focus on the same level of quality going forward. The second article was Bloomberg reporting major cuts at Discovery – with them getting rid of star-driven shows/films, proving that as consolidation steams ahead, quality pick-ups and commissions will dwindle (And also showing that the Discovery/Warner preparation for a sale is right on track). 
As I’ve said many times since this virus started – just like 1918 gave us consolidation leading to the big studios, killing off a lot of indies – we’re going to see more consolidation and changes to the film world as coronavirus kickstarted trends already underway before we had this flu. We’re right in the middle of them now, which is pretty darn fun to watch, but it’s scary when you start to think about what it means for the future of the kinds of things you probably like to make and watch if you’re still reading this newsletter.

Stuff I'm Reading

Grace Lee and Friends Ramp Up their PBS Criticisms with new Podcast - I've written before about Grace Lee's ongoing, smart critiques of the whiteness of PBS and its need for more diverse voices - in both storytelling and the executive ranks, and Deadline has a surprisingly in-depth look at her upcoming podcast on this issue, Viewers Like Us. (BN)

Virtual Production Revolution:  is a series produced by Future of Film that hosts leaders in the film industry, from executives to creators, who delve into discussion about the now and future of virtual production. Episodes shine a light on the pioneers in the space who cover topics such as creating story-driven content and reaching creative consensus with the help of virtual tools. For more info, you can check out their website. I haven't watched the whole series yet, but did watch the interview with Thomas Høegh, the CEO of Garden Studios (VP studios) - and it's the future, for sure.

The Film Festivals and Filmmaker Sustainability Survey Presentation: Next week. on Wednesday, October 27 at 1 PM Central, Dear Producer and the Film Fest Alliance will present the findings of their joint survey. From the organizers: "In January 2021, Dear Producer released a Producers Sustainability Survey Report revealing 56% of producers earned only $25K or less in 2020 — with more than a quarter of producers earning less than $2,500. The producer sustainability report sparked needed conversations within the filmmaking community about sustainability and left film organizations asking: how can we do more to financially support filmmakers? Dear Producer and Film Festival Alliance then partnered on this first-of-its-kind survey to assess how film festivals contributed to filmmaker sustainability in 2020. Join us as Associate Producer Barbara Twist breaks down the results of our Film Festivals and Filmmaker Sustainability Survey in a webinar next Wednesday, October 27 at 1 PM Central. Register here."
Branded Content
The North Face releases digital archive with San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The North Face announced it’s launching a digital archive with the San Francisco Museum of Modern art as part of its campaign, ‘It’s More Than a Jacket’. The North Face is “asking for explorers worldwide to submit their own stories and images of their North Face products, the submissions then have the potential to be included in the official archive.” The takeaway: The North Face, like other ‘modern’ brands, is turning to the public (the consumer) to generate stories and art. Consumers become the new marketers, storytellers, and artists. Fashion United’s Rosalie Wessel has the story.  (GSH)

Netflix Launching Virtual Book Club On Its YouTube And Facebook Channels: In the middle of next month, Netflix is bringing book club to the screen. Book clubs, hosted by Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black), will feature works that have or will be adapted to the screen by Netflix, starting with Nella Larswen’s Passing. In addition, a series sponsored by Starbucks called But Have You Read The Book will feature coffee chats between authors, cast, and creators. Check out George Weis’ article for more info as well as a trailer for Netflix’s book club. (GSH) This is branded content, with branded content included! (BN)

Seattle Seahawks launch ‘Sandbox’ gaming platform to engage with fans in esports and more: The Seattle Seahawks are engaging fans off the field through online gaming with a new gaming platform called Seahawks Sandbox. Seahawks fans will be able to compete against one another in tournaments hosted by Seahawks players and gaming influencers for prize money. An adjacent YouTube channel will cover the events of the (gaming) season. The Seahawks’ entry into gaming no-doubt foreshadows brands’ increasing desire to unite their audiences/consumers through esports. GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser has the story. (GSH)

Brand Storytelling Announces Selections for their First Film Fest: ICYMI, the organizers of this conference, taking place at Sundance in 2022, have announced the selections for their first film fest - they're calling it a showcase of films, but that's a festival in my mind. And the selection committee is made up of some smart folks, and I'm sure the films will be great (all will play at the conference). Check out their website and press release for more info. 

The POLITICAL ARENA Game: It's been a long-time since I've last promoted anyone's Kickstarter campaign, but this one is great, and I'm a big fan of the project, the mission and the team behind it (full disclosure - one of the team members, Diana Williams, is a good friend and sometimes advisor to me), and the campaign video is a must watch.  Political Arena is a game about American politics and power by some of the best game and experience designers, and political journalist Eliot Nelson. I could tell you more, but check out the Kickstarter page, watch the video, learn more, and if you like it - donate. (BN)

After Facing Discrimination on Tik Tok, These Content Creators Created Their Own eCommunity. Here’s Why: You may or may not remember that Black TikTok creators organized a strike last summer. Why? A handful of reasons, including the algorithmic suppression of Black voices as well as because so many non-Black influencers — including Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, to name just two — profit off of the work of Black creators who are rarely (if not ever) credited. Give Jasmine Browley’s piece a read for a deeper discussion about the above issues, held between two Black ex-TikTok creators.  (GSH)

How social media has changed migration to the United StatesAccording to NPR’s Alisa Chang and freelance reporter, Luis Chaparro, one of the most essential resources in illegal migration to the U.S is social media, particularly Facebook, Social media apps is how migrants find smugglers to take them across the border (physically and/or remotely), it’s how migrants communicate with family members along the way, and it helps family members and friends support each other (monetarily and with advice) in their journey. According to Border Patrol agents, social media use by migrants, their families, and smugglers have saved lives. I’m guessing that it’s also made it easier for Patrol agents to capture migrants, but couldn’t say for sure. You can listen and/or read the full NPR piece here, for more details.  (GSH)

Big picture, big data: Swiss unveil VR software of universe: “Researchers at one of Switzerland's top universities are releasing open-source beta software on Tuesday that allows for virtual visits through the cosmos including up to the International Space Station, past the Moon, Saturn or exoplanets, over galaxies and well beyond”, reports Jamey Keaten, contributor for Keaten explains it’ll work a bit like Google Earth, but for the Universe. The best part? It’ll be free, and you can run it on your laptop (though you’ll want a VR headset and a PC for the full experience). “The project assembles information from eight databases that count at least 4,500 known exoplanets, tens of millions of galaxies, hundreds of millions of space objects in all, and more than 1.5 billion light sources from the Milky Way alone” and future iterations of this 3D mapping masterpiece will no doubt include much more. (GSH)

(GSH: Denotes articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman)
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