|Now Netflix has got Shonda Rimes and Ryan Murphy. Both defected from arms of what will soon be the combined greater Disney metropolitan area.
Has Netflix taken Disney’s king and queen? $300 million for the creator of the Versace mini-series and American Horror Story? Okay..if you say so. It will be an interesting experiment. If American Horror Story, Scream Queens had debuted on Netflix would we even know their names today? Would Glee have become a sensation? Would Shonda Rimes’ last couple shows for that matter., if they appeared among the great tides of streaming releases have been noticed by anyone?
Just as it takes hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing over the course of decades to create a Will Smith, what is American Horror Story apart from the full weight of a legacy network’s marketing budget behind it?
We’ll find out. Or we won’t, because we won’t have access to that data, but block out time in your schedule in about fourteen months for the assurance that Ryan Murphy’s Netflix launch is the most successful new series the company has ever seen.
On Disney’s side however, a difficult narrative is taking form. To lose one show runner may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness, particularly as you’re girding for all-out war against the streaming behemoth.
Despite the hodgepodge of details they released last week about their service-to-be, it sure doesn’t look like Disney has any particular plan up and running. Once again, this shows how in the head to head showdown, Netflix can put everything into its streaming service, not having to balance disparate TV networks, theatrical needs and everything else.
If the status quo could be maintained, it would be a happy world for everyone. Once brand name show runners get so big they price themselves out of the legacy networks, they can transition into the ethers of streamingland, where no known laws of economics apply. Netflix can say, Come to us, Ryan Murphy. Numbers, schmumbers – just think about the headlines!
It’s certainly good to be a brand name show runner now. And if we could just pretend this can go on forever, we’d be living in paradise. Unfortunately, forever is a long time, and when Netflix’s growth tops out and they start looking at their budgets, and see how much of it is committed to their brand name show runners, that will mean the belt tightening elsewhere will be all that much more painful.
I’ve gotten some pushback in recent weeks about the apocalyptic tone of my warnings of doom re: Netflix. I’ve felt like I’m the crazy person screaming that these alien invaders are not your friends while they are handing out Tootsie Pops to all the kids and home jumbotrons to the grown-ups, telling us that if they’ll just give the keys to our government to them and let them execute our leaders in the public square, they’ll make sure no one ever goes to bed unhappy again.
This interview from a Funny or Die refugee, Matt Klinman caught my eye. Funny or Die again being the much enjoyed site which recently fired its entire editorial staff. He describes pretty well the cycle which has resulted in journalism devolving from a pillar of civic life, to a boutique nostalgia product serving a tiny sliver of society.
The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet.
Since the dawn of Hollywood there’s always been upstarts looking to become the seventh studio, to get a seat at the most glamorous banquet table on earth. But there is nothing about the tech world’s ethos that suggests it’s acceptable to become one of seven, or six or five companies at the top of the sector.
As per the template laid out be Facebook, Amazon, etc. the goal is total monopoly power in a sector, suck all the money out of it and use the cash to fund a conquest of the next adjacent sector. Run everyone else out of business, then replace as many humans with algorithms as possible, in the name of utopian efficiency; in the interest of squeezing as much money as can be squeezed out the system for the benefit of investors.
And so when they think of winning these Entertainment Finals, the goal isn’t ultimately just to be one of the top streaming services, or even the topstreaming service. It’s to own entertainment. All of it. To have all other even potential competitors for eyeball time neutralized. That’s when you have pricing power, and incidentally, that’s when you can treat the non-brand name show runner employees as little more than temp help.
The Netflix drunken sailor production program would be a fantastic thing for everyone if it were in the least bit sustainable. But since it’s not, the only question that matters, as we lay down our guns before them, is: what comes next?