cinema, streaming

It’s T-Day in Movie Theatres; can Christopher Nolan’s Tenet save Cinema as we’ve known it?

All eyes are on Christopher Nolan’s latest time- and mind-bender, which is released internationally today after a delay due to the ronacoaster. Can it turn around movie theatre’s annus horribilis and save the cinema business from a historical pivot towards home streaming?

Today could turn out to be a crucial day in the history of cinema. Or more specifically, the cinematic release. Of the many shifts that COVID has accelerated, those associated with our consumption of content across screens have been some of the most obvious and pronounced.

Perhaps most notably, streaming has surged. At the start of the pandemic, Netflix reported a record additional 15.77 million paid subscribers globally in the first quarter (that was double the number it expected). The second quarter saw the streaming platform add a further 10.1 million (2.9 million in the U.S. and 7.2 million overseas).

Netflix aren’t alone. At the start of this month, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that there were now 60.5 million global subscribers to Disney+, the House of Mouse’s streaming service which launched last November. Disney+ is now into 60-90 million range it told investors it would get to by 2024.

That puts Disney+ a whopping FOUR YEARS ahead of schedule, and will almost certainly have put to bed any debate about the short-term revenue risk Disney took by pulling their content (and revenues) from other platforms in order to bring the Skywalker, Stark and Oldenburg families under one streaming roof.

That said, the gains in the streaming area of the Disney empire weren’t nearly enough to offset the hits in other parts of the business – most notably in the shuttering of COVID-hit Parks and Resort, which (along with theatrical cinema closures) saw a USD $4.7bn loss in the quarter to the end of June (Disney’s first in two decades). But strength through diversity of revenues (especially in the recurring bundle space) will surely win out.

If the Disney+ news wasn’t enough of a headline, the same announcement also included the showstopper that the long-awaited live action Mulan movie would be available on Disney+ from September 24th, for USD $29.99.

Cinema chains, which have long enjoyed a 70- to 90-day exclusive “theatrical window”, recoiled at the announcement. Theatres were banking on Mulan to be one of the billion dollar-plus big hitters to land in the second half and help claw back what has been an agonisingly bad year for cinema revenues.

In the US, as of yesterday, the year to date box office gross stood at $1,813,328,945. For context, the 2019 haul totaled $11,320,889,639. That tracks as 84% down year on year so far. The likes of Mulan were desperately needed by theatres to mitigate what will be an all-time historically bad year for cinemas.

But the real danger isn’t the historical revenue hit that will be 2020, but rather the potential underlying tectonic shifts indicated by Mulan’s move to streaming. In short, will 2020 be a blip in cinema history, or a pivot?

From a consumer perspective, it will be fascinating to see how Disney’s experiment plays out next month. Will Mulan’s USD $29.99 price tag prove too rich for most, or will there be enough take-up and revenues to enable a sea-change in day-and-date content releases to streaming services?

Additionally, how will consumers perceive the relative value of a one-off payment to watch a new release at home, versus the recurring revenue bundle model that underpins the streaming platforms?

The implications go beyond the cinema industry and land much closer to home in media planning land, where its worth noting the huge consequences for advertisers and media planners should streaming pull the pivot off.

These are valuable and valued audiences and GRPs that, should they jump over and vanish behind streaming’s paywalls, will be unavailable as part of a campaign schedule’s multi-screen reach.

Enter Christopher Nolan, who’s extraordinary directorial CV includes Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Dunkirk and Interstellar.

The director’s latest offering arrives in international cinemas today (it opens in the US next month) and comes with a weight of unprecedented levels of expectation; an expectation that far outstrips that of the movie itself.

The mind- and time-bending, globe-trotting Tenet, see’s The Protagonist fight an nefarious incursion from the future as time flows in both directions at once. Its typically audacious, huge, and spectacular in its ambition and scale. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw describes it as “amazing cinema”.

Its a movie that surely deserves to be seen on the biggest screen and surrounded by the most surroundest of sound; not glanced at from the sofa whilst dividing attention between The Protagonists unfolding fate and the latest feed from the socials. Surely this will be movie for which people return to cinemas?

Watching on eagerly for answers to those questions will be not only the movie theatre industry, but Hollywood and its counterparts around the world, the streaming platforms, the movie production industry… and this media planner.

Will audiences return to cinemas for Tenet? What scale of ticket stubs and revenues will its release be judged a success by the industry? Will the tide of 2020 be turned or will this year be seen as pivotal (in every sense) in the shift to home-streaming? Can Christoper Nolan save cinema as we’ve known it?

Given the director’s fascination with the temporal, it’s perhaps fitting that the only answer to those questions, is that time will tell.

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blogging, commenting, data planning, Mediated

2,056 days later I’ve returned to Mediation; to find that nothing, and everything, has changed

So, where were we? It has been 2,056 days since I last posted to this Mediation blog. That’s well over half a decade since I shared my thoughts on the un-negotiated data-based contract between advertisers, media platforms and audiences.

It would be a pointless task to try and list out the changes, evolutions (and revolutions), disruptions, procrastinations, legislations, debates and discussions that have characterised the media and marketing industry over that time. They are vast, and profound.

Or are they?

A look back to the Mediation posts of 2014 (there were six) shows I covered the following topics:

The Un-Negotiated Contract: How the model changed, and why the fight for access to data and information has never mattered more … explored the role of data in media and marketing, and implications for data transparency and consumer privacy.

In the Netflix Spark: Why the arrival of the SVOD platform heralds a more even distribution of the future for everyone … I discussed streaming and its impact on the video advertising ecosystem.

Being a true version of yourself: Lessons on transparency from Kyle and Jackie O, and Bethany Mota … explored influencers and brand authenticity.

Weapons of Mass Contagion: why our amazement and anger at Facebook’s emotion experiment is misdirected … wrestled with the surprise and shock at social media algorithm’s ability to influence our feelings and emotions (be kind, it was 2014).

What’s your Story?: a tale of two narratives, and a big lesson in the power of narrative via Jamie Oliver and Thank You Group … covered the nature of brands and storytelling.

And in Reunification isn’t going to happen so get over it: Why media is already planning for a future that’s here already. and why that’s awesome … posited on agency and holding group structure and specifically the debate over a return (or not, as I predicted) to full-service.

So five and a half years ago the debate was largely grounded in data, media business model disruption, influencers and authenticity, brand storytelling, and how agencies and holding groups can best structure to deliver outcomes and client objectives.

What’s astonishing is how little the industry’s topics of debate have changed … yet just how much the discussion and developments within those topics has moved on.

If you are a consumer living within the European Union or the US State of California, government legislation has made huge steps to negotiating the contract between your personal data, advertisers and media platforms. In the last half decade the progress on this topic, in terms of public awareness and legislation has moved dramatically – tho the latter probably more than the former.

Consumer perception on social media (with its inherent biases and dangers) and the role it plays in our society and culture has moved on significantly. The original debates on Mediation around this topic look nothing short of quaint in a world in which social media’s pivotal role in politics, social equality, extremism (in all its forms), and data transparency is still being fully understood and debated. As is its role in the media ecosystem of major brands with an eye to brand safety.

Influencers have ridden the roller-coaster of Gartner’s hype cycle and have, arguably, now found a plateau of productivity following their trough of disillusionment. That said, the normalisation of influencers and KOLs for some brands has been tempered with its rejection by other brands in favour of more centralised and authentic brand narrative and messaging.

Indeed, the perceived role of brands (by marketers and some agencies) has also evolved, the most recent iteration being a bout of purpose-driven marketing, which reached a recent zenith, until everyone looked around and realised that every brand’s purpose was exactly the same; to basically be ‘here for you’. For many brands, the search for a post-Purpose model seems to be more than well underway.

Meanwhile in media land all the shifts – both seismic and nuanced – that were underway 2,056 days ago have only accelerated. Streaming’s march has continued, with the arrival of entrants like Disney+ only adding more credibility and urgency to the clear direction of travel.

I was wrong on the reunification of media and creative, which did come to pass after all… just not in the way that I imagined. Rather than agency brands reuniting across the media and creative divide, instead new models have emerged. On one hand the holding group brands themselves shifted from back-end infrastructure to marketer-facing agency brand. Or on the other they de-branded to create completely new integrated offerings for clients – particularly those with global scale.

An honourable mention for the progress that audio has made in the last half decade, mainly due to podcasting. The continued rise of Spotify will only be accelerated by the very chunky investments they are making into original audio content and talent.

Also TikTok, the platform that captured and then created a cultural moment of content creation that took not just other social platforms but the entertainment industry at large by surprise. There’s a lot more to come from them.

And mentions also to the gaming industry – with which brands still seem to be struggling to find a way to authentically engage, and to Ecommerce, although it probably has over-inflated mental availability right now among the media and planning community.

The last 2,056 days were less kind to some corners of the media landscape. Print and magazines continue to have a horrible time – with some notable exceptions that have managed to both diversify and also tap into a recurring revenue model (including The Guardian with its successful membership and supporter model).

Mediation’s time away saw the most damage however to long-term brand building and marketing investments. Short-termism, an over-reliance on performance-based planning and the pursuit of efficient over effective media planning has, frustratingly, flourished. We’ll come back to that I’m sure down the track.

That’s hardly a comprehensive assessment. I’ll not try to pretend that it is. But after the longest break, we are (kind of) up to speed.

So why now? Why return to Mediation after an absence of more than two thousand days?

The answer is both short and long. The short answer is because Covid, obvs. Like many people, the last few months have been one of contemplation and consideration. I count myself more than fortunate that I am in the luxurious position to be able to find time in the current moment to contemplate its implications. For many millions of people this horrible current situation is characterised not by mindfulness, but by stress, fear, anger, anxiety and loss. I am in a very, very fortunate position.

The longer answer is that I’ve found myself returning over the last few months to the reason I originally began writing Mediation back in 2006. Over eight years I attempted to negotiate the future of media and communications. The negotiations were between legacy and next-generation media platforms; between established models and new ways of thinking. They were between those invested in building something new and those invested in preserving the status-quo.

The mediating was also between brands and audiences, the nature of their relationships and interactions (albeit fleeting), and between the different corners and elements of the industry; the holding group behemoths and the rogue start-ups.

Through all of that, the question was how to mediate a better tomorrow? What can we learn from the new things under the sun whilst building on the best of what has stood the test to date? How can media be accessed and leveraged by brands and marketers in meaningful and effective ways that works in everyone’s interests?

I believe that question is as urgent as ever. It is a question being revisited with renewed urgency in this time of change and upheaval. Old assumptions are being questioned and new models and beliefs are being explored and tested.

There is much to debate and discover.

It’s good to be back.

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