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The Power of Making Great Projects Shouldn’t be Wasted

Content Insider #858 – Kindness

By Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com

I love you, Molly. I’ve always loved you,” Sam.  “Ditto,” Molly. — “Ghost,” Paramount, 1990

We had wrapped up the business part of a video conference call with a highly respected industry observer/analyst when he said he was a little surprised at how rom-coms and Barbie had changed studios priorities.

That launched us into a nearly hour-long discussion of the ebb and flow of film genre over the years. We admit it, rom-coms and light-hearted flicks have never been our go-to movie choices.  

However, for Barbie, there are a number of reasons it was a record-setter with everyone but the old white guy voters in the Academy.

Two major reasons they overlooked were:

  • 50.5 percent of US population today is female, while the ratio is roughly equal globally
  • People need a reprise from the constant barrage of negative news, half-truths

Video stories (movies/series) have always been a relief/release opportunity for people who simply want to unwind and refresh.

It wasn’t that long ago that superhero pics were guaranteed to be winners at the box office.

Today, they struggle.

At home, couch potatoes want adventure, action, animation and rom-com.

Tina was right, “we don’t need another hero.”

People want to live, experience life beyond Thunderdome.

Barbie is admittedly not our fave; but when you have a daughter, you bend … a lot. It was a refreshing, light-hearted change of pace. 

The project was well written, well shot, well-acted, well produced, well posted.

We somewhat enjoyed it because it was empowering for females without being mean or vindictive.

In other words, it was a breath of fresh air.

That should be celebrated, reinforced!

Frankly, we’ve gotten tired of watching the news, skimming social media and seeing/hearing nothing but physical/verbal violence.

We know (O.K., we’re pretty sure) there is kindness and positivity waiting to rise above the chaos, and the content industry is in the best position to nurture it and help it thrive.

Social media was developed with the idea that it would allow people to share ideas and information through virtual networks and communities.

It’s so misused/abused, we avoid it.

So how do we change this?

Maybe the change is already taking place and content creators have to catch up and leverage the opportunity?

We’re not saying that the Hallmark Channel is the bellwether to positive change, but it’s one of the first places you look in America when you want rom-com, comedy, Christmas/holiday movies/shows.

Safe Haven – Often overlooked in the maddening rush for capturing more subscribers everywhere, all the time; Hallmark Channel has achieved slow, steady audience growth–especially when compared to “hard news” viewing sources during prime viewing times.  

And it’s been a serious cable option for primetime viewing with an average of 1M+ viewers, compared to news channels such as Fox News (2M primetime viewers), MSNBC (1M) and CNN (605K). 

The go-to-channel for feel-good content (especially around the holidays) has even expanded and broadened its programming most recently with a family/friendship/time travel series, The Way Home. 

Viewership nudges Fox News and surpasses MSNBC and CNN.

O.K., the viewership numbers pale in comparison to the Netflix audience (81M, US/Can; 260M global), but you know you’re not going to show something you’ll mumble/fumble to explain to your kids or look at your significant other and say WTF.

And if you’re an advertiser that wants to reach/influence a largely middle-of-the-road female audience (25-54) and not harm your brand because of something that appears before or after your ad, it’s a great safe bet/opportunity.  

But don’t think for a moment that the leading streamers – Netflix, Apple, Amazon – have glossed over the female influencers. 

Balanced Offering – By closely monitoring their audience’s data and viewing, streamers have broadened their libraries to include more “people friendly” content like animation, family fantasy and comedy shows/films.  

They have also increased their family/viewer-friendly content. 

We didn’t include Disney in the above list because a wide swath of their content has always been female boss and family friendly with their “other” content hosted by Hulu … yes, the mix will change following the acquisition.

The content creation/distribution industry is effecting the change … but it won’t be smooth, won’t be easy. 

Film industry analyst Stephen Follows addressed the issue a while back noting that the skew between male genre and female genre is almost a rounding error except when it came to musical and romance films vs sci-fi and horror films.  

The subtle shifting of the population mix (male/female) has also determined the types of shows/movies most of the audience wants to see.

The shift has become painfully obvious at the box office where superhero (even female superheroes) and crime films have failed to meet financial expectations.

More Similar – With the exception of a few, very few, genre; streamers and theaters have seen that the audience has more in common than differences, which may be why projects such as superhero films don’t score big at the box office anymore and sci-fi films/shows have gone beyond their macho feel/look.

Since they’re operating under the mandate of budget preservation, day/time TV has found that low-cost contest and reality shows have done a better job of keeping their dwindling audience numbers compared to expensive scripted violence. 

Streamers enjoy the luxury of creating a “balanced” set of films/shows even though most tilt toward the gender that usually controls the selection.

Subscriber Retention – Both sexes have become tired of “hard news” and need to move beyond the coverage of vicious, vile activities around them for content that simply entertains or offers a way to improve our lives and the world we live in.  

Even when the project is a horror or sci-fi film/show, the services lean the content to a less disturbing story line.

Either that solves the situation or the couple ends up with two screens and opposite rooms in the house … not fun.

To capture more of the mixed audience, the NBA (National Basketball Association) held it’s first male/female three-point contest recently featuring Sabrina Ionescu (WNBA New York Liberties) and Stephen Curry (NBA Golden State Warriors).

Gender Equals – The NBA made a major shift in their allstar activities by adding a contest to show men/woman can compete equally with the three-point contest between Sabrina Ionescu (l) and Stephen Curry.  People are speculating as to who will win on the next meeting.  

Ionescu lost by one point and the contest blew it slightly by not having a female moderator also present but the event was still the highlight of the NBA Allstar Weekend (actually, most of the rest of it was roundly panned).  

It undoubtedly set the stage for another face-off next year.

The friendly contest wasn’t an anomaly, it’s proof (at least to us) that people want less hard-edged entertainment and that perhaps female industry professionals might be in an excellent position to deliver it.

But this was just a baby step in bringing relevance and equity to the entire audience.

Effecting Change – While “everyone” wants equality in the creation, production and distribution of video stories, making it happen is unfortunately slow in happening.  

It represents a modest entertainment demand/interest shift, and that change is underway.

According to a recent study by the University of Alberta, there is a definite need for an industry-wide GEP (gender equality policy); but don’t worry, depending on where you live/work, the balance of 50 percent of key creative positions is coming … the Americas will take about 200 years, UK will do it in 60 and Germany will achieve the goal in 15 years.

In other words, a more tangible move is coming as more women take key creative positions … S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Women are taking slow – very slow – control of key positions in the film/show industry (project underwriters, directors, producers, writers) and they are impacting the genre of content that is created, developed, distributed.

The content industry’s changes, recognizes – and are taking advantage of – the growing female influence to meet the broader population’s entertainment beyond simply violent, destructive material.

Don’t get us wrong. 

We’re pretty sure men can create a satisfying “female” genre film (musical, comedy, rom-com, animation and that women can deliver a great “male” genre project (sci-fi, action, crime, action). 

But it’s important that projects meet the emotional goal of the film/show, and that they meet the audience’s expectations – joy/sadness or fear/anger.

Success Insurance – If creatives want a chance to have their shows/films seen and appreciated, they need to produce video stories that have a positive message delivered by positive role models.  

The most popular films/shows today have as their foundation positive messages and positive role models.

The best film/show leads aren’t perfect because they are often a little rough around the edges – touches of violence, occasional bad language, light drinking/smoking and mild sexy stuff. Just enough to show the minor flaws that also meet the MPA (Motion Picture Association) and TV ratings requirements.

Hey, it’s the real world we live in, but people still want to/need to see/experience “real,” positive endings.

While men can and do create positive projects, the changing content demand has opened global film/show opportunities for women and genders.

Ironically, the modest gains aren’t coming at the expensive of men but rather as a result of the expansion of the industry as streaming increased content demand.

According to Follows, females today hold more than 42.5 percent of the professional positions with Taiwan, China, Thailand, Lithuania, Malaysia and Romania having the highest number of females.  

Mexico, India, Iran have the lowest percentage.

Slow Equity – The industry has been slow to give gender and race equality anything more than lip service and token recognition, especially when it comes to project greenlighting and peer awards.  

In the Americas, the industry is making progress at a snail’s pace in getting females involved behind the scenes.

An average of 25 percent of behind-the-scenes roles are now being held by women, according to the Celluloid Ceiling Study at San Diego State University.

As far as people of color?  

Few have the industry status and respect of Tyler Perry, Spike Lee, Jordan Peele or Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Samual L. Jackson and other go-to directors/actors. So, it’s still a work in progress.

However, those who have “made it”, are paving the way for others and consistently proving they can deliver the kind of content messages everyone wants today.

By the same token, Hallmark films/shows are ravingly popular over the various holidays and for many of the same reasons Barbie neatly fit in that category for people – young and old – that needed something with a touch of kindness in it.  

Whether you’re a realist, idealist or cynic, your mind needs a respite from the noise and craziness of day-to-day life.  

It needs a rest and a few hours of positiveness.  

It’s a lot like what Sam Wheat said in Ghost, “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you. See ya.”

There’s a link between the films/shows people watch and the people behind them that bring creative ideas to life.

People in the content industry have a tremendous opportunity (and a challenge) to stimulate and help effect change not just in numerical equality but in added opportunities at every level.  

Both genders and all races need to participate and share their voices and creative ideas with the viewing audience.

Andy Markenandy@markencom.com – is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.

Staff

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