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  • Writer's pictureVincent Quek

Netflix and What Today's Deadline Report Means For The TV Shows You Love

Dear fans and followers of Anticipate Pictures,

I don't usually comment, and actually make it a point not to talk about our competition for your eyeballs on this official Anticipate Pictures channel (I usually do it on my own FB profile in various public posts,) but I'm going to make an exception today just because not only is this topic highly relevant to anybody living in the 2010s but I'll end off with some blunt marketing for our upcoming film LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT in 3D just to make it about Anticipate in the end. (My apologies to my marketing intern Hanae whom I previously instructed to do the same only to have her supervisor now breaking the same rules.)

Deadline Hollywood, one of the film industry's leading trade news sites, published a business article today entitled "Feeling The Churn: Why Netflix Cancels Shows After A Couple Of Seasons & Why They Can't Move To New Homes" You'll read this with extreme interest if you are a fan of original TV shows on Netflix, which I'm sure many people including myself are, and come to realise the following: Legacy TV programs will never be made by SVOD streamers like Netflix, so your next all-time favourite legacy franchise shows like Friends, The Office, Parks And Recreation, The Simpsons will never be made at Netflix. In fact, if any new Netflix series gets very popular, unless it starts winning major awards like the Emmys, or be able to start some sort of secondary revenue stream for them in the form of theme parks or merchandising rights like Stranger Things was able to do - Netflix would much rather kill off its babies - and make sure their babies stay dead - than make more seasons of those increasingly-popular-but-not-yet-break-out TV shows.

The new Netflix Originals logo

So if your favourite TV show is a Netflix original and has a cult following but doesn't keep increasing its audience numbers exponentially with each and every season - which by the way won't ever be 13 episodes or more like those made by network TV i.e. NBC, CBS etc. because Netflix has determined from its data that 10 episodes is the absolute most needed to retain your eyeballs to that show - than it will be in danger of getting retired after 2-3 seasons. The reason is purely economical - it costs more and more to pay the same talent - writers, producers, actors etc. - to create more of a show the more successful it gets (an industry term called the "back-end." To the point where it no longer makes financial sense to pay the ever escalating talent and production costs to diminishing returns on new subscriber numbers, the show will be retired, even if the core fan base is rabid about the series.

Netflix Original Sense8 - cancelled after 2 seasons, which after Netflix suffered intense backlash from fans, agreed to produce a further 2 1/2 hour series finale.

As anyone who has spoken to me and solicited some opinion on the new streaming landscape (curiously so, since I run a mostly theatrical business) will know my opinion that Netflix is not in the business of selling good content, it is in the business of selling subscriptions. It does not make money from making good content, but if it makes just enough content with just enough quality to make you not want to quit your 1-month free trial - then it has won. Yes it's great that sometimes they make some really good films or TV shows, but growth in subscriber numbers is what they are really after. Just consider this other article published today where their CEO casually lists in a nutshell (and its not really private information anyway, you can read their financials on their investor website) that Netflix rakes in US$1.4 billion each month from its 139 million global subscribers, but are in basically US$24 billion debt by the end of 2019 from creating original content. Right now, they are burning cash to achieve growth. And they need to, because of the impending Apple SVOD launch.

But back to the Netflix TV shows conundrum - what do you do with a TV show you realised is not making more and more people subscribe to Netflix? You maintain exclusivity over it, or at least impose so many restrictions on the show's creators that when they are finally allowed to make more seasons of it somewhere else, there is at least a 3 year gap time where much of the show's momentum from its launch on Netflix is lost. I think my content-producing friends who are dying to sell a TV pitch to Netflix should sit up straighter at this point. Basically if you are able to sell a TV pitch to them, and they give you an offer to fund your entire production, baked into the terms of this all-expenses-paid deal+back end for you the show creator is a teensy  moratorium T&C clause that says you will never ever have control over your own show. You give up all future international rights and unless you are a huge studio or a major TV producer, you won't even be able to make the same show again somewhere else until many many years later. Its the same with movies that are acquired by Netflix - you give up rights to how your film is released unless it is already negotiated inside the contract, in exchange for that sell-your-soul money.

Love - not renewed after 3 seasons. Present episodes will probably never be seen outside of Netflix, and neither will future ones if any.

The ironic thing is, Netflix themselves are happy to take in external TV series like Lucifer and Designated Survivor that are retired elsewhere and lest you think its because they want to support content creators who have worked so hard to build up that property outside on network television - its really an easy way to tap into the goodwill of viewers who love that TV show already, and yep, gain new subscribers to the Netflix platform. But the problem is, if that show doesn't add more and more subscribers with every new season produced in-house at Netflix, it will be retired as well. And this time, the creators can't go out somewhere else and make new content for that show elsewhere. The buck stops at Netflix.

But for all this hue and cry about Netflix and how the industry is starting to notice the consequences of selling to or working for Netflix, much can be said about our own viewing habits in this age of streaming. We clearly don't need to follow a TV series longer than 3 seasons even though we love it dearly, so long as a new series or the next Fyre documentary or Marie Kondo talking point will be seen on Netflix - we won't be giving up that subscription any time soon. Hence I predict that the good old days of binging on 6-10 seasons of The Office or Friends or Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be over, replaced by an ever renewing slate of new and original programming that will hold our attention for that brief month when everyone is talking about it, before moving on to the next Big Show.

But if they make more seasons of Kim's Convenience -

which is not a Netflix Original - I'm down.

For what we do at Anticipate, we don't claim to be different from this 'churn' effect. We of course acquire and release new titles all the time, and that keeps our content fresh and exciting. But there is an understanding that we never fully own the content we release - yes we license it for a period of time, and the business runs on exclusivity over periods of time - but we don't deny it a life after its initial theatrical release is done. We are happy to license our older titles to other exhibitors, VOD platforms, festivals and other special interest groups and events to be seen again and again. And this I believe is the healthiest and most robust way to ensure the property that we temporarily own will reach its fullest audience. Maybe you say that Anticipate is obviously singing this tune because we are too small to play that have-a-platform-own-the-content-on-it game and it's true, but even if we did own a platform in the future (highly unlikely anyway, given how much it'll cost) I don't believe in locking up content in perpetuity to build loyalty in something else. For Anticipate, reaching audiences for the films we have is the end goal, not the waypoint towards another goal. 

Yah, 3D must be seen to be believed. Also we are in love with this poster and there's never enough times to repost this.

Anyway, I promised a pitch to justify the existence of and dilute all the salt poured out in this blog post. Here it is: we have a 3D arthouse film called LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT playing at a single GV cinema at Suntec City these coming 2 weekends - you can see all showtimes here. While this title is available for any other exhibitor who owns a 3D theatre to show (an expensive requirement), it is also an example of a fantastic piece of cinema which achieves its fullest potential in the theatrical experience – its 3D segment is masterfully designed and beautifully executed, suspending you within a vivid, augmented dreamscape.  

Some films, like this one, are simply best viewed in cinemas. Just ask the sound designers for Roma. 


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