Five major movie studios have banded together to join a successor to Disney’s Movies Anywhere service, which serves as a digital locker consolidating digital movie purchases across major retailers like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Video, and Vudu. This is a pretty big deal, because the service was Disney only in the past and competed with UltraViolet, a competing platform. This partnership now brings together five of the biggest names in movies, and it’s fairly compelling – I just signed up and was able to consolidate my past purchases from iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Video into one big collection, which I can now view on various devices and even download for offline viewing on a phone. That’s important to me because even though I’ve tended to favor one particular storefront over the last few years, I have at various times acquired movies on other platforms for pricing, availability, or testing purposes, and they’ve been kind of lost on there. This therefore feels like the first time something like this might actually take off in a meaningful way.
Amazon Buys Rights for 40 Movies at SXSW Film Festival (May 10, 2017)
Apple Acquires First Movie at Tribeca Film Festival (Apr 20, 2017)
This didn’t get a ton of attention, but it’s symbolically important. Apple has so far mostly commissioned content rather than acquiring existing content, while existing online streaming companies Netflix and Amazon have been bidding up prices for movies at festivals for several years now. But Apple has now acquired its first festival film, a documentary about the live of Clive Davis, a music executive. As such, even though the format and origin of the content is different, the subject matter of music is very much the same as Apple’s other original content, suggesting that it still sees Apple Music as the home for this stuff. But Apple is also testing out different models for original content, which will stand it in good stead if (when) it eventually decides to launch its own video streaming service.
Netflix is seriously ramping up its original content investment, something it’s been talking about for some time. And recent flops notwithstanding, it’s had some really good content over the past couple of years. Now it’s shifting its focus to commissioning and acquiring more and bigger budget movies, and plans to release around 30 in 2017 including some starring big names like Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and Tilda Swinton. That number is impressive – none of the major traditional studios or distributors had more than 24 movies in market in 2016 and Disney, for example, will have only eight movies on its slate in 2017. Now, Netflix’s productions are generally smaller budget affairs – it’s acquired movies at Sundance and other film festivals, where the average acquisition price has risen from $2 to $5 million over the past few years but it’s also commissioning some bigger budget films, though nothing in the multi-hundred million range just yet. But this is yet another way for Netflix to set itself apart from Amazon, HBO, and other big names in the subscription video business. As of right now, Netflix has 119 originals slated for future release listed on its website, and 28 of those are films, so its main focus is still on series (each of which will obviously provide far greater total viewing time than a single feature), but movies are going to be increasingly important going forward as part of that mix.
Historic Oscar victories for ESPN, Netflix and Amazon – CNN (Feb 27, 2017)
Amazon and Netflix both won their first Oscars this year, though Amazon seems to have got most of the attention because its awards were for features, whereas the sole award Netflix received was for a short documentary. Interestingly, though, as far as I can tell the two Amazon wins were for properties it had nothing to do with until it acquired the distribution rights, whereas Netflix backed its short The White Helmets as one of several production companies behind the film (and was also the main backer of The 13th, Ava DuVernay’s feature-length doc, which lost out in that category). That’s an important difference – Netflix can claim that it was behind a winner from the beginning, whereas Amazon only acquired its two movies when they were finished and showing at festivals to strong positive responses. Still, it’s great validation for both platforms and a further indication that they’re increasingly important powers in the movie and TV worlds.
This effort has been underway for some time, but mostly among smaller players at the periphery, not the big studios. But it now appears that major movie studios are becoming more open to the idea of at-home rentals within weeks of theatrical openings for at least some of their movies. The thinking is apparently that the studios have to give consumers what they want or they’ll find it illegally, though I’m not sure that $50 at-home rentals two and a half weeks after opening is exactly “what consumers want”. Unless you have a large group, that’s going to be significantly more than you’re paying for movie tickets, and you’ll still have to wait 17 days. Of course, theater owners make far higher margins on concessions than they do on showing movies, and that revenue goes away entirely under this scenario, so the studios are having to promise to compensate cinema chains for any lost revenue, which is partly why the cost is so high. Lots of evidence here that, though the industry understands the need for change, it’s still resistant to really giving people what they want, largely because the existing value chain is so entrenched, which is very similar to the dynamic in the closely related TV industry.
Amazon has become the first streaming service to have a movie it owns nominated for best picture at the Oscars. This follows years of Netflix and Amazon content receiving nominations for TV awards, and Netflix has previously earned nominations in other categories. The catch here is that Amazon released Manchester by the Sea in theaters, so it feels much more like a traditional release than most of Netflix’s movies (The Little Prince, a Netflix-owned movie that didn’t debut in theaters, was not nominated in the best animated feature category despite being well received). So although there’s some symbolism here, it’s mitigated a little by the fact that the movie still received a traditional theatrical distribution (and did well there). It is ever clearer, however, that Amazon and Netflix (and potentially others) will continue to grow as a force in movie acquisition – the Sundance Film Festival is underway at the moment and we’re likely to see several more big buys there as the streaming companies beef up their libraries with exclusive content.