Insights is a new weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at email@example.com, or on Twitter @DavidBloom.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE.
Mop-headed Luke had just turned 5 a couple of weeks ago when I ended up standing in a Starbucks line next to his mother. I began wondering what, and where, and how, a kid like that will be watching video entertainment a few years from now.
Luke is part of Generation Z, the giant cohort of kids growing up right now, a cohort even bigger than the Millennials. And everyone’s scrambling to reach these kids as they head toward an even bigger role than the Millennials in shaping our dominant culture and tech. Normally, seeing a cute kid capering in a coffee shop doesn’t cartwheel my mind into the future. But I’d simultaneously been texting with a producer pal of mine, Max Gottlieb, about the fast-changing market for film and TV.
Back in October, Max premiered an ultra-low-budget movie chock full of influencers part of a promising new film business model that was a hot idea in 2016. When we talked then, Max was trying to line up several other film projects.
But just a few months later, Max texted, “everyone” wants episodic series, because “the SVODs have taken over.” Turns out, episodics do a better job getting even the bingiest of binge watchers to come back, and to subscribe. And return visits build viewer loyalty, at a time when media companies desperately want to build enough loyalty that Future Luke will watch their shows (or whatever counts as a show then) on his augmented-reality visual overlay projection device when he hits 18 in 2030.
That’s 13 years from now. That’s further in the future than Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Hulu, nearly every digital-video channel or the video-streaming operations of Amazon and Netflix have existed up to now. Let that sink in as you try to envision the entertainment industry in 2030.
As Max and Luke made their way through this week, so too did a major media company that should have claimed Luke’s attention until at least 2030. Instead, having squandered incalculable brand value over the past 15 years, Viacom just announced a grand plan to Get Its Act Together Before It’s Too Late.
For a couple of decades, the channels that make up Viacom included such young-person essentials as Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central, listed here in roughly ascending order of age relevance. BET served an otherwise neglected African-American audience. Spike (née the gamer-oriented G4) focused on young men.
Viacom’s channel collection also included many others that weren’t nearly as essential but, thanks to Viacom’s hardball negotiations, cable operators were forced to take them too, making it the most expensive bundle of offerings on the dial, with 18 or more networks. That worked as long as Viacom’s bundle included must haves. But under the sclerotic, finance-first maneuverings of long-time former CEO Philippe Dauman, those core channels faded in cultural relevance and ratings dominance. Now, I can’t imagine Luke, or the teens who lined up to watch Max’s film, caring about any of those channels.
Nick Jr. and Nickelodeon were the first stops for TV watching when my kids were Luke’s age. Now, Luke is unlikely to even look at a TV when he (or his mother) wants some entertainment. Between Minecraft videos on YouTube, hundreds of hours of original Netflix Kids programming, live gamer shows on Twitch, and karaoke cut-ups on Musical.ly, who has time for whatever it is those Viacom channels show?
Given that, new CEO Bob Bakish’s proposal represents appropriately drastic triage for the sprawling Viacom bundle, alongside a pledge to improve badly deteriorated relations with cable companies and talent.
The lion’s share of company resources will go to six channels (Nick and Nick Jr., MTV, Comedy Central, BET, and Spike, which will be renamed the Paramount Channel after another hobbled Viacom property). Weak sisters such as CMT and TV Land will have to make their own way, likely the first step to their own demise or digital-only shift, a la the Esquire Channel.
Meanwhile, the SVOD push for more episodic programming continues, drawing in even talent and properties long associated with films.
David Heyman, who produced the eight Harry Potter movies, is now adapting Out of Africa, the Isak Dinesen memoir turned 1985 film that won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Now it will become a NBC International Studios series.
The same day this news broke, Amazon announced a deal with writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn (of Drive) to create a straight-to-series, 10-episode crime yarn called Too Old to Die Young.
At the same time, at least some SVODs are booming. HBO Now cleared the 2-million subscriber threshold and Otter Media’s Crunchyroll said 1 million people are paying $6.95 a month to watch its premium anime programming (another 20 million watch an ad-supported version).
So, will 18-year-old Luke be watching HBO Now or Crunchyroll in 2030? I don’t know. But I’d take a bet he won’t be watching much of what Viacom has to offer by then, unless Bakish can make good on another of his major initiatives, and aggressively buy/build his way into the digital world. For me, I’m putting my money elsewhere.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE, the premier app building company that houses all of your content in one place for any device, and monetizes it automatically with their built in programmatic video advertising platform.