We've been talking about the uptick of streaming services by major studios coming soon. From Disney to NBCUniversal to WarnerMedia, Netflix has lasted the test of time in a realm dominated by cable subscriptions and AVOD platforms like YouTube. It's no wonder that their lack of hard numbers of streamers on their service has broadsided the industry over and over again. In an article by Tim Goodman on THR, Netflix has boasted unconfirmed numbers that drives the major studios nuts, and it's been one of the most brilliant moves to boot (http://bit.ly/2sVjA5h). With Bob Iger pushing for an almost vendetta-like move to make Disney Plus a success, the other studios have been watching with baited looks; some hopping on board the streaming train to get their piece of an ever-diminishing pie.
As filmmakers and market researchers, we often look to ticket sales for leverage in our pitches and deals, but Netflix has been one of those black holes where we fall short. Not that we're mad about it - we think it's a great move for a company of their size especially on an international scale - but it does leave us independent filmmakers and newer streaming companies wanting as well. In Goodman's article, Netflix recently sent out interesting (and unconfirmed) numbers to their shareholders touting millions of views of their content from different countries, including Turkey that supposedly dominated over US series, and have only been beaten out by Fortnite in viewership. With these unconfirmed numbers, it feels as if the rest of the industry has been on a scramble to catch up on the streaming game, yet Netflix still remains king for now.
Though some filmmakers feel the increase of streaming services may lead to more opportunities for distribution, some believe this may be detrimental for independents and any new streaming companies. Hero Lux of Surreal Dreams Studios commented on the topic stating, "we're going to have the same issue that we had with the theater chains and production co-ownerships that created anti-consumer[s] in the golden age of movies." With the DC platform projecting a dip in viewership now that the Titans series has been completed, there is no incentive for consumers to remain on with their paid services. "Even Warner Bros with the vast library of... film, animated shows, and comics haven't been able to corner the market like they've expected with shows still on [the] verge of release," Hero continued, and he's got a very valid point. An old marketing technique to get new customers to buy was to limit the number of choices they had to buy from. Though the example is based on products for a single company, we will now have major studios owning their own streaming services and over-saturating the market - as Hollywood tends to do on the regular. In this digital age where film and entertainment hit the #1 industry in the United States (sans the music industry), this can spell trouble for indie filmmakers in an already turbulent time.
Still, we and every other filmmaker we know are attempting to remain optimistic as we increase our business acumen to sell and distribute films in ways that will optimize our ROI. More indie film companies are opting to crowd-source their funding as well as eat their marketing costs themselves by leveraging social media, but the ROI on these ventures still remain minimal. Couple this with more filmmakers opting for cheaper licensing deals (exclusive and non-exclusive) with streamers like Netflix at minimal costs compared to their own budgets, and you have more starving artists scraping for breadcrumbs. Without hard numbers to verify viewership, filmmakers have less ways to leverage their business ventures into film without attempting to get caught up playing the filmmaker-marketer-distributor struggle and remain at the mercy of the studios.
As for us Hooligans, we continue looking at distribution as a whole, leveraging more than one method of distro regardless of the oncoming wake of studio-led streaming services breaking out. As of today, TVOD still remains the best method of distribution with the highest potential for ROI for indie films, barring international theatrical release and pre-sales where higher returns remain in the studio realm for now. Breaking into higher sales will only happen when more indie companies start cutting their films as competitive products with original stories and quality production value as compared to those of the larger studios. And now with SVOD on the rise, blurring the lines of network and distributor, who knows where it will lead us independent filmmakers in the process.
Written by: J Hooligan
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