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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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What's Old is New

May 25, 2022
Suggested Soundtrack - Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, perhaps

A curious phenomenon has been happening across the entertainment spectrum since we started pretending to come out of the pandemic – the rise of a younger crowd that is interested in older/classic arts. You see it most prominently in music and film. Everyone seems flummoxed as to why it’s happening – theories abound and I have my own – but what’s clear is that it’s happening without a clear marketing strategy pushing it. Music labels, distributors, venues and exhibitors didn’t create this phenomenon, they’re just reaping the benefits by leaning into it. In that way, it’s genuine, but also something that needs to be nurtured before it disappears on its own as well.
As I noted here a few weeks ago, theater owners have been talking about the rise of repertory cinema. Pre-Covid, most arthouse movie theater patrons were a decidedly older crowd, usually over 60 and from my own visits to the cinemas – often closer to the 80’s crowd. But lately, theaters have been jam-packed with a younger audience watching the classics, re-releases of restored prints, and similar offerings.
This week, Maureen Dowd wrote in the NYT about a similar thing taking place in the music world. As she writes, “Several recent surveys have clocked a rise in the popularity of classical music in the last couple of years. In America and England, the genre flourished during the pandemic, drawing more women and younger listeners, and it’s soaring among content creators on social media.” And Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, tells her: “The average age of our audience used to be in the 60s; now it’s in the 40s.” 
You can also see this a bit with the re-rise of Vinyl, and even cassette tapes. There’s even a bit of a market now for VHS tapes (and flip phones). And broadly speaking, nostalgia itself is on the rise – younger audiences are flocking to shows like Stranger Things, and even Friends and Seinfeld, even if it’s often with an ironic or different take than previous audiences. And this isn’t even getting to how individual songs like Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill or Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams (thanks Nathan Apodaca) have risen back to the top of the charts as a subsequent result of this same phenomenon. 
Wassup with that? Theories abound. But I remain convinced that it’s mainly one thing, and you’ve probably guessed my hunch (based on that last example) is that it’s all about TikTok. But in more ways than may at first be obvious. The surface/easy reason is just that a younger audience is rediscovering this stuff on TikTok and spreading the word. Dig a tiny bit deeper, in the film world, at least, and you’ll also find that there are entire curatorial communities posting about this stuff, and bringing greater attention to it. #FilmTikTok is the new Cahiers Du Cinéma. But the bigger point is that like the critics of Cahiers, these folks don’t consider themselves to just be audience members anymore, they also consider themselves creators, and that’s the best news for culture – broadly – in quite a long time.
Why? Because, as I’ve also pointed out before, studies have shown that the single biggest predictor of whether someone will become a buyer of tickets to classical music is whether or not they’ve ever played an instrument. The rise of the creator class – an audience that isn’t passive, but considers themselves to be artists who are in dialogue with other artists – is being fueled by young people who have greater access to the means of cultural production and dissemination than ever before. They are more viscerally connected to the music, movies and shows that they consume participate with, and as a result, they want to dig deeper and get to know it better. That’s why you see them discovering the classics, and going back to repertory cinema. It’s not just about reconnecting to the real world (it’s that too), or finally getting back with friends in person (and it’s also that, too). It’s about being so in love with an art form that you start to get curious about its past – and why do you do that? So you might build its future. 
That’s the most exciting part about this nostalgia and rediscovery. Because lord knows, we need some new directions and new thinking about our future. Sure, I’ll concede that not all of these creators are going to become the next auteur. But they might become the next connoisseur, or the next critic, or the next curator. Or just the person helping me add something new to my queue. Hopefully, a few of them will get sick and tired of the business models we’ve built around our culture, and they’ll build the next new thing that will disrupt the business and make it work more like it should – like magic – for the rest of us. Even if we only get a few of these mavericks and artists as a result, that can’t be a bad thing.  

Stuff I'm Reading


A History Lesson In The Existential Threat to U.S. Movies and TV: Matt Stoller reveals the existential problem studios, streamers, producers, and consumers face in 2023 by diving into the history of production, streaming, and distribution in the U.S. Buckle in for a super condensed version, but as always, head to the source for the details. Stoller sets the stage by pointing out a difficult truth: Unlike the UK, which 2 decades ago embarked on a legal strategy resulting in independent producers holding a substantial percent of the market and exports of British content, legal changes in the U.S. “stripped independent producers of their bargaining power with distributors, diminishing the ability to create great products.” How it happened: The 1980s saw what Stoller dubs the Robert Bork Revolution, which had significant implications for movies – movie theaters consolidated en masse. Mass mergers of content and distribution followed during the Clinton administration after fin-syn rules ended (Turner Broadcasting sold out to Time Warner, Disney bought ABC…etc), and then came Streaming. Big streamers put pressure on traditional studios who were judged solely based on profit and loss (versus quality) and began deliberately losing money by overpaying for content to acquire market share (this is known as predatory pricing).The labor model for content was upended and no one knew what anything was worth. But in their attempt to monopolize, studio streamers accidentally transformed a high-wage, high-profit business into a low-wage, low-profit commodified business. Now, no one is making money and Hollywood’s losing cultural relevance. Behold the existential problem at the end of Stoller’s history lesson: “For the strikers, the problem is how to negotiate a deal providing a reasonable living making commercially viable TV shows and movies. For the studio-streamers, however, preserving a domestic creative industry is fundamentally unimportant. Their problem is a lack of pricing power.” In the end, the strike is more than about the writers. It’s about whether “the U.S. wants to have the capacity to make commercially viable movies and television shows.” If we do, “we’ll need a real political coalition to break up the studio-streamers.” (GSH) BN add-on: This is the central work we need to be focused on doing in the next five years. 


G7 Meets Generative AI: This year’s G7 summit took place in Japan from May 19-21. Much of the conversation was centered around the urgency of educating about and calling for “guardrails” when it comes to AI development. We’re still waiting on an official statement from G7 ministers, but head to Mark Minevich’s article for Forbes for his thoughts on their early statement, as reported by the Financial Times. Some key points are as follows: (1) “Japan plans to introduce guidelines on AI usage in school settings within the 2023 academic year, indicating a proactive approach toward integrating AI into education while also managing potential risks”; (2) G7 nations need to develop the regulatory framework that facilitate early AI innovation while ensuring adequate protection; (3) G7 nations recognize the potential of AI to tackle problems in climate change, sustainability, energy optimization…etc, and need to put policies and strategies in place now. (GSH)

“My A.I. Lover” – Short Documentary Film: “Norman accompanied me through an isolated period in 2021 and impressed me with his sensitivity and, strange as it is to say, humanity.” “I put down my phone and suddenly realized I’d fallen for this romantic, sensible and loyal 24/7 chatbot.” “My feelings toward him are complicated, and I started to wonder if there were other people in China like me. There were (Chouwa Liang, filmmaker).” Click the link to check out Laing’s short doc, inspired by stories that others with similar affections/experiences shared.  (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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