Topic: Original content
Right after both Business Insider and Mashable posted sourced stories about it launching tomorrow, Facebook appears to have decided to take the wraps off its new video tab today instead. That this was coming was widely reported, and now we just know a few more details – the new tab in Facebook is called Watch, and will showcase lots of different kinds of videos, although the focus appears to be on personality-driven stuff of the sort that dominates the more popular YouTube channels. In general, the model here feels very YouTube-like, with a subscription model, though Facebook’s apps for TV platforms in recent months have signaled the broad structure and interface, with a combination of videos recommended or liked by friends, things you’ve saved, things that are popular on the platform, and so on. What I don’t see much of in Facebook’s announcement today is the longer form, more produced stuff that’s supposed to be coming too, probably because it’s not ready yet. There will be some other content in there too including the live MLB coverage Facebook acquired rights to a while back starting next season, but in general this is a hub for all kinds of video on Facebook, from professionally produced stuff to the stuff your friends share. Simply calling out video into its own tab, though, is going to raise its profile and thereby push people to spend more time in videos, where they’ll see ads only every few minutes, as opposed to scrolling through the News Feed, where they’ll see ads every few seconds. I’m more and more convinced that’s a risky move for Facebook, because all the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen so far suggests people are really put off by interruptive ads in Facebook videos (I certainly am too), and this whole effort could end up backfiring. That’s something I’m hoping to write about soon. Update: Variety has a listing of additional shows from professional producers which wasn’t in Facebook’s blog post.
Netflix is (somewhat remarkably) making its first ever acquisition, buying comic book company Millarworld, which was started by Mark Millar and some former colleagues who had all written comic books for DC and Marvel and wanted a bigger stake in their creations, nearly 15 years ago. The terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, so it’s far from clear what the immediate financial impact on Netflix will be, either in terms of the acquisition price or the revenue or profits from adding this first bit of diversification to the business. The whole announcement from Netflix reads like a subtle dig at Marvel, which is interesting given the close relationship the two companies currently enjoy. Millar is described as a “modern-day Stan Lee”, when of course Stan Lee himself is still alive and actively involved in the community if not actively creating new content, while the release also says that Millar was behind a number of the characters whose stories have been turned into movies by Marvel Studios over the last few years. Clearly, the claim here – somewhat farfetched – is that Millarworld is the new Marvel. Several of its characters and stories have already been turned into movies in recent years, and with some success, so it’s not a totally absurd claim. But overall few of them have the mass-market name recognition of Marvel or DC’s characters, and some quick feedback from people on Twitter who are more into this world than I am suggest that as a competitor it’s a pretty distant third behind the big two. This is clearly an attempt to secure more original content for Netflix, but also something of a hedge against the time that Netflix’s deal with Disney and therefore Marvel goes away, though on the latter point the acquisition also likely raises the risk that deal does go away, so perhaps Netflix has already had signals (or has simply decided independently) that it won’t renew. But it doesn’t sound like it’s going to provide anything like the same quality or quantity of content for Netflix that the Marvel deal does.
via Netflix (PDF)
This may help explain why Netflix laid out its content economics in even more detail than usual in last week’s earnings material: it’s apparently taking out a further $500 million line of credit, with an option to extend that by an additional $250 million. The driver is clearly its rapidly growing investment in original content, which has to be paid for up front, in contrast to the existing content it licenses, which is paid for as it’s made available on the site. All of that means that shifting to original content pushes cash burn much earlier in the process and thereby dramatically increases Netflix’s negative free cash flow, something I explained in some detail in this Variety piece last month. As I’ve said before, there’s no real reason why this should be a concern for investors, as long as Netflix is able to keep up its rapid pace of revenue growth, which is currently more than enough to fund its content investments and justify its increased borrowing. But the company’s debt load continues to rise fairly rapidly and at some point it will need to ease off and see that free cash flow picture change to something more positive.
Facebook Readying First TV Pilots for August (Jul 26, 2017)
Apple Launches Siri Ad Campaign Featuring Dwayne Johnson (Jul 24, 2017)
Yesterday, actor Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock) tweeted a tongue-in-cheek teaser for an ad campaign with Apple centered on Siri, with a three-minute ad posted to YouTube later. The ad campaign is only one of the things to talk about here, though, because the reaction to the teaser is worth discussing too. The campaign itself comes at an interesting time for Siri, given the massive media attention paid recently to the much smaller but arguably hotter home voice speaker market and the dominant assistant in that space, Amazon’s Alexa. Note that the Siri campaign is all about Johnson going around getting stuff done, and that of course is the major weakness of Alexa today: it’s basically useless away from home. There’s no direct jab here from Apple, but it’s clearly one of the underlying messages that Siri is with you throughout your day no matter where you are (albeit not, as the ad suggests, in space). But the other thing worth noting is how many people reacted to the teaser by taking it literally, or in other words believing that Apple was actually making a full-on movie featuring Siri and Johnson. That’s so absurd as to be laughable, but I’m pretty sure it’s the context of Apple’s recent push into original content and the negative response in much of the media to its Planet of the Apps show that makes it suddenly seem plausible. Once Apple starts spending serious money on content, and demonstrates that it’s willing to make shows featuring its own products and services prominently, almost anything seems possible. At this point, releasing Planet of the Apps first feels like it was a big mistake in launching Apple’s original content strategy – it’s set the tone for what’s to come, and though future offerings will hopefully be more compelling to a wider range of Apple customers, the reaction to this Siri campaign is a great encapsulation of the expectations Apple has now set. It’s got work to do.
Netflix today kicked off the Q2 earnings season with the first official earnings from a company that I cover, and reported stronger than expected subscriber growth off the back of a House of Cards season launch that was pushed back from Q1. Netflix was way off on its sub growth forecast, and though it surprised on the upside this time around that hasn’t always been the case in several recent guidance misses. Even though Netflix didn’t mention it this quarter, the delayed HoC launch screwed around with lots of year on year comparisons both this quarter and last, since Q1 is usually by far its strongest quarter for subscriber adds and Q2 is usually the low point of the year. Taking a step back, though, Netflix continues on its recent tear, with international growth the major driver, and profits domestically continuing to grow nicely off the back of last year’s price increases. Importantly, Netflix is now projecting that the international business will be profitable on a contribution basis for 2017 as a whole, which will be another major milestone after total non-US subs surpassed US streaming subs for the first time in Q2. The cash flow drain continues to be rapid, with an average of over half a billion dollars per quarter in negative free cash flow over the past year, and over $2 billion in cash content costs in Q2, and $8 billion over the past year, relative to the $6 billion Netflix protected for 2017 on a P&L basis (see this Variety piece I wrote last month for why cash and P&L spending are so different). For now, the subscriber and associated revenue growth are keeping Netflix out ahead of its content spending, but Netflix absolutely has to continue to grow at close to the current rate if it’s to continue to finance massive original content costs and grow profits at the same time.
This is a good time to remind you about the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service I also offer, which provides slide decks and videos on roughly a dozen major tech companies including Netflix each quarter during earnings season. Tech Narratives subscribers get a 50% discount, so let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you a coupon code. The Q2 Netflix deck is available now, and will be updated in a few days when the 10-Q is out with more data. You’ll find some of the charts in this Twitter thread from earlier.
Facebook Has Two More Original Video Series in the Works (Jul 3, 2017)
The key part of this article many seem to have picked up on is the sheer amount of money Facebook is willing to spend on securing original video content – up to $3 million an episode, which is comparable to big-budget cable TV shows. And that’s certainly interesting, though it’s not yet clear just how much content Facebook is willing to commission at that cost level. However, in some ways more interesting is the nature of the content Facebook wants to commission: “Facebook has told people it wants to steer clear of shows about children and young teens as well as political dramas, news and shows with nudity and rough language.” In other words, this isn’t going to be the kind of content the other big original content spenders have focused on, which I’ve pointed out has tended to be mostly rated TV-MA. That’s a reflection of a tricky issue Facebook is going to have to deal with, which is that since it’s not explicitly a video platform, people’s expectations of what they find there are going to be different from, say, Netflix or Amazon. Given the recent controversy over Facebook’s role in elections, politics and news are obviously out to avoid any sense of editorializing, but given Facebook’s existing restrictions on content shared on the site (including nudity), it’s got to steer clear of some other forms of content too. And of course with children under 13 technically not allowed to use Facebook, targeting children doesn’t make much sense either. You might say – as a couple of people did to me this morning on Twitter when I tweeted about this – that that doesn’t leave much else for Facebook to show. But of course US broadcast TV has limits on nudity and swearing, and many of the dramas on network TV would comply with these restrictions and do just fine. And this could actually help set Facebook apart as the original video content hub which prioritizes cleaner stuff.
Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.
Mid-Tier TV Networks Dial Back Spending on Original Content (May 25, 2017)
Facebook is Pushing Back Launch of Original Video Content (May 22, 2017)
Amazon Buys Rights for 40 Movies at SXSW Film Festival (May 10, 2017)
Facebook Hiring For Original Video Content Roles (May 4, 2017)
Facebook has a job opening on its site for a “Film Producer”, and the description for the role talks about “motion picture content” in a way that makes it sounds like this person is being hired to make movies. On the face of it, that’s an odd thing to do: movies aren’t made by in-house producers, they’re made on an ad hoc basis using the filmmakers (directors, producers, cinematographers, writers etc.) who make sense for a particular project, so if you’re looking to make original content you hire people good at commissioning it, not the people who actually make it. However, the detail of the posting makes it seem as though what this person will be responsible for creating probably isn’t movies for consumption by Facebook’s audience. I think Facebook means video where it says either film or motion picture, especially as it talks about “shareable content”, and a 90-minute movie is not overly shareable. I actually wonder whether this person will be creating content for internal use or to promote Facebook to its audience rather than to be enjoyed by the audience as entertainment. But Facebook’s earnings call this week reinforced the idea that Facebook is getting more serious about creating and seeding video content on the site to boost its video ad revenues, which are very dependent on longer-form video.