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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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Quibi: The future (death) of online video:

I’ve written before about Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new venture Quibi. This week, Variety held a live interview with Jeff and CEO Meg Whitman that is available as a podcast here. It’s worth a listen for both the good and the bad it portends for the future of video online, and I’m pretty sure this is one of the most important new developments to the future of online video and the web. I’m excited and depressed about it too.
Quibi is all about investing a shit-ton of money to make really great short form and episodic content, with big name directors and talent. They’ve announced deals with the likes of Guillermo Del Toro and this week, Deadline also has a report on some recent big hires, with a hint that Spielberg’s been hanging around the office. They’ve also built an app and viewing experience that will launch in 2019 or early 2020 that supposedly makes watching short form video on your phone even better/easier (more on that in the podcast).
And they are spending a lot to win the war for your eyeballs – they raised over a Billion dollars for this venture, and Jeff explains in the interview that (like Netflix) they are paying producers 120% of their budgets and up to $6-Million per hour for the best short form content in small bites (quick bites…Quibi). And they are relatively producer friendly - producers can exploit their IP on other platforms after just 2 years by repackaging it into different 20 minute segments, and after just 7 years, the rights revert to the creative team. That’s not bad by Hollywood terms.
So Quibi is making HBO quality short-form content, and paying HBO prices to make it. And they elude to this in their pitch pretty quickly. In fact, the transparency of their budgets in this interview is so astounding that I imagine it’s just an open pitch to producers – “we have an open checkbook, give us a call.”
Whitman explains their value proposition in the interview: “You leave the house every morning with a little TV in your pocket. It’s called your smart phone. “ (Quick aside: No shit, Meg, are you just realizing this? You aren’t inspiring me to believe you are any more “with the times” now than you were at EBay or HP! Wait, you’re the boss…uh-oh.) …”And you have in-between moments where you want to see something great... like HBO said: we're not TV, we're HBO...we're not short-form, we're Quibi.”
So the upside of all of this is a lot of money being invested to make really great stuff in a format that people seem to prefer, and with a pretty creative-friendly environment (if you are part of the 1% of top filmmakers who they bother to work with). And that’s a game-changer for the space. As their content hits the web, it will force others to compete. It means brands making short form content will have to invest more to steal attention away from Quibi. It means the NYT Op-Docs, TOPIC and others won’t be able to get away with their meager investments anymore.
In fact, you could argue that the entire history of online short-form “professional video” has been about multiple companies trying to build something out of nothing- paying too little, thinking they can build an audience with little investment. Quibi has upped the ante for short-form content platforms, and they will likely slay many online video dragons. This is all great.
So what’s the bad part?
The core problem with this venture is that it isn’t solving any problem that consumers actually have. And that’s always a bad business proposition.
People already have found their answers for that “in-between” time - YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media and online videos. Even watching Netflix on their phone, which is only getting easier and better with 5G. Yes, there’s a problem of overload – and having too much content to weed through. But no one sits around saying – you know, I just need more content to watch to fill these “in between” moments that Meg mentions. That problem has been solved.
Nope. The problem that Meg and Jeff are solving is one affecting the suits in the industry – people aren’t watching their shows. What they’re watching is still a lot of amateur content – so much so that Ryan ToysReview is pulling in $22 Million a year from advertising, as millions watch him review toys.
Quibi is a big Hollywood solution to the problem of too much content – well, if people might watch amateur video, the way to get them to watch our stuff is to pay a shit-load to make it even bigger and better, and hope we can crowd out the amateur stuff. But I think in a world where 7 year olds make $22-Million for UGC, the jury is out on whether people want more "professional" content, and if they do, it probably just means the internet has finally died.
I swear, if you listen really closely to this podcast, you can hear the internet crying, because they're talking about how to kill it. 
Every new media technology has followed the same trajectory, and pundits and assholes like me have been warning for years that this would also happen to the internet (here’s me in 2007). When the phonograph was created, Edison thought we’d use it to record grandma for posterity, and it became a one way-street of everyone buying “professional” records pretty quickly. The same with radio, with TV and now with the internet and online video. In every instance, a medium made to be open and participatory became a one way street of consumption of “top quality content” by only the “best talent.”
It’s not that Quibi will one day kill YouTube and amateur content completely. What they are doing is good intentioned and not evil. But as more companies invest even more money in online video; and as advertisers want “safe” content with lots of views around their ads; and as the FCC kills net neutrality, meaning eventually Quibi will pay to be sure you get its content faster than amateur content; and as this investment kills off smaller competitors like Vimeo; and as Netflix and Quibi and others invest in originals from a smaller and smaller group of “top talent;” well, all of these little moves slowly strangle the democratic, participatory nature of online video (and indie films too).
So I guess I have a love/hate relationship with this Quibi-thing, and it hasn’t even launched yet.

Stuff I'm Reading

Some people think Netflix needs to fear Disney; other’s don’t. I’m in the “don’t fear the Mouse” camp; but what’s important to me is that as everyone moves to more original content, and battling to keep the top-rated shows and movies inside their walled-gardens, none of them are fighting to keep much indie film around. This war is just gonna make those big Netflix acquisitions even scarcer.
Verizon just admitted that Oath – that’s Yahoo/AOL. has gone from a $4.8 Billion dollar valuation to just $200 Million, yes, they’re taking a $4.6B write down, and getting out of the content game. Wowza.
Bilge Ebiri wonders whether Special Effects can be Special again in Vulture. This is a long-read well worth your time. Spoiler alert: It’s all about making fake humans (you know, so we don’t need any new actors…)
TechDirt gives us the dirt on the MPAA and RIAA trying to revitalize SOPA again. This shit just never ends. As Masnick explains (and eerily timely given my above comments): “In short, here are the major copyright industry representatives, knowing that everyone's busy off fighting other fires, making quiet inroads towards bringing back SOPA, despite the total clusterfuck it proved to be seven years ago. These guys will never stop in their quest to destroy the internet as we know it, and their push to turn the internet into a broadcast medium controlled by gatekeepers, rather than a communications medium for all of us.”

Pop-Up OTT for Xmas: Yes, that’s right. Unreel is launching Christmas Zone for the holidays – a pop-up, short-term OTT channel full of your Christmas movie favorites. Ok, some favorites and a lot of public domain stuff. But while I feel OTT is mainly a losing proposition, pop-up OTT might just work better than…
Bye-Bye Fandor. Within hours of my last newsletter predicting most niche-OTT efforts will fail, in the wake of FilmStruck’s demise, Fandor announced it was closing down (transferring assets). I am not surprised, but having known many of the founders and various staff over the years (who were all amazing folks), I am sad to see them go.
Branded Content
GroupNine Media (Thrillist, NowThisNews, etc.) is launching it’s own in-house brand studio, says Adweek.
PeakTV much? AdWeek has a run-down of the 5 Best shows you didn’t probably watch because you couldn’t find them. Wait, we need Quibi why?
Lance Weiler and his class at Columbia published a great run-down of 52 immersive things to check out. Each one mixes storytelling, play, design and code.
Copyright © 2018 Brian Newman, All rights reserved.

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