At first, the strange intrigue around “The Interview” seemed like a brilliant ploy by Sony to get attention for a holiday release that, though controversial, looked like a box office dud. The whole thing, delightfully nasty leaked emails aside, looked like a marketing plan gone terribly wrong.
I mean, look at this message from the purported North Korean hackers:
“The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”
It reads like a line from a South Park movie.
Well, Sony has now pulled the movie’s Christmas Day release and Homeland Security’s involved so it must be real. Some want to let pirates distribute it. But Sony can turn this lump of coal into a great gift for consumers — by simply switching the theatrical release to a streaming release.
“The Interview” could be the best test case ever for releasing a first-run movie via streaming now that the viewing public has been primed by round-the-clock publicity. Terror threats presumably would not be part of a normal first-run streaming release but the necessity, in the case of “The Interview,” of moving the whole shebang online to avoid violence creates an interesting paradigm for future releases. It would be cool to watch uncut interviews from the movie junkets, maybe a fake red carpet (shot on a soundstage) and all the trailers in one place as part of the price of admission.
Of course, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu may not want to touch this because of potential hacking danger to their own online systems, but it is a real shame that this threat could stop even a supposedly silly movie like “The Interview” from being seen.
This New York Times story, chronicling the latest wailing and gnashing of teeth over streaming by TV executives who should have known better, says:
“Is Netflix a friend or an enemy to traditional television?
On one hand, the streaming service has added billions of new dollars into the television business in recent years, building up its offerings by licensing programs from TV groups. But as Netflix increases its total number of subscribers, some analysts and industry executives are starting to voice a concern — that a steady rise in streaming is fueling the deterioration of traditional TV audiences and related ad revenues.”
When a Netflix executive says that Netflix is “absolutely complementary” to your media distribution business, as Reed Hastings said about Blockbuster in 2007 and Ted Sarandos said about cable in 2011, it means you are already toast. You missed the boat. Done. The gates are closed and Trojan horse is inside.
Instead of palavering this for another four years, TV executives, why not fix it with more innovative thinking like this?
I got to playing with my AppleTV last weekend after a long-delayed software update and spent an embarrassing amount of time on Vimeo, a curated channel for indie filmmakers. Streaming TV is giving audiences access to amazing and innovative content — in the same way that Netflix and Blockbuster Online brought the independent film movement mainstream. This little animated short was one of my favorites: http://vimeo.com/82542938
Here’s a list of the main streaming services and how they work.
Hmmm. Two interesting points in the second half of this Huffington Post article — linking the fact that Mark Cuban last month upped his stake in Netflix with the idea that it is a ripe takeover target for Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Reports are circulating that Alibaba is eyeing a stake in Lionsgate, a studio with a large film and TV library that includes the “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” films. So for a moment, we’ll go with the notion that Alibaba could be interested in Netflix.
In my book, I detailed the on-again, off-again talks that Reed Hastings and Jeff Bezos have had over the years exploring partnerships, cross promotions, and yes, a merger, between their two companies.
It looked like a great fit: Netflix wanted access to Amazon’s huge customer base, and Amazon wanted to hedge cooling DVD sales with hot online rental. The two CEOs could never agree on financial terms, and ultimately, tax issues related to Netflix’s DVD distribution centers may have derailed a merger.
Yet it seemed culturally dissonant to wedge a software/entertainment company like Netflix into a retailer — like selling bacon at a bicycle shop.
Now comes the Chinese version of Amazon, apparently looking for a way to jump-start the incredibly complicated and costly process of setting up an online streaming service from scratch.
Netflix is looking to expand internationally to offset cooling domestic growth, and China, Hastings once told me, is one of his dream markets. A corporate marriage between these two seems auspicious, yet China, with its strict censorship, seems antithetical to what Netflix is all about: the content you want, when and where you want it. Bacon, bicycle.
Well, this is interesting. Netflix already has a sizable and fast-growing subscriber base in Australia, even though the streaming service is not set to launch there until early next year, according to this graphic from the personal finance site Pocketbook.
I have seen lots of online postings about apps and techniques for getting around geoblocking in countries that don’t offer Netflix. That makes me wonder what the company’s global “grey market” subscription base is, and whether those streaming-starved subscribers determined which international markets Netflix chose for its big 2015 expansion.
This article in the Sydney Morning Herald also shows that the global value of streaming is expected to rise by nearly 50 percent over the next four years — to $10 billion — thanks to “streamcasters” like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon. That figure seems suspect to me, as Netflix 2014 revenue on streaming alone is expected to be $4.7 billion. With HBO and cable sports getting ready to hop on internet TV subscription, that’s gotta be too low.
I don’t really agree with the premise that Amazon Instant Video is within striking distance of Netflix, not just because the two services are still so far apart by the only measure that counts — hours streamed — but because consumers use the two so differently.
Yes, you can binge-watch TV shows on Amazon Instant Video — I watched almost an entire season of Rome last weekend while nursing a cold. But the hybrid subscription/pay-per-view Amazon Prime model inhibits you from surfing the catalog and sampling content in a way that racks up significant viewing hours or consumer attachment.
In my mind, consumers turn to Amazon — and to Apple’s iTunes for that matter — when they want to watch a specific movie or TV show, sort of how we used to go to Blockbuster (and now Redbox) for newly released titles. We use Netflix to find something to watch, the way we used to channel surf.
This is what Reed Hastings calls “different use occasions” that make up the spectrum of the home entertainment market. Hastings used this concept to dismiss speculation that Apple would kill Netflix when iTunes began selling movies and TV shows. It sounded like wishful thinking at the time but — he was right.
Anyway, this Motley Fool note contains a lot of interesting stats about streaming that remind me of the adoption curve for online DVD rental: