Yes, Hollywood IS Broken. You Should At Least Know Why That Is.

A well-meaning friend tagged me on social media to call my attention to a Tik Tok video which has become a viral sensation of late, and not a moment too soon considering the possible fate of the platform in the U.S.

Entitled HOLLYWOOD IS BROKEN, authored by user ProducerPatrick, it’s garnered more than 10,000 comments and nearly 40,000 likes in a matter of days, and while I personally don’t know the creatives  who one by one take a few seconds to explain how dire their circumstances currently are, I know there’s a maximum of two degrees of separation between them and I.  Hollywood is a small town by empirical standards, and I’ve been around long enough to know more than a few of its back alleys.  It’s poignant and indeed, I feel badly for those who are brave enough to show their faces to the world.  I felt especially bad for the ones that augmented their pleas with visual aid, like the man who showed the room in the house he’s apparently about to lose in a state of shambles, or the single mom of three who showed their wiggling toes right under her overwhelmed face.  Were I in a position to do so, I’d hire either one of them in a heartbeat.

But I’m not, of course; indeed, not that ProducerPatrick would have thought to include those dependent upon creatives in his piece, I’m in the same leaking boat, as are an uncomfortable number of my onetime peers and colleagues.  Yes, we do need to support each other, and to the extent I can I do my best to do so.  I actually did leave one of those comments for ProducerPatrick, albeit in the form of a heart and prayer emoji.  It’s TikTok, after all, over there that practically counts as an essay.

But I am a student and champion of data first and foremost, and I couldn’t help but pay close attention to a VARIETY VIP+ commentary authored by Tyler Acqulina that dropped earlier this week that’s a corollary to a deeper dive that puts into context exactly why Hollywood broke, and perhaps points some fingers at some of those who unwittingly became victims, or at least complicit in that destruction.  It takes advantage of a relatively new measurement platform called Luminate, which VARIETY provides regular windows into, and unlike a good deal of its many competitors it offers regular third-party, common-sample lenses into streaming viewership in a far truer, platform-agnostic manner than, say, Nielsen.  And  Acqulina provides clear, concise graphics and pointed observations that identifies exactly who were the geese that laid the golden eggs, and why we likely got a cholesterol overdose in the process.

What limited data was available on streaming viewership has long suggested the majority of original series on SVOD platforms go largely unwatched. But a new window into that viewership confirms just how vast the gap is between the top hit series and the rest of the field. 

As series output soared to historic heights in 2022, with nearly 1,000 original titles released on the major SVOD platforms — as discussed in the VIP+ special report “The Death of Peak TV” — viewership on most services was concentrated among fewer than two dozen shows.

Data from Luminate’s new streaming viewership product shows the top 20 most-watched TV seasons accounted for the vast majority of original series viewership on almost all of the major U.S.-based SVOD platforms in 2022.  Indeed, among these services, only Netflix had TV seasons beyond the top 20 collectively approach half of original shows’ viewing time in the U.S.

The drop-off between the top performing shows and the remainder is, if anything, even more striking. On Disney+, which released 50 original series in 2022 (not counting kids content), the 10 most watched seasons captured nearly 80% of original series viewing time; the next 10, just over 16%.

Seasons outside the top 20, meanwhile, accounted for only about 5% of viewing time, the second-lowest proportion among the major SVODs after NBCUniversal’s Peacock, where they accounted for 3%.

This is yet another indication that media companies grossly overspent on original content during the peak TV era. The sheer volume of series produced to lure subscribers increasingly looks, in hindsight, like a poorly considered strategy undertaken merely in an attempt to emulate Netflix — which only produced so many shows because it had to build its own proprietary library from scratch.

Harsh words?  Perhaps.  But no less tough love than what has been offered to me and my peers, and I suspect many of those in ProducerPatrick’s video, by those who still have the capacity to be objective, or, in my case, have long since gone through several stages of grief to at least return to a point where I can digest this without dry heaving.

And Acquilina then went on to remind that all that striking and fighting so many creatives undertook last year to try and course-correct may have contributed to the cementing of the conclusion that in trying to be Netflix, the industry at large shot themselves in far less adorable feet than our single mothers’ babies:

Comparing viewership against 2023, the year TV output finally dropped, only underscores this point. Every platform saw a significant uptick in the proportion of viewership going to seasons outside the top 20, indicating that, with fewer new titles to watch, consumers split their viewing time more evenly between series, including previously released original seasons.

This data also indicates that most streaming originals do not have the rewatch value offered by many older series. Whereas beloved library shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” reliably chart among the most-watched titles on streaming week after week, year after year, new originals are hard-pressed to keep viewers coming back.

Looking …at Disney+, only two of the top 10 original seasons in 2022 reappeared among the top 10 the next year: “The Mandalorian” Season 2 and limited series “Andor,” both “Star Wars” properties.

So we made far too many shows that most people didn’t have the bandwidth to watch and even when circumstances changed to allow them the chance to do so, they made other choice.

Now, honestly, creatives, if it were your call and your job on the line, given numbers like this, what would you have done?

Our friend Evan Shapiro weighed in with his own version of tough love on ProducerPatrick:

Unfortunately, the answer is not looking for jobs like the ones we’ve had, but rather looking for ways to take our existing talents and apply them somewhere else.
The contraction is not going to reverse, because the expansion didn’t make sense in the first place.

But he at least offers the olive branch of some alternatives which creatives can perhaps take some direction from.  In his weekly newsletter that dropped this morning, Shapiro details the rise of the Creator Economy, and drops some impressive charts and some specific examples of his own to underscore it.  And he offers this sage advice for those who by association to ProducerPatrick have become part of it:

(Y)ou must stop thinking about Creators as Influencers. Podcasts are Creator Economy platforms. This newsletter you are reading, and every other non-conglomerate-owned newsletter you get in your inbox (Puck, The Ankler, Bari Weiss, The Information), are all creator-led enterprises. Taylor friggin’ Swift and her self-produced, self-distributed Eras Tour Movie, with more than $250 million in theatrical box office, is the poster Woman for The Creator Economy.

The truth is that Swift, Witherspoon, Paul and Mattel, are the exceptions. They are the top 1% of creators who get rich. But the reality is that a tremendous amount of creators are making middle class livings, working very hard, in The Creator Economy. The secret is, creator-led enterprises do NOT need to be massive enterprises, with tens of millions of followers to make money.

The list above includes one of the most popular Patreon publishers, The Yard, as well as numerous other Patreon creators with far fewer feed subscribers. The Last Podcast On The Left is not a Top 100 podcast. They have fewer than 14,000 Patreon members. Their Patreon will generate more than a $1 million this year. That’s on top of whatever revenue they generate from podcast ads, merch sales (which they do a lot of), and touring revenue. Snake Discovery is a YouTube series about reptiles. It’s also a pet shop in Minneapolis. They have 3 million subs on YouTube. They have 3,500 Patreon members. This year, they will generate more than a quarter of a million dollars from Patreon memberships, on top of their merch (which they sell a lot of) and various other sources of income.

We are at the precipice of an explosion of consumption and spending in what I call the Community Economy – a segment of Media focused NOT on pure reach, but rather built entirely around monetizing the passions of specific audiences.

Sure sounds like exactly what did NOT work for Prime Video, Apple TV+, Paramount+, MAX, Peacock, Hulu and Disney+, and, for that matter, about half of Netflix.

Shapiro concludes with this ray of hope we can all take some solace from:

(W)ithin this segment, creators will still need to produce GOOD content. Channels will still need to market to their audiences. Brands will need to learn how to go direct to consumers, without relying on mass reach platforms. Deals will still need to be made. Projects will still need to be managed. There are good jobs to be found. But like the creators who drive this fast-growing sector, the winners will need a lot of hustle, tons of determination, and the willingness to wake up stupid and re-learn everything from the ground up.

Well, I’m on board.  I sure hope those words resonate with at least some of the HOLLYWOOD IS BROKEN lamenters.  I’d like to believe this blog is my way of showing what I can still do.  And full disclosure, I was considered for the open position at VIP+ that ultimately went internally to Acqulina.  It’s one of the 1,284 (and counting) positions I’ve applied for that are even tangentially industry-related that somehow went in another direction.  But if for no other reason than sheer exhaustion, I’m choosing to take a proactive path, which, yes, have included some gig supplements that I too once thought were beneath me.

So let’s indeed support each other and try to fix what’s broken and can be repaired.  It’s not necessarily Hollywood.  It’s us.

Until next time…

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