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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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Wacky Visions for the Future

Oct 27, 2022

I’m speaking on a panel soon at DocNYC, and on a panel prep call this week, Malikkah Rollins mentioned that what the film world needs more of right now are “wacky visions for the future.” That stuck with me, because I’m also attending VERGE22 this week in San Jose, CA – a climate/sustainability focused conference, where the most exciting ideas for how we break through the morass and make change seem to be the wackiest ideas, too. 
And bogged down, we are, in both worlds. The world is on fire around us, literally and figuratively, but it seems that only half of us realize it – or rather three quarters of us realize it, but only half of us want to fix things, one quarter of us have no clue, and one quarter of us want to take advantage of those who have no clue so they can perpetuate the current system. That all holds true for global warming, as well as for the hellfire otherwise known as what’s left of the film/TV business. 
Narrowing in on the latter, I’ve heard a few things in the past week that confirmed my suspicions that things will get much worse before they get better. First, a great sales agent saying that right now, they won’t even pitch something that isn’t a “rockstar slam dunk.” And by that, they meant it was either a doc about a rockstar, or a film starring the equivalent of four of them. And with a rockstar production company attached. Everything else is dead right now, and they hope things improve come January, presumably at Sundance. That may not be news, exactly, but it’s an open admission that very little else is working that you don’t hear too often. It also begs the question… what does one think might get better in the marketplace come January that didn’t come to pass this past month (because these same kinds of agents were telling me that’s what they expected from September and Toronto)? 
Related to that, Netflix and everyone else seems to be placing their trust in advertising to save their businesses. But that strategy starts to seem questionable when every other business based on advertising is reporting historic drops in said dollars from their bottom line, and Wall Street isn’t too happy about it. Take Google as exhibit A in this. Or Meta today. And they target ads a lot better than streamers do. But I guess Netflix figures what ad dollars are left will go to them, because hey, they're Netflix. Those of us not running a streamer could take comfort, but alas… as these companies shift their focus to making a losing proposition advertising work in a soft market, they will keep chasing whatever might bring them more and more eyeballs, which is decidedly not what anyone who is likely reading this newsletter is interested in making. Which means the market for these kinds of films will get worse, not better. I'm not sure it will bring them more subscribers, either. Which means, all of these layoffs will start to amplify, and they’ll want even less of what we’re making, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. 
Then there was the news that the Criterion Collection had to lay off a bunch of folks, too. When the most prestigious boutique label in town can’t find an audience that supports the best work around, you know you are in turbulent times. And I can’t imagine that their “reorganization” doesn’t mean that many others of their size are feeling the pain right now, too. But as I said last week, what do I know?
But circling back to this climate conference I’m attending – which caused me to write the newsletter later than usual this week – if the film business looks bad, it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to our climate. But the thousands of people here aren’t wringing their hands in despair. Ok, they did seem to devote too much time to mindfulness, meditation and spirituality in some of the sessions, meaning they need some self-care while fighting for the planet. But the overall tone is actually one of getting shit done. Usually through wacky ideas that just might help save the planet. And often through collaboration, especially between big business and small, community focused folks. 
That’s where I think solutions will come for the film world as well. I don’t think it will come from collaboration with the biggest of the big business side. The Netflix’s and DiscoveryBrothers of the world could care less whether we survive. But there’s a whole tier of big for indie businesses out there who have the same problems that the littlest indies have – how to get stuff made, get it to audiences, and not lose their shirts in the process. My wacky idea would be that more of these folks need to be working together on some solutions for our future. The idea of multiple mid-tier distributors, theater owners, non-studio level streamers and indie producers somehow working together to create a better system does seem wacky, but hey, I’m in California this week, where wacky ideas seem to flourish. But the main point of this article is to say to my readers – let your wacky ideas flourish, because that’s what we're all going to need in this environment.

Stuff I'm Reading

DOCNYC Funding Day Panel(s) and my "New Models" Panel: I'll be speaking on a panel on 11/10 at the DOCNYC fest's DOCNYCPRO event featuring conversations from noted funders tracking new trends and offering insights into funding your films. I'll be joined by representatives from discovery+, Norwegian Film Institute, WME Agency, and more.  My particular panel is on New Models of Revenue Generation. Learn about that and all the panels here. (BN)

Redford Center Grantees Announced, and I'm an Advisor: The Redford Center announced their 2022 Grantees today. I am honored to also be one of their advisors, meaning I'll be joining some other smart people (smarter than me at least) to help advise these filmmakers on their journey. And the line-up of grantees is stellar (I wasn't part of the selection) - check out the full list and the news in the Hollywood Reporter. (BN)

Dumb Netflix Password Sharing Crackdown Will Arrive in US Early Next Year: You can expect Netflix to crack down on password sharing in early 2023. So, what does this mean for original account holders? They’ll be charged an extra $3.50-4.00 a month if secondary/tertiary users don’t sign up for the service on their own. Netflix has already tested the crackdown in Latin American markets (apparently its enforcement was a big mess in Argentina and Peru), and how Netflix will monitor password-sharing outside of the original home remains to be disclosed. The takeaway: Netflix was all about password sharing back when it was the little guy, but now that it’s facing increased competition it’s nickel-and-diming its subscribers. Who’s to say that come 2023 Netflix users won’t just switch to another streamer and then switch again in a couple years when the next giant cracks down on password sharing? Karl Bode for Techdirt has the news. (GSH)
Branded Content
Web2’s advertising risks will be amplified in the metaverse: here’s how to prepare: Since Facebook’s rebranding in 2021, Brands have been rushing to become the pioneers of the metaverse, a bold move that comes with a good deal of risk for brands and consumers alike. Alex Thomas, senior brand safety and quality manager at GroupM explains what brands and the industry need to be thinking about in a piece for The Drum: (1) Brands need to be able to safeguard consumer data, especially considering consumer data is already (and will be even more so) used to create highly personalized experiences; (2) The way people experience a brand in the metaverse will be rooted in algorithms that are likely to be biased (remember, code is as biased as its programmer). Brands already in/looking to enter the metaverse need to have systems in place to identify biases and hire/train people from diverse backgrounds; (3) The tech that’s critical to the metaverse as we understand it (NFTs, VR/AR headsets) is not eco-friendly. The industry needs to find a way to minimize waste; (4) Every 7 minutes in the VR Chat app a minor is exposed to explicit sexual content, bullying, harrassment, and predation according to The Center for Countering Digital Hate. At a minimum, platforms need to clearly outline community guidelines and publish transparency reports frequently about the enforcement of these guidelines. Brands, too, must play a role in categorizing/flagging harmful content. Check out Thomas’s piece for more detail.   (GSH)

Nielsen study shows media industry and marketers often miss the mark in connecting with Black consumers: Nielsen’s latest Diverse Intelligence Series report examines why 2022 saw a 10 percentage point decline in Black viewers who are more likely to buy from brands that advertise in inclusive content compared to 2021. You can head to PR Newswire for their summary, but here are some key findings: (1) Brands are heavily investing in traditional media to reach Black audiences but 63% of Black audiences prefer streaming as it provides more authentic choices for Black viewers; (2) only 32% of Black audiences feel industry representation of their identity group is accurate. Nuanced representation is more important than ever before; (3) Partnering with Black talent at every stage – from campaign creators to on screen talent – is key (this should be a no brainer by now); (4) Black-focused agencies have 83% of the highest brand metric scores in Familiarity Lift, Affinity Lift, Purchase Intent Lift, and Recommendation Intent Lift. You can download the full report here. (GSH)

AI art looks way too European: I think we can all agree that OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 AI art generator is super cool. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its problems. As he scrolled through examples of DALL-E’s art, Vox’s Neel Dhanesha noticed that “AI art, more often than not, looks like Western art.” Amelia Winger-Bearskin, professor of AI and the Arts at the University of Florida explains “All AI is only backward-looking… They can only look at the past.” What does she mean by this? An AI’s algorithm is trained and trained… and trained again. And it seems, in the case oF DALL-E, that it’s been trained on data sets based in the fine arts (read: “art by white, Western artists”). Dhanesha writes, its “disappointing: AI-generated art, in theory, could be an incredibly useful tool for imagining a more equitable vision of art that looks very different from what we have come to take for granted. Instead, it stands to simply perpetuate the colonial ideas that drive our understanding of art today.” It’s true that DALL-E 2 and other AI art models can be asked to generate styles by other (non-Western) artists too, but the point is that these models don’t really generate non Western aesthetics by default. A few thoughts to leave you with: (1) “Left unchecked, algorithms can perpetuate racist and sexist biases, and that bias extends to AI art as well (Dhanesha)”; (2) The upside to the bias that’s built into programs like DALL-E 2 is that they reflect inherent problems about our society; (3) “People want to blame the AI. But the final product is our responsibility (Jean Oh, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon).” Neel Dhanesha for Vox has the piece. (GSH)

“A Year” AI Film: Check out Dmitrii Tochilkin’s AI animation film made with a custom 3D algorithm and Stable Diffusion. We’ve seen AI create still images with models like DALL-E 2, but now it’s coming to video. Watch his 30 second short entitled “A Year” here. Thank you Daniel Miessler and his newsletter, Unsupervised Learning for bringing Tochilkin’s work to our attention. (GSH)

TikTok is increasingly becoming a news source: A new Pew Research Center survey found that the percentage of people getting news from TikTok has tripled since 2020. Today, 10% of adults and 26% of people >30 years-old in the U.S. “regularly'' get their news from the app. Pew also found that while news consumption was stagnant or trending downward on some social apps (Youtube and Facebook), news consumption on TikTok was on the rise – 30% of adult TikTok users in the U.S. get their news from the app, up from 22% in 2020. The takeaway, according to Mia Sato for The Verge is that as people rely on TikTok for the news, misinformation becomes a greater threat. Note that almost 20% of news-related videos contained misinformation according to a recent NewsGuard study. I also think it’s fair to say that despite them insisting otherwise, TikTok is no longer just an entertainment app. (GSH)

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