MEMO TO: DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/CHIEF NEGOTIATOR, SAG-AFTRA
FROM: STEVE LEBLANG, CONSULTANT
RE: SECOND IMPRESSIONS
Dear Mr. Crabtree-Ireland:
I must begin by offering you my most humble and complete apologies. The first time I saw you speak, you played the supporting role behind your union president Fran Drescher’s stirring extemporaneous call to action last week and, quite honestly, she left a far stronger impression than did you. Yes, I’m biased toward her; after all, not only can she still rock a runway but since she and I both survived waiting in crummy weather for the Q44 bus to whisk us from downtown Flushing to the somewhat less congested section of it we both grew up in (technically, Kew Gardens Hills), I’ve always felt a kindred spirit. And these days, I’m far more sympatico with actors than I am lawyers. If you know what I’ve dealt with in those regards since Sony left me just before the pandemic, you might understand.
And when I briefly heard you throw out the words Parrot Analytics in some of your remarks to reporters, I cringed. Regular readers to these daily musings know darn well how I feel about any company that somehow claims that intention to view content is as meaningful to anyone’s bottom line as actual viewing. No business that relies on actual transactions could count browsers toward their bottom line. You should know that no studio or streamer really does, either. No matter what set of KPIs they may ultimately rely upon to determine what succeeds or fail, rest assured that Parrot data is at best a barometer, and likely due to the fact that some misinformed lackey somehow bought into Wared Seger’s overinflated arrogance to subscribe, just like the “cool kids” in Silicon Valley and around the world have.
But when I heard you in an interview dropped over the weekend on my favorite podcast network The Ringer, when you granted the snarky Matthew Belloni of THE TOWN a few precious minutes of your time, you turned me around. The moment he confronted you, in a manner I can only hope was an attempt to throw you a curveball as I’m sure those you’re negotiating with have tried, you all but allowed that Parrot was a hail mary attempt thrown out to try and force those you’re negotiating with to provide, or at least allow you some degree of transparency toward, some more concrete data to measure what actual value your union’s members’ works are providing, and at least set up a framework for reward based upon the degree of success they may have. For what little this may be worth to you, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland, the fact you caused Belloni, who honestly irks me with the degree of smugness he typically approaches his subjects with in a manner that channels the darker memories of Nikki Finke, to stumble and stutter has given you irrevocable street cred with moi.
So, if you will, allow me to reset and share with you my insights on what relevant data is out there, or soon may be, Yesterday, Nielsen released its monthly Gauge report, which once again trumpeted new records for streaming usage and also provided a few more nuggets for those who follow this to gnaw on, just in advance of many of these companies’ 2Q23 earnings calls, Per PR NEWSWIRE:
According to Nielsen’s June 2023 report of The Gauge™, the media measurement company’s monthly snapshot of total broadcast, cable and streaming consumption that occurs via television, streaming accounted for 37.7% of overall TV usage in the U.S. in June, a record high share total for the digital format. By comparison, cable content viewing made up 30.6% of TV usage and broadcast content viewing made up 20.8%.
Overall TV usage in June was up on a monthly basis for the first time since January (+2.2% vs. May), an uptick that was mainly attributed to the increased availability of younger viewers. Specifically, TV usage among the 2-11 and 12-17 age groups was up 16.3% and 24.1%, respectively, compared with May, with non-traditional TV options (i.e., streaming, video gaming) accounting for 90% of the increases across both groups.
Time spent streaming (via a television) increased 5.8% in June versus May, and viewers from the aforementioned 2-17 age group contributed to over half of that growth. Additionally, with 37.7% of overall TV usage, the streaming category represented the largest share of television to be reported in The Gauge since July 2021 when cable accounted for the same amount. The cable category holds the record for largest share of TV reported in The Gauge, with 40.1% reported in June 2021.
Paramount+ captured 1.0% of overall TV viewing in June and is the 11th streaming service to be independently reported in The Gauge. Viewing to Paramount+ was boosted by its original series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which generated nearly 1 billion viewing minutes. More within the streaming category in June:
- YouTube and Netflix each achieved their largest shares to date, representing 8.2% and 8.8% of TV, respectively.
- The action-drama series S.W.A.T., which streams on Hulu, Netflix and Paramount+, was the most-watched streaming program in June, with nearly 5 billion minutes viewed across the three platforms.
- Tubi TV usage increased 12.1% and brought its share to 1.4% of TV to remain the leading FAST service in The Gauge.
- Disney+ benefited from the growth in younger audiences, as usage jumped 11.9% to account for 2.0% of TV.
- With a 16.5% monthly increase in usage, Max captured 1.4% of TV (+0.2 pts.).
Now we both know Nielsen is only a partial lens–it’s U.S. only, and still only measures connected screens. But Netflix, who will be leading off these calls later today with a focus on their efforts to augment subscriptions and ARPU through password sharing crackdowns, might now be able to tossing out, even secondarily, a reference to their best-ever-in-class showing on The Gauge. And they also will likely reference some of their newly adjusted internally measured global data that will shine some additional light on some of their specific titles. It’s probably not S.W.A.T., at least not yet, as that non-exclusive deal only recently went down. But the fact that point was specifically raised in this report, not to mention the breakthrough news on Paramount+ (vomit emoji) SHOWTIME, points out to me that at least two studios that are also AMPTP members are paying attention. And with third-party data readily available from the likes of Antenna, Comscore and Samba to provide some guidance on subscribers and device-inclusive consumption both domestically and globally that the Nielsen panel can be adjusted against, it’s indeed possible to extrapolate the kind of metrics your membership seems intent on receiving.
And as we also both know, Netflix is providing some of those more inclusive numbers to content creators in territories like France and Luxembourg. I know you’ve got peers and connections there, as we know you are successfully procuring global solidarity from members of other countries’ unions. This data can certainly be added to the Top 10 lists that they provide on their website, and can be used as a model or proxy for further extrapolation.
Is all of this an ideal soluton? Hell no. Would trying to put this all together be a lot of work? Hell ya. But guess what, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland? Every time I seem to reach out to someone in my little niche to check up on how they’re doing, those that do reply inevitably tell me they’re also “open to work”, victims of the seemingly nonstop series of layoffs that these studios and platforms you’re fighting against have already carried out.
Were there a union for insights professionals like me, I’d be carrying its picket sign and wearing its T-shirt (thanks, BTW, for the very comfy one your rank and file provided me the other day). I know a whole lot of other folks, some of which have far more nuanced skill sets in the minituae that I’ve referenced above, who’d probably join me. But there isn’t, and at least in my case, I’m forever dedicated to some of your members who literally saved my life–one in particular who seems to really like what you and Fran are doing, enough so that they’ve been putting your faces all over their social media feeds. So since you have this person’s back, I’ve got yours, if indeed you’re open to it. And I’m fairly certain that while they may not be quite as mushy about their reasons as I, a lot of my peers and what I still believe are friends would be open to helping your quest for concrete data as well.
So pay attention to the details and do what you can to remind reporters you’re in contact with to be sure and ask thse kind of detailed questions as the earnings calls unfold over the next few days. Any time anyone mentions anything close to what was detailed in the Gauge, consider that as a sign they know damn well that data exists that would warrant a more equitable reward system based upon it than what they are offering up, or smugly say they won’t provide you. And if you can find even a few shekels to put some of us more detailed-oriented people to work on helping your arguments get more traction, you might be surprised how much brain power is available.
Frankly, the concerns you have for your membership on the possibility of AI replacement may have already happened to myself and my peers. Especially if studios and platforms believe exclusively in algorithms or, heaven forbid, even some of the drivel Parrot Analytics may be providing. So we have our own existential crisis here.
And I know you’re pretty busy with more pressing matters, The very idea that somehow the timing of construction work and the pruning of shade trees in the vicinity of Universal Studios would coincide with your union and the WGA’s actions, during the hottest week of the year to date, strongly suggests that despite their “who, us?” assertions that some of the lackeys at Comcast are treating you about as well as they treat their customers, at least based upon the kind of satisfaction data J.D. Power provides. Feel free to throw that research log onto your proverbial fire.
So how about it, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland? Would you allow us to help you? Let me and some others be Mulders to your Scully. Or the other way around. Whatever. We’ll help you find the truth. You know the rest. Or just read the headline at the top.
Until next time…