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The Stage is Set for the New New Hollywood

Content Insider #834A – Money, Money

By Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com

“It doesn’t matter whether they are tall, short, ugly, good-looking It turns me on that they talk to me about things I don’t know.” Tokio, “Money Heist (La Casa de Papel),” Vancouver Media, 2017 – 2011

With the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike coming to an end – still waiting for the agreement to be formally signed, the entertainment industry is going to be changed … forever.

Neither side totally likes the agreement but that means it’s a good agreement because there was give/take on both sides.

The industry (companies and people) has been anxious and needing to get back to work since the writers’ strike went on back in May.

With the directors and writers’ agreements wrapped, most folks didn’t think the agreement would take long since insiders and outsiders thought they had a partially written script – at least the plotline – to follow.   

The directors and writers were satisfied with having the negotiators negotiate but the actors wanted to adlib and said nope we need to talk with the bosses.

All went well … until it didn’t.

There was supposedly a soft agreement on both sides until the SAG-AFTRA negotiators “discovered” the agreement was missing a page.

It added a new wrinkle borrowed from John L. Lewis when he told the declining mining industry his folks needed to be paid for each ton his boys (they were obviously mostly male) mined.

SAG/AFTRA edited his script so that actors would be paid for each streaming subscriber they helped dig up.

The actors’ negotiators referred to it as “a tiny portion of the action,” while studios/streamers called it a levy.

To say the studio/streamer bosses didn’t like the idea of revenue sharing would be putting it mildly–especially since all of the streamers (except for Netflix) were already leaking profits and were struggling to figure out how to make money in the new entertainment arena other than simply firing folks left n’ right.

Of course, the bosses also knew that once they broke from tradition, all of the rest of the entertainment unions were going to expect/demand their cut.

Sure, there’s some question of the “value” of a subscriber who is in this quarter and gone the next. Or why Hollywood content was “more valuable” to the streamers’ audience when refreshingly different/exciting shows/movies were coming from creators in other countries.

Those questions didn’t get addressed because once the writers’ negotiator, Crabtree-Ireland, said they wanted 57 cents per subscriber, the studio/streamer bosses left the room.

As the door was slamming shut, he added it was only a “starting point.” But the studio/streamer heads described it as an ultimatum … too wide to cross.

A cooler head, not involved in the negotiations, suggested maybe 10-20 cents per subscriber would be a more palatable change in the whole revenue sharing idea.

He was sorta right because the Hollywood entertainment industry is different from any business model you want to look at since everyone is a contract worker building her/his portfolio rep moving from project to project.

               Range – Superhero, western and rom-com shows may have faded from popularity, but there are still a wide range of video stories ready to be told and watched.

But writers are all back in their rooms coming up with, editing, polishing and finishing scripts that will hopefully meet the constantly changing entertainment tastes of folks for films/shows in every possible genre.

The industry won’t come close to the 2023 $26.7B value that it was originally projected to produce.

That shortfall has, and will, continue to impact the thousands of professionals who don’t get a magical front-end and back-end payment but will only get paid for the days they work.

Broader, Deeper – The directors, writers and actors gained all of the headlines during the strike, but a growing number of people were idled during the break and they were the ones most affected.

Film industry researcher, Stephen Follows, noted that film and show crews have grown steadily over the past two decades with 48 percent of the individuals working on-set while others are involved in the pre- and post-production work.

As films/shows have improved and gotten more complex, the number of crew members have increased over 51 percent, according to film analyst Stephen Follows.

                      Unseen Numbers – The majority of the people involved in creating a show/movie are never shown on the credits, not listed on IMDb and never considered for one of the statues. But their numbers grow.  

Unfortunately, if you stick around and watch the credits – as we do – you won’t see most of these people listed.

Flatline – Shutting down video content production projects in the US dramatically affected thousands of professionals and many had to drop out to make ends meet.  The rest have to try and recover lost income.  

The revenue sharing proposal/agreement won’t affect these folks, other than the fact that they’ll be able to get back to work and begin digging themselves out of the financial holes they’ve been forced into over the past 200+ days that they were forced to sit by and watch the parody parade pass them by.

Somehow, they’re supposed to be fortunate because the joint strikes cost the industry an estimated 45K jobs.

Milken Institute’s analysts estimate that the strikes cost Southern California and studio centers across the country more than $6B.

While SAG-AFTRA’s head, Fran Drescher, spoke eloquently about changing the world for actors, their settlement will be of little consolation to the thousands of service people and professionals who lost paychecks, retirement funds … and more.

It bothered us – just a little – that the AMPTP/SAG-AFTRA “discussions” didn’t waste much time talking about  movies which speaks volumes as to the relevance of movie houses that they give lip service to and award parties they cherish.

Headroom – Streaming content activity in the Americas has almost reached saturation, but there are still plenty of growth opportunities in other regions of the world where services will buy and show content locally and beyond.  

The real hassle has been about the new kid in town (streaming) which shows a lot of growth potential around the globe.  

It’s not only a global market; but more importantly for the studios/streamers, has been somewhat accidentally found to be a rich, relatively untapped motherlode of freakin’ fantastic video stories.

Like most great discoveries, studios/streamers discovered the global appeal of each country’s films/shows only because the governments insisted that “if you’re going to “sell” your services in our country you’ve got to produce, buy and show 20-30 percent of our local content.”

Global Creative – Show and movie production (and viewing) is increasing and improving in almost every country on the map.  Audiences everywhere are suddenly discovering and enjoying these new sources of entertainment.

Viola! 

Who knew that the people in those countries wouldn’t be the only ones that liked their homegrown stories. Folks two countries over also liked them and surprise–men, women, kids across the oceans and halfway around the globe also liked their stuff. 

The studios/streamers proved that the more we’re different, the more we’re the same and people – everywhere – have similar entertainment tastes and maybe even more.

Non-English Growth – Streaming video has opened up new vistas of film and show entertainment that aren’t produced in English and new technologies are making it easier for services to deliver the content in a variety of languages.

While the creative machine had been shut down for so long and studios/streamers were looking at a content release date of January or beyond, they shifted their content development/acquisition outside the US.

All of the streamers – Apple TV+, Disney+, Hulu, Max, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock and Amazon Prime Video – have been holding back some content creation money for the return to Hollywood’s new normal. They’ve also been filling the whitespace with exciting content from other countries – UK, Japan, Canada, France, Argentina, Italy,  Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Korea, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa and well, everywhere.

Of the $42B streamers have set aside to invest this year, 90 percent has been projected for scripted, which remains the most desirable content to attract new subscribers and maintaining subscriber engagement.  

Broad Budgets – Studios and streamers invested their content production/acquisition budgets cautiously during the US shutdown; and even though the US work has returned to a new normal, there won’t be a reduction in global investment for the global audience. Good stories are good stories, no matter where they’re produced.

But there has also been a shift in content acquisition philosophy as studios/streamers increasingly become global content providers.

Rather than focusing strictly on exclusive original titles, they’re shifting to a more balanced approach of genre allocation based on the preferences of diverse demographics in various regions … a more targeted approach.

The streamers are closely examining genre and subgenre supply/demand in various countries/regions, including the US, LATAM, Asia, Nordics and EMEA regions.

Non-English shows and series have become increasingly popular as localization is becoming so easy today.

Localization historically has been a major and expensive (time/money) undertaking requiring people who were well-versed in the area’s language who could understand, write/speak it and closely follow the storyline and action flow as well as understand the cultural differences and nuances. 

In other words, it was tough.

AI Spoken – Autonomous subbing and dubbing has significantly improved the quality of global content while lowering the cost of delivering the project in native tongues.  

But according to Allan McLennan, president/cga of 2G Digital Post, AI-enabled language technologies have become a boon to content creators/producers/distributors around the globe.

“Introducing or relaunching libraries of content in new countries no longer requires thousands of people hours and programming to do the task efficiently and properly,” he noted, “It is just as straight-forward to bring content from those countries to the Americas.

“While there are more than 7,000 languages around the world, 20 are spoken, read and understood by more than 90 percent of the global population,” he added. 

 “Organizations like ours are quickly, economically and accurately localizing shows and films both in the language as well as the platform needed to be played to engage audiences no matter where they live and whether they prefer their content translated in their language of choice without subtitles or presented as produced and with localized subtitles.”

As a result, due to the efficiencies of language localization the original production language has almost become a non-issue when studios/streamers select shows/films for their global audiences.

In addition, AI-enabled localization has also been a boon to the emerging AVOD/FAST services because marketers are able to economically and fairly accurately localize their advertising messages to appeal to prospective customers in every country.

The dual strikes may have momentarily paralyzed the Hollywood content creation machine – and thousands of innocent bystanders, but it also set the stage for a newer new Hollywood where writers, directors, actors and production/post folks are being able to provide and compete for viewer attention everywhere.

That probably wasn’t the scenario the union heads were expecting when they told folks it was time to hit the picket line and warned them of the costumes they wore at Halloween.

Yes, there had to be an adjustment – actually a significant adjustment – to the working conditions and pay for the work that everyone in the US video story industry performs, but it also made it possible for the global industry to really be global.

As Tokio said in Money Heist, “All the decisions we made in the past lead us inexorably towards the future.”

Maybe now everyone can get back to work and focus less on calling each other names and do what professionals are really best at doing … entertaining folks.

Andy Marken – andy@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.

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