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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

Have Your Say on the DEGNZ’s Screen Sector Strategy Submission

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DEGNZ

DEGNZ will be providing a written submission to the Screen Sector Strategy NZ 2020 – 2030. We want to hear your thoughts!

DEGNZ has formulated 15 questions to help stimulate your thinking about the future of the New Zealand screen industry. You can answer as many or as few questions as you want. All responses that we receive by Monday 14 October will go into shaping the Guild’s submission.

Download Questionnaire

Please email your answers to us at admin@degnz.co.nz with ‘Questionnaire’ in the subject line.

The Screen Sector Strategy NZ has been engaging with the industry by holding hui around the country. A second Auckland hui has been announced. If you couldn’t make it to the first, here’s your chance to participate.

Monday 21 October, 12:30 – 3:30pm   Hatchbox @ GridAKL, Lvl 4, 12 Madden St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

It is a critical time for the New Zealand screen industry and we want to encourage everyone to have a say, so please make the most of the opportunity.

Ngā mihi,

Directors & Editors Guild of NZ

Screenlink: Screen Content for the Global Market

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On July 15, DEGNZ, SPADA and WIFT warmly invites members to join us for a conversation on developing, producing and selling content that will have international appeal. Come and hear insights from a panel who have each achieved success in the international market.

Hear from Mark McNeill of Razor Films, executive producer of Dark Tourist, New Zealand’s only Netflix Original series to date; Paula Boock of Lippy Pictures, coming off the success of German-NZ co-production The Gulf with global distribution by Banijay Rights; and Steven Zanoski of Filthy Productions, which produced Bad Mothers for Australia and sold the format of Filthy Rich to Fox Network starring Kim Cattrall. They join moderator producer/writer Christina Milligan. 

WHEN: Mon 15 July, 6PM. Talk kicks off at 6:30PM.
WHERE: Horse & Trap – The Loft, 3 Enfield St, Mount Eden, Auckland

Cash bar
with nibbles provided after

This event is part of the Screenlink series by the Directors & Editors Guild of NZ, and hosted with the Screen Production and Development Association of NZ and Women in Film and Television NZ.

Registration

DEGNZ / SPADA / WIFT members – Free
Non-members – $5 koha (door entry, cash only)
Sorry, we are currently at full capacity. Email tema@degnz.co.nz to be added to the waitlist.

Cannes: Is it All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

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Every year, tens of thousands of film industry people gather in Cannes for the world’s pre-eminent display of film industry gauche and sublime—the Cannes International Film Festival.

Or at least that’s what used to happen.

According to one local property manager, apartment rentals are down 30 – 50% for 2019’s festival, and it’s becoming a trend.

Esteemed trade publication The Hollywood Reporter headlined the affliction of both the festival and the film industry in general when it titled an article on Cannes: ‘It’s Time to Roll Out the Red Carpet, But Does Anyone Care?’

Jury President Alejandro González Iñárritu essentially pointed the finger at the culprit—Netflix—pushing the festival line that you can watch movies on phones, iPads or laptops, but that’s not the theatrical experience that film is created for. And with Netflix not eligible for Cannes film selections, it highlights the widening gap between the old world of theatrical, particularly in France, and the new of streaming.

So, is Cannes surviving the onslaught of SVODs?

The general consensus is that the film industry has contracted. The mega mergers that have taken place attest to this with the number of major studios reduced to five when Disney gobbled up Fox.

The mini majors are reeling from bankruptcies, flops and lack of franchises. And the indie film world (non-studio) is struggling unless they have cast.

Cannes is quiet this year. The stars aren’t turning out and there are fewer big budget films. And supposedly the parties don’t go to 4AM anymore.

One highly experienced French producer said the independent film business is either going to get better or worse, which shows the lack of uncertainty still pervading the industry and obvious at Cannes. His hope for theatrical lies in filmmakers tiring of their films going into the black hole of SVOD digital archives, without the attending fanfare of marketing and promotion given to films headed for theatres where they are experienced as they are meant to be.

Sales agents are becoming production companies and financiers to survive in the same way that distributors have reacted to the changing conditions.

And it’s a common topic to talk about films going straight to SVOD, because it’s so difficult to get a theatrical release. In the old days, straight to DVD usually meant it was a bad film. Not the case now with its modern equivalent.

Netflix and Disney are supposedly not showing here this year, but there are definitely people from both companies on the ground. As undoubtedly are other players like Amazon and Apple.

China has a stronger presence than ever before, tempered by a shift in political climate back home, burnt fingers from past bad decisions, and a more discerning Chinese screen industry and domestic audiences. It’s not quite the saviour it’s been seen as in past years.

Cannes has been slammed for the lack of female directing talent walking the red carpet and screening their films here. The stats for 2019 aren’t great but they are up over previous years, with 26 per cent of features submitted from women, and four of the nineteen in official competition helmed by female directors. Festival head Thierry Fremaux has been touting the mostly gender balanced selection and jury panels, and the introduction of a creche for film festival attendees with kids has been a definite hit.

Cannes is changing, but it resembles an ocean-going liner trying to make a turn—it has to cover a lot of distance before it can come about.

Will it maintain its preeminent position as the biggest film festival and market in the world? Probably. But what does that really mean now with SVODs here to stay and audiences increasingly glued to their small screens. We shall see.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Where’s the Data?

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Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran last year shared her vision for RNZ+ as a non-commercial, audio-visual and multi-platform entity, with its services expanded to include a free-to-air non-commercial television service … progressively developed from Radio New Zealand. She likened this enhanced RNZ to the BBC or ABC.

Across the ditch last week the Chairman of the ABC Justin Milne unveiled the organisation’s vision for the future at a public meeting in Sydney.

“We’ll improve our content partnerships so that we can produce more and better Australian content,” he said. “We plan to constantly increase our investment in Australian production to help ensure both a healthy Australian screen industry and to provide more and new stories for Australian audiences.

“We’ll improve our commercial operations so that our content can be seen by more people all over the world and extra funds generated can be ploughed back into more Australian content.

“In tomorrow’s media environment we can expect ongoing intensity from a number of huge international players. Australia has always been at risk of being culturally swamped by overseas media and I believe that risk has never been greater, so ensuring that the trusted and much loved voice of the ABC can continue to be heard has never been more important.”

Milne described their plan of Investing in Audiences as a series of projects which will make the ABC better for audiences and better for staff, creating an initiative he called ABC 2.0.

“ABC 2.0 will use technology to transform the way we serve content to our audiences and it will change how our people operate, attracting the brightest creative and technical talent and making the ABC an even better place to work,” he said.

As an integrated platform provider with TV, radio and digital offerings and a far larger budget, the ABC is at a significant advantage over RNZ. The $30 million that RNZ will get to transform into RNZ+ is not going to go far. Yet, RNZ is faced here with exactly the same challenges that the ABC faces: increased competition from international players and the pervasiveness of cultural colonialism from offshore.

Thankfully, Radio New Zealand is the voice of our country, long abrogated by TVNZ with its commercial imperative. And it’s proving it. In the year to 18 November 2017, among all radio stations in New Zealand, RNZ National’s station share of 11.3% makes it Number 1 nationwide (among people 10+).  Its audience of 586,700 listeners makes it the Number 2 station for cumulative audience size nationwide behind The Edge It’s this statistical data from GfK Radio Audience Measurements that tells RNZ how well it’s doing.

It’s the data and the knowledge that you can glean from it that is the Fort Knox in the new media realm.

Netflix makes its US$10 billion dollar and growing content budget decisions based on the detailed data they take from their subscribers, which provides a wealth of information well beyond surveys. And they don’t reveal to anyone else what that data tells them, not even the programme makers whose content they screen. That’s how valuable it is.

So where’s the data on New Zealanders’ viewing habits? Well firstly, its in the Nielsen ratings, which no matter how many times you are told is statistically valid, you still doubt the insights that the PeopleMeter panel of 600 households provide.

More relevant now though is the detailed data that the NZ online platforms are amassing: TVNZ OnDemand, ThreeNow, Prime Catch Up, the SVODs Neon, Lightbox, Quickflix, Amazon Prime, Netflix of course and others such as Fairfax Media, Stuff and Vice.

This detailed screen data is what RNZ+ needs to plot its course into the future and help ensure a healthy New Zealand screen industry. But it doesn’t really have it now. Here’s hoping somebody there comes up with a bright idea for them to get it, rather than leave it all with TVNZ and private players.

Data is the new power and having your own platform to mine it is the new game if you have the money and can get the audience. RNZ+ offers that opportunity, and NZ On Air and NZFC would do well to take heed of that. I think it would be a safe bet to say that the ABC has already got this in hand and I can’t imagine it’s gone unnoticed at Screen Australia.

You can read ABC Chairman Justin Milne’s full speech here.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director