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War of the SVODs World

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Well it’s happening. The SVOD wars have really kicked off.

Apple TV+ debuted in New Zealand on 1 November with 14 original shows. Very much a tortoise approach from Apple, and you don’t have to pay for it for a year if you’ve bought an Apple product recently. Otherwise you’re up for $8.99/month.

Disney+ meanwhile will be off like a hare at the starting gates, launching more than 600 movies and shows from Day 1, being 12 November (19 Nov. in NZ). Expect every household in the country with kids to at least consider adding a subscription at $9.99/month.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock will soft launch in April 2020 with 15,000 hours of programming, while HBO Max comes online in May with more than 10,000 hours of programming.

Netflix is already feeling the heat.

FilmTake reports that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in the U.S. since they started in 2011. It has likely reached saturation in the market, and we can expect to see the massive international growth of Netflix to slow or halt, or worse for them, decline.

We all thought Netflix was shaking the screen industry to its core, and it has. But it was primarily Google and Facebook that was impacting on New Zealand’s Free-to-Air market, taking advertising dollars away from TV screens.

The initial streaming entities in NZ did contribute to a decline in Free-to-Air viewership, but our Free-to-Air market was still holding up with significant numbers of New Zealanders continuing to watch mainstream TV. But is that going to be the case now with Disney+ and Apple+ in the market, together with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Neon, and Lightbox and with others to come?

You have to imagine that Neon and Lightbox are fretting about their continued existence, unless Neon has done a deal to retain HBO content and possibly keep HBO Max out of the NZ market. Spark-owned Lightbox will most likely be the first casualty unless their strategy has sport and other offerings in the wings. Spark has the All Blacks and cricket afterall. Unlike Peacock, who is mooted to pursue sport, news and live programming, Spark doesn’t have the programming and financial resources of NBC and Unversal to draw upon. It’s rumoured though that Lightbox is for sale. You’d need big cojones to step into that space , or cash+ and programming+. Streamers who don’t have studio majors and/or their parents as backers are really at a disadvantage. With Netflix now paying a premium to license shows because they are losing the content owned by their competitors, you can’t imagine our locally-owned streamers having deep enough pockets to play in the big leagues. And how much longer will our broadcasters be able to access the best of international product?

At TVNZ, Kevin Kendrick is focusing on more NZ content to differentiate its Free-to-Air and OnDemand brands and help to avoid the price wars on the international scene for programming. This is an area they are likely to be able to call their own, as we can’t expect the international SVODs to commission much here unless they are forced to as the Australians are seriously contemplating making them do. With reality TV to undoubtedly feature highly in the offering, is TVNZ really going to be able to keep NZ viewers in good numbers?

What about Three? Only the woman upstairs knows what’s going to happen there. The gossip: it’s going to be bought by… someone.

Kris Faafoi’s decision about what to do with the soon-to-be loss-making TVNZ and with public broadcasting becomes even more critical now.

And just as this is all happening, NZ On Air CEO Jane Wrightson resigns to become the new Retirement Commissioner.

Jane has done a fantastic job navigating NZ On Air through the tumultuous changes that have impacted on broadcasting in the 12 years she’s been at the helm. But has she been prescient?

In this now constantly changing screen industry world, we’ll undoubtedly find out if NZ On Air gets retired before Jane runs her course in her new job. We’ll certainly learn whether or not Netflix will survive. If you are a producer on a multi-year pay down schedule for the content you sold them, you are going to be hoping somebody will buy Netflix out rather than it going under. As of 30 September, Netflix reported US$12.43 billion in debt and they are adding to it to keep the originals and higher-priced acquisitions coming. That US$292 Netflix share price is definitely going to take a hit sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, hunker down and get binge watching. There’s going to be more than enough for everyone with one, two or three SVOD subscriptions… for a very long time.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The Future of (NZ) Film

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When Bob Iger of Disney speaks about the future of film, it’s worth listening.

Why?

Because amongst the hundreds of companies that sit under the Disney umbrella are 20th Century Fox, Lucas Film, Marvel, and Pixar. Brands number in the thousands and include through whole or partial ownership indie darling Fox Searchlight, streamer Hulu, and networks ABC, ESPN, FX, National Geographic and A & E.

Of course Disney doesn’t own everything. There are other conglomerates out there, the likes of Amazon, Apple, Comcast, and TimeWarner who are shaping the screen content world we are in now. But Iger demands everyone’s attention.

So this month at Disney’s third quarter earnings announcement when Iger essentially declared that big movies belong in theatres, and everything else will go to its streamers Hulu and the soon-to-launch-globally Disney+, everyone sat up.

Reporting on this, Journalists Dana Harris and Chris Lindahl in Indiewire wrote that “The very, very top films with awards potential will see generous theatrical offers and bidding wars that price out all but the deepest pockets. The highest-quality films with no clear awards play will also see strong offers and bidding wars, but from streamers, and considerably less generous offers from independent theatrical distributors. For everyone else, it looks like a struggle — although they could also benefit from the streamers’ ongoing arms race to acquire the content mass necessary to achieve market dominance.”

So where does that leave us in New Zealand with our 10 or so narrative and documentary features a year? Blissfully unaware some say.

A recent article in The Hollywood Reporter gives some indication that even the top names in film can see the writing on the wall. Directors including Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan amongst others were behind the Ultra High Definition Alliance’s announced introduction of a “Filmmaker Mode” TV setting. Director Ryan Coogler essentially admitted the fate of film by saying, “I care deeply about how cinema is experienced at home because that’s where it lives the longest. That’s where cinema is watched and re-watched and experienced by families. By allowing the artists in the tent to help consult and give feedback to the electronics companies on Filmmaker Mode, we can collectively help make the consumer’s experience even more like it is in the cinema.”

Of course the name directors will still get their films into theatres—witness the Netflix launch of Scorsese’s The Irishman, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, and Amazon’s commitment to theatrical release for the auteur directors it backs. But for the rest of us? We might have to get used to premieres in Filmmaker Mode unless you can get your films into festivals.

Once streamers Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and WarnerMedia are in full swing here, perhaps NZFC might even relax its demand that you have to have NZ theatrical release to get production funding.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The Realities of a SVOD World

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I’ve been watching the debates raging across the Tasman as the Austalian screen industry seeks to ensure the future of Australian content in the face of the realities of SVOD.

Research company Roy Morgan reported in March 2019 that nearly 14 million Australians now have access to some form of Pay TV/Subscription TV, up 11.8% on a year ago.

Netflix with over 11.2 million subscribers had growth on a year ago of 25.2%, with Australian-owned Stan at 2.6 million subscribers seeing a 45.2% increase.

YouTube Premium and Amazon Prime also had significant increases.

Australian broadcasting standards require all commercial free-to-air television licensees to broadcast an annual minimum transmission quota of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6 am and midnight. In addition, there are specific minimum annual sub-quotas for first-run Australian adult drama, documentary and children’s programs.

SVODs in Australia have no Australian content requirement.

Australian commercial broadcasters sought in 2017 to have the quota removed for Australian children’s content. The Australian screen industry united against this, decrying what they said would be the almost complete annihilation of Australian children’s programming.

Then in 2017 the Australian Directors’ Guild; Australian Writers’ Guild;  Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Screen Producers Australia joined together to launch the ‘Make It Australia’ campaign to lobby the Government for support for the sector in the wake of sustained funding cuts and changed viewing habits, which of course includes the rise of SVODs.

They called for no more cuts to SBS, the ABC and Screen Australia; a raising of tax incentives for Australian TV and foreign productions; a cementing of the commercial free-to-air Australian content quota at 55%; and new regulations for Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) providers.

The Australian Government launched in 2017 an Australian and Children’s Content Review.

In March of 2019, the Senate Committee released its Review paper. Among the recommendations was a call to force streaming services such as Netflix and Stan (and Amazon and any others who might enter the space) to spend a minimum 10 per cent of income earned in Australia on original Australian content. They would also be obliged to promote that content to their subscribers. The other recommendations:

  • The current quota system being preserved.
  • Examining other Terms of Trade provisions and implementing them.
  • Introducing a single Producer Offset of 40%.*
  • Ceasing recognising New Zealand content as Australian.**
  • Increasing the Location Offset to 30%
  • Decoupling the Location and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset.
  • Platform Neutral Location and ODV Offsets.

*The Producer Offset, Australia’s version of the NZ Screen Production Grant, sits at 20% for TV.

**This refers to Project Blue Sky, which allowed NZ content to be recognised as Australian content because of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement between the two countries.

What did they Australian Government do in response? It allowed streamers that operate behind a paywall access to the production incentive for content they make in Australia, which of course includes international productions shooting there.

“The Government’s policy announcement is inexplicable and one-dimensional given how many times our local sector has called for urgent intervention”, said Austrlian Directors Guild CEO, Kingston Anderson.

“Our screen incentives need to be updated across the board, not just those that apply to international production. This decision shows a tremendous lack of confidence in the ability of Australians to tell our stories in our own voices.”

You are possibly wondering why at this point I am so wrapped up in what’s going on in Australia? It’s because I feel it’s clearly indicative of what we face and have essentially been ignoring till now. The 10-year screen strategy recently called for by the NZ Government is a chance to address the many problems the onslaught of foreign content and SVODs are having on the NZ screen industry. We only have to look across the Tassie for some insights and thoughts on how to address the issues.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Exeuctive Director