Perhaps It’s Time To Think Like A Monk, Not An Executive

This has been a seminal summer for the world of streaming content.  The platforms that have enabled the “peak TV” world have been under intense pressure, mostly by Wall Street, to do better, and the reality is that the best they have been able to do is to cut costs and bodies and, where possible, find more and different ways to monetize their libraries.  And while many have achieved some measure of success, few have produced many examples of what by traditional metrics would be considered breakthrough successes.  And yet, this would be the lead story on DEADLINE if you were to open up their site this morning, as penned by Mike Fleming, Jr. and Justin Kroll:

In a whopping deal, Amazon and Netflix are battling ferociously for Crime 101, a package based on a novella by Don Winslow that has Chris Hemsworth and Pedro Pascal attached to star. American Animals helmer Bart Layton is attached to direct. It came down to Amazon and Netflix, sources said. Amazon appears to have the edge.

No deals are in place and according to sources both actors have shown interest in the project prior to the strike. This technically at this point is a rights deal with a UK-based producer, which passes the sniff test.

You read that right.  The same folks that greenlit CITADEL  (Amazon) and more than 1900 original series in the last decade (Netflix) are literally falling all over themselves for one project, described somewhat parochially by Fleming and Kroll as a great crime story in the vein of Heat. High level jewel thieves are taking place up and down the Pacific Coast and police have linked the thefts to the Colombian cartels. Detective Lou Lubesnick has other ideas, and he zeroes in on one perp, a thief looking for a final score.  Per the screaming headline, the deal may ultimately rise to over $100 million.

These are among the few “winners” in the reality check that has been central to the issues surrounding the strikes against the AMPTP, of which these companies are purpotedly the most maverick and resolute about digging in against sharing their wealth.  They may have the resources to compete in such a crossing-swords duel.  But their track records, particularly of late, would make an objective investor or observer give pause to justifying it.

And per an insightful podcast discussion which the always engaging Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald conducted on Spotify’s THE WATCH yesterday, one of the most chilling details that emerged from some of what they learned about last week’s futile “negotiations” centered around the degree of transparency which the AMPTP was willing to offer the WGA, even as they trumpeted how dedicated they were to releasing more publicly.  According to these two sons of Philadelphia, the AMPTP offer was to have “three representatives from the WGA have access to detailed data involving the number of actual hours of viewing, in a dark room, with signed NDAs”.  Because while these platforms have been eager to share at least some details on their successes (witness Netflix’s Top 10 lists and Amazon’s collaboration with Nielsen and the MRC to give additional texture and context to the ratings of Thursday Night Football), they are petrified to divulge exactly how unsuccessful the majority of those thousands of titles have been.  Maybe it’s not “seven people”, as Greenwald snarked, but it’s probably less than the number of people who have seen this recent 55-second work.

And, as Hilary Lewis of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER described, not only has this seen by millions across several social media platforms, it is now acclaimed as well:

MrBeast was the big winner at the 2023 Streamy Awards on Sunday night.

MrBeast (real name Jimmy Donaldson) won two awards out of the five he was nominated for: creator of the year and collaboration for his rock, paper, scissors video with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Surprised he didn’t pick rock every time.”

LIke me, you might have missed the Streamys, after all, no traditional network or even mainstream streaming service aired them live.  But as they were produced by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s sister company Dick Clark Productions, another jewel in Penske Media’s portfolio which also includes DEADLINE, when you open up the sites that produced the first two stories we’ve referenced, you can easily click on the entire show, all 132 minutes and 20 seconds of perhaps the only creative awards we will see handed out for quite a while.

Among the other big winners Sunday night was Jay Shetty, whose ON PURPOSE podcast, per Wikipedia, was downloaded 64 million times when it debuted in 2019 and led to the publishing of his best-selling book THINK LIKE A MONK, where he tells of his history living in an ashram.  In 2022 he became the “chief purpose officer” for CALM, and if you’ve ever doom-scrolled during the COVID-influenced holidays of late you too couldn’t avoid the countless sponsored ads for its services.

Even devoid of detailed third party data, I’m fairly sure more people have interfaced with this than, say, CITADEL.

And bear in mind that, again per the limitations of Nielsen’s current public methodology, the streaming service with the greatest share of audience is YouTube TV, which made a calculated decision to eschew scripted TV despite the critical success of COBRA KAI, a show which Sony produces that I have seen detailed data on that contrasts with the metrics that YouTube videos offer publicly.  The series’ debut, which was not hidden behind a paywall, reached over 30 million views in YT parlance, but less than 1 million viewERS as Nielsen defines them.  Debate if you will the apples and oranges of those specifics (and Lord knows we have), but it’s not hard to see why YT decided to cast aside talents like Susanne Daniels and her team in favor of ways to perpetuate talents like Sunday night’s other big winners, such as “streamer of the year” Kai Cenat and Michelle Khare, the mastermind of “show of the year” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Lest you think this is all about vanity plays, witness these numbers which Statista revealed for top content creators in 2021.  Yes, they’re doing pretty well.  Perhaps even better than how Hemsworth, Pascal and Layton might make out.

Very, very quietly this past weekend, one of Netflix’s most successful series in its history, GRACE AND FRANKIE, made its debut on E!, running its 94 episodes in marathons analogous to how they’ve utliized off-HBO reruns of SEX AND THE CITY, a show that, like several other pay TV hits of the 1990s, failed to generate significantly large Nielsen ratings in traditional ratings parlance.  If you feel that you missed that press release trumpeting how lucrative a deal it may have been, don’t feel bad–I did a rather deep dive search as this was being written, I couldn’t find one, either.  And knowing how cost-conscious Comcast is these days for anything besides Peacock originals and football rights, I’m fairly certain even if Netflx had a piece of producer Skydance TV’s revenue, it wouldn’t be enough to pay for something like CRIME 101.

As Greenwald and Ryan concluded, a large part of what is driving the inability for a mutually satisfactory settlement to the double strikes any time soon is the absolute paranoia that any data transparency may sour Wall Street so much on the house of cards (pun intended) that streaming TV has built that it will bring down the value of all of these companies to the point where they will have little choice but to give up the business of producing anything but mainstream, populist scripted content.  As champions for those that are the fertile minds behind it, they were noticeably upset, but yet couldn’t find a compelling argument to suggest that in the existing ecosystem such a reboot wouldn’t be justified.

Perhaps everyone could use some time at an ashram, or at least a few sessions on the CALM app, to consider next steps?

Until next time…

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