You are reading The Ankler, a newsletter about the business of Hollywood by Richard Rushfield.
Okay, so that wasn’t exactly how that was supposed to go for Disney’s great leap into the tech arena, not to mention, the official commencement of the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals upon which the fate of Hollywood will be decided.
Massive glitches and bugs on the day of the launch you’ve been prepping for years isn’t exactly a great show that we’re ready for this. Especially after spending several billion dollars to buy a streaming infrastructure that people respected and crowing repeatedly over the years, including last week, about how ready you were to handle an influx of signups and usage.
On the other hand, we couldn’t have anticipated that we’d exceed our first year projections on our first day makes a pretty good talking point, even if it’s not exactly true. I mean, in contingency planning, no one brought up, what if it goes really well? Even better than that!
A botched rollout because of tech issues has become an established genre within the prelude to the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals: embarrassing while they last, but if people are dazzled by new shows, no one is complaining two years from now about the opening day problems. (Opening day debacles, it should be remembered, are certainly a venerable tradition of the Walt Disney Company.
Bandwidth can be added, D+ will persevere, and the Semi-Finals will be upon us.
What’s it all add up to on the scoreboard? The first day subscription numbers are impressive, but not surprising, this being the greatest family brand, the one must-have brand in familydom.
There’s been grumbling online, particularly from some middle-aged critics, about how much is missing and how there is nothing for them to watch. D+ is failing to serve the all-important Mad Men audience of media professionals!
Denials aside, this all has to strike fear into the hearts of Netflix, for whom rumor has it, upwards of 60% of its viewing time is spent on family entertainment. As much as the media would like to attribute Netflix’s success to The Crown and the Hannah Gabsby special, it’s the bottomless library of Bey Blade episodes that keeps the service pumping.
Yes, it would have been nice for the Disney service to open its doors with something resembling the complete Disney library on its shelves. But such is the hole that Hollywood dug itself into with its decade getting high on licensing cash, and Disney is no exception. Ten years from now, if mankind and its streaming services are still alive, D+ should resemble a complete Disney catalog, but you can’t wait for all those rights to come back before you launch the damn thing.
It’s interesting how much these services in their present form are placeholders for the service to come. For Disney, picture a home page like this but with its complete library and real shows (not just shorts) from all our divisions. HBO To the Max: Like this but 90% more and somehow just as impeccably made. And Netflix? Like this, but 90% less, but somehow still as clickable.
The scary thing—what should be the scary thing—for all these services is the extent to which nothing is making a giant splash anymore. Stranger Things seemed like the shape of streaming buzz to come, but when was the last time there was even a Stranger Things-sized splash? There were a lot of marketers agitating the water before season three of Stranger Things but curiously little from actual viewers. Forget about a Game of Thrones-sized splash . . . .
But you look at all these services, on top of what they are paying their BNS’s, there are these giant budgeted shows—or what would’ve been giant budgeted shows in olden times—that come and go without a trace. Did anyone watch Carnival Row on Amazon? Das Boot on Hulu? The Spy on Netflix? His Dark Materials was watched by about a million people on HBO. Is that good?
Then there’s the mother of all shrugs, The Morning Show. You can assemble the dream cast, the poll-tested premise, put it up with a massive global push on the biggest consumer brand on Earth . . . and even if you give it away, like its grubby broadcast television for goodness sake, people might not feel like watching it. Meanwhile their actually buzzy well-reviewed show Dickinson they seem unable to promote properly, or answer the question if this show is really targetting the young, are they going to sign up for a whole baby boomer service for one show? (And I know it’s sacrilege to bring this up..but if it’s just one show and they’d have to sign on to a whole service for it: that’s one show that they can find pirated versions of a google search away..something the young know how to do!)
Of all the entrants at this point in the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals, Apple seems the most floundering and clueless. The Apple attempt at prestige and awe, its showcase of The Pristine Apple Brand as the real entertainment, came in first contact with reality this month. It can certainly afford to stumble, but failing on the entertainment stage is not like failing with a keyboard its most devoted cult members found divisive. I’m sure there is someone out there who loved the Morning Show and can’t wait for season two, but I can’t find them. It's a new experience for Apple to produce anything and have the response be a fog of indifference.
However, Apple is learning in some important ways to adapt to the Hollywood way as this graph about its restructuring, or re-orging, or realigning, suggests:
Apple TV executive Kim Rozenfeld is departing the tech giant amid a restructuring of the executive ranks at its streaming platform.
Rozenfeld is leaving his post as head of current scripted programming and documentary and unscripted content. He won't being go far, however, as he has signed a first-look deal with Apple for his company, Half Full Productions.
I wonder at what point in Apple’s Hollywood adventure someone explained to Tim Cook:
Oh, no, you can’t fire failed executives here. You transition them . . . into an opportunity they’ve been seeking their whole career . . . . Yes, you pay them while you transition them. Maybe even more than you paid them while they were ruining your company! But the important thing is, you get them to stop working for you . . . . Yes, we pay them for that.
Anyway the fact that Apple is re-whatervering just a couple weeks after launch, suggests that the rumors about what a complete mess things have been over there have finally burst forth and overpowered the prestigious brand power of Apple and all its big cool boomer friends who are happy to take a check to show their faces at a presentation.
For all these companies, however, you can’t keep commissioning endless $100 million to $200 million productions that no one watches forever. At some point the reality is going to sink in that not all shows become a transformative Game of Thrones, not all shows even become a Kominsky Affair, and budgets are going to have to fall in line with what a typical show is actually worth to these companies.
And what will that world look like? Who the hell knows? But until then, meet your placeholders!
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"The scary thing—what should be the scary thing—for all these services is the extent to which nothing is making a giant splash anymore."
I think The Mandalorian has made a bigger splash than the usual streaming series dumped all episodes at once. But not a Game of Thrones size splash, although that didn't go crazy out of the gate either.
One issue I see is that once Mando is done at the end of the year, there is nothing in the near future that will make me want to open D+ again until a new series comes out, except maybe for my kids to watch something. I think there is untapped potential to do some unique "live" programming that ties into the existing content. Like, "Hey we got RDJ for 10 minutes this Friday and he's going to share his favorite MCU moment" or something like that.