So Much Content... Still The Same Number Of Viewers
Cable. Network TV. Streaming Video On Demand. There are so many content options now available and cord cutting has become a standard as TV's come with "Smart" components make it super easy to watch streaming content. Movies audiences themselves are declining, with viewers choosing the easy path of watching content at home, with exception of major stunt and special effect films that just play better on a big screen.
With the loss of viewers, production companies are developing stringent criteria for making feature film. If the script lacks major explosions, extensive CGI or top of the line A-list cast, the script is unlikely to make it to the big screen. Which leaves producers one option: find another way to show and share their content. In this blog, Hollywood Branded explores the reasons why actors and filmmakers alike are choosing to produce content for television, video on demand and streaming services and why it matters to brands.
What's Causing This Small Screen Shift?
The reduction of audiences at movie theaters is presenting major creative restrictions for the film making process. No longer are romantic comedies (or many comedies at all), and character driven dramas finding homes in theaters. There just isn't the demand to watch them, at least until their home entertainment release. And because of this, filmmakers and actors are looking for new homes to showcase their works. Studios want to make movies that make money, and from the director's chair to the connection the actor makes with the character they bring to life, a stifling effect of creativity has become an unpleasant side effect of these financially driven limitations.
The Advent (And Effect) of Streaming On Demand
Since the introduction of Netflix in the late 1990’s, streaming services have been steadily multiplying. Enjoying television and film in the comfort of your own home has never been easier or cheaper. This innovation, however, has subsequently helped foster a decline in movie goers. Because of this decline, theater chains have been forced to increase ticket prices to help make up for the lack of viewers. This does not bode well for the industry, as the increase in price will only serve to continue driving customers toward at home viewing.
The moviegoer decline has sent production heads into a panic. If a script lacks a major crowd drawing feature, it likely will not get made at all. This explains the uptick in reboots, remakes, sequels, and of course, superhero movies. These are safe options that are nearly guaranteed to garner profits for the studio. Unfortunately for the creative side of the film making process, this has induced major restrictions that removes much of the originality and non-technological innovation that makes a film a piece of art. Crowd drawing potential has unfortunately begun to replace ingenuity in storytelling.
What VOD Offers Filmmakers
While theaters may be experiencing a lull in ingenuity, theatrical innovation still exists where we never would have expected - the small screen.
Because VOD services like HBO, Amazon, and Netflix have a whole host of titles to prop up a new show financially if the viewers don’t tune in, productions are able to take more risks. These high risks have been translating into high returns. The freedom to produce inspired content is drawing the most talented film directors and stars to bring their ideas to life in the form of series and mini-series through VOD.
On top of this, long form story telling, such as the current mini-series trend, have given filmmakers a chance to delve more deeply into character traits, as well as flesh out a narrative in a more detailed way. These series lend themselves well to the viewers proclivity to binge watch. If the content is good enough, consumers have no issue viewing it for hours on end. Binge watching reduces interruptions between episodes, giving a mini-series a similar flow as a feature film.
This reduction in both content and time restraints offer more freedom of expression than ever, and the result has been high quality and original content from our favorite theatrical filmmakers.
A Favorite Book... Becomes A Favorite TV Mini-Series
Take Big Little Lies as an example. Director of majorly successful films like Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, and Demolition, Jean-Marc Vallée took the lead on the mini-series, making it a regular topic of conversation at water coolers around the country. Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, the story held potential for deep character connection through plot development. While a mini-series offers six or more hours for this type of development, a film offers only a maximum of two. Simply put, HBO's propensity to allow artistic freedom was able to draw in a great director, and subsequently major talent. The product was nothing short of brilliant.
Nicole Kidman's relationship with her character Celeste is a product of the potential that a mini-series can bring. A victim of a very complicated abusive relationship, Kidman and director Vallée worked with a rare trust and synergy to bring the Celeste from the novel to life on screen. Kidman spoke on the experience with Vallée to Vogue. "My relationship with Jean-Marc was very intense and almost telepathic, where we wouldn’t have to speak that much, and he would just get it. I was so grateful that it was him doing it, because he’s got such a strength to his film making and yet he’s able to get the raw quality, and a simplicity to it as well at times."
Viewers of the series could certainly feel both Kidman's connection with her character, as well as Vallée's connection with the story. These connections successfully translated into high ratings, as the final episode spiked to 1.9 million viewers. Vallée will be keeping his talents on the small screen for his upcoming Gillian Flynn project, Sharp Objects. The show, like Big Little Lies, will also be an adaptation based on a novel, and premiers on HBO later this year.
The Power of Video On Demand
As the film industry faces a restructuring, VOD continues to thrive through its diverse and exciting new content. Content isn't VOD's only strong suit, however. These services are starting to clinch some of the best distribution deals on the market as well.
Annapurna pictures, known for their award winning films like American Hustle and Zero Dark Thirty, is the latest to sign one of these licensing agreements. Instead of the films heading straight to cable, Hulu is Annapurna's new unlikely partner for their exclusive distribution. “We are thrilled to have found a forward-thinking partner and home for Annapurna’s films in Hulu and are excited that the work of our filmmakers will be available and easily accessible for audiences on this amazing platform,” says Annapurna's president of Distribution to Variety. And forward thinking is right. These are the type of deals that are bringing streaming services into the forefront of the film making and distribution industry.
Hulu isn't the only service scoring huge on distribution. Netflix recently signed a deal for exclusive distribution for Scorsese's newest film, The Irishman. With Scorsese's latest film Silence falling flat at the box office, Paramount is in no position to give away full creative freedom on a film as pricey as The Irishman. With Netflix, Scorsese has the freedom to create exactly the project he wants without having to answer to the studio. It is also rumored that with Netflix, Scorsese won't face any restrictions in length. The movie is aiming for a 2019 release date.
In short, budgetary issues and a lack of theater goers have made the film industry more careful in their content production than ever, and the streaming services are capitalizing. VOD has become an attractive, and financially viable place for filmmakers to uninhibitedly create their content without as many stringent boundaries as film. The content continues to impress.
Netflix and Amazon have also figured out how to get themselves nominated for Oscars - so forward-thinking film producers and actors won't be left out of the race. With each SVOD released film, whenever there is a hint of a possible awards qualifier, the films are being shown on a limited release basis in movie theaters, allowing them to qualify against those of larger film studios like Sony, Warner Bros. or Universal.
What This Means For Brand Partnerships
But what this content shift means for brand marketers is that there is LESS opportunity to create mega chatter through strategic cross promotions that are built out in real life. Studio films thrive on the importance of these brand partnerships - with brands committing % of media budgets to help co-brand the film through TV, radio, print, digital or even retail campaigns. Think Iron Man and Dr. Pepper or James Bond and Heineken. But HBO and Netflix don't allow a brand to do anything more than be embedded in the content as they don't allow co-branded media campaigns. And for on screen appearances, they often don't take dollars and brands often can only become part of the content through relationship deals versus monetarily - so product placement IS the only way a brand can become part of the story.
Which is why brands interested in interweaving themselves into content should be working an entertainment marketing agency who has a roster of clients the filmmakers come to rely on to help offset budgets through trade or loan of goods. Interested in learning how this works? Check out our short animated video below to learn what product placement opportunities exist, and how it works!