Streaming service Documentary Plus is doing what Netflix never has – sharing detailed data with filmmakers about who is watching.
Filmmakers can request reports from Documentary Plus with insights including performance data by city, age group, gender identity and viewing platform, as well as related films being streamed on the platform, the Silver Lake-based company said Monday.
"My hope is by doing this we spark a very real conversation about who has the right to that data, who owns that data and what should it be used for," said Bryn Mooser, founder of XTR, the studio behind Documentary Plus.
The move is a departure from what has become the status quo in the streaming era, wherein platforms largely refrain from sharing data with creators and viewers about the performance of shows and films.
"It will certainly distinguish them from other streamers," said E. Barry Haldeman, entertainment lawyer at Century City-based firm JMBM LLP. "Amazon and Netflix don't give you any of that kind of stuff."
This dearth of data stands in contrast to the broadcast era, when third-party firms such as Nielsen consistently published audience metrics, said entertainment lawyer Leigh Brecheen of Century City-based BFBST.
Now, however, the proliferation of subscription-based services means there is less financial backing from advertisers to fund that kind of research, Brecheen said. That helps explain why Nielsen has been slow to track the streaming industry.
And as moviegoing gives way to at-home viewing, box office data that was once readily available increasingly falls into a black hole.
Sharing viewership data can help filmmakers in several ways.
It can give them a better sense of their audience, which can guide future creative projects. More information can also help them financially, by, for example, empowering their representatives to better negotiate for bonuses that are based on measurable results, Brecheen said.
Providing data to creators can benefit a platform, too. In the case of a relatively small streaming service like Documentary Plus, offering creator-friendly terms can help attract content to the platform rather than onto the larger, primarily exclusive players with which niche players must compete.
"Corporate streaming platforms think of their data as a competitive advantage against other platforms, so they're secretive about it," Mooser said. "But I think as an independent streamer like Documentary Plus, a competitive advantage that we can have against corporate streamers is that we can be transparent with our data; we can be in partnership with our filmmakers."
Transparent data can also work in the platform's financial favor when they show that a creator's demands for compensation are too high.
"A program may be well reviewed, so the client thinks he or she hit a home run, but if it underperforms for the platform relative to cost and expectations, then the client can't expect a big payday," Brecheen said.
Mooser said Documentary Plus, which is ad-supported, currently offers about 300 documentary films and docuseries and that the app was downloaded tens of thousands of times in its first month following its January launch.
In addition to hoping data transparency will help it grow further, Mooser is intrigued by the creative possibilities it may inspire.
"More than anything else, it's sort of an experiment about what would happen if you opened up that data to filmmakers," he said. "What are they going to do with it? I don't know the answer to that, but I'm pretty excited to find out."
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Ninety-six years after Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Pictures merged to form MGM Studios, the Hollywood mainstay best known for its roaring lion mascot is set to join a trillion-dollar business empire best known for selling household items over the internet. Amazon Inc. has acquired MGM for $8.45 billion, the companies said Wednesday.
The move culminates Century City-based MGM's prolonged search for a buyer that has been rumored for over a decade. In 2018, former chief executive Gary Barber was fired just five months after signing a multi-year extension, amid an internal dispute over how the company was handling an entertainment industry being reshaped by streaming. An impersonal "office of the CEO" has since led the studio.
"The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM's talented team," Amazon's senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios said in a statement.
MGM counts over 4,000 films among its assets, including "Silence of the Lambs," "12 Angry Men," "Rocky" and "Tomb Raider." Its TV shows include "The Handmaid's Tale," "Fargo" and "Vikings" as well as reality series "Survivor," "The Real Housewives" and "Shark Tank." MGM also owns the premier pay-TV channel Epix. The company reportedly earned just shy of $1.5 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year.
Amazon inherits these assets, along with the crown jewel that is the James Bond franchise, which will see its 25th installment released this fall with "No Time to Die." That trophy comes with a caveat, however, as MGM has shared copyright of the franchise with the British Wilson/Broccoli family, which retains significant decision-making power over the asset.
The MGM acquisition is Amazon's second-largest, behind the $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods in 2017.
The deal is the latest in an increasingly consolidating entertainment industry. Earlier this month, AT&T's WarnerMedia merged with Discovery that essentially completed the telecom company's departure from the entertainment business.
Although outgoing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said streaming's main value to his company is that it helps to sell more shoes – Amazon Prime Video is included in Amazon's Prime subscription offering, alongside other perks like free shipping – the company's ambitions in streaming have been substantial. It launched its own studio in Culver City in 2010 and is reportedly spending nearly half a billion dollars to produce the first season of a "Lord of the Rings" TV series. To stream the NFL's Thursday night franchise, it is paying an average of $1.2 billion per year. The company also operates ad-supported service IMDB TV.
Most analysts agree the average consumer wants to pay for no more than four or five streaming subscriptions. Netflix and Disney have separated themselves from the pack, and recently locked up most of Sony, one of the few remaining arms dealers, in a long-term licensing deal.
Though Amazon's precise streaming ambitions within its sprawling empire are unclear, insiders consider its track record of producing hits out of its in-house studio relatively uninspiring. A new looming threat created by the Warner-Discovery deal likely added urgency within Amazon to make a move.
The deal remains subject to regulatory approval. Amazon was sued earlier this week by the attorney general for Washington, D.C., for abusing its market power in its online marketplace.
The other contestants in the streaming war may not wait for regulatory resolution before opting to make a move of their own. ViacomCBS, which runs Paramount Plus, and Comcast's NBCUniversal, which runs Peacock, are both falling behind. Recent calls out of COVID-embattled Japan to cancel this year's Tokyo Olympic Games are worrying to NBC, which owns rights to the Games and has long harbored plans to use them to Peacock's benefit.
Apple, which like Amazon is a deep-pocketed, tech-first company that has forayed into streaming but lacks a clearly defined entertainment strategy, also remains in the mix.
MGM's $8.45 billion price tag equates to about 40% of Amazon's 2020 operating profit and just over half a percent of its $1.64 trillion market cap–over seven times the size of Netflix's and five times the size of Disney's.
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek doesn't think consumers want to wait 45 days for movies to arrive on their streaming services.
Speaking at a conference hosted by J.P. Morgan on Monday, Chapek didn't say whether that would drive moviegoers to the theaters or drive companies like his to put films on their services faster, but one thing is clear: the pandemic upended one of Hollywood's oldest paradigms.
Asked whether shortening a film's theatrical-only exhibition period to 45 days might induce more consumers to wait to watch on streaming platforms, Chapek said, "I don't think people have that much patience, to be honest with you."
His own company reorganized during the pandemic, thrusting resources at streaming, as the world shifted.
The theatrical window has been one of traditional Hollywood's biggest losers coming out of the pandemic. Already considered by some insiders as a relic of a pre-streaming era Tinseltown, when the coronavirus shuttered theaters, streaming services began pushing the window tighter as they released new films directly to consumers on their platforms.
At its last earnings call Disney announced that two films, "Shang-Chi" and "Free Guy," would receive a 45-day window. Marvel blockbuster "Black Widow", however, will be released simultaneously on Disney Plus and in theaters in July.
Chapek emphasized Monday that Disney's priority has been to give fans the flexibility to watch where they want.
"I think the consumers have realized that they've got the power," he said. "We're a consumer-friendly company, and we'll follow their lead."
Chapek had little to say about the competitive threat posed by a newly merged WarnerMedia-Discovery streaming platform. He highlighted Disney Plus' acquisition of 100 million subscribers in just 16 months as a sign that his company is on the right path.
"This frankly, for us, doesn't really change much at all," he said.
To explain Disney Plus' surprisingly strong growth that led the company to revise its subscriber projections to up to 260 million by 2024, Chapek reemphasized Disney Plus' unexpectedly high penetration among non-family households. He also pointed to upcoming changes as signals for ongoing growth.
Disney's parks, which Chapek called his "secret weapon," will help drive more users to its streaming platforms, he said.
"For the very first time, we've got the opportunity to take our original direct-to-consumer business, which is our parks business, and use it for our newest direct-to-consumer business," Chapek said, referring to streaming.
"We've got a tremendous amount of information on our consumers from our parks business," he added, indicating that this trove of data could help drive further Disney Plus subscriptions.
Chapek further noted that only in 2022 will Disney Plus' content pipeline be running full steam. He also hinted that more sports may be coming to Disney's streaming platforms.
"When the time is right to really stomp on the gas and go even stronger into our direct-to-consumer platforms for sports, we'll do that," he said.
With more content may come a heftier price tag, however. Having noted that the recent price increase of Disney Plus to $7.99 per month didn't result in any material subscriber losses, Chapek said more hikes could be forthcoming.
"We'll reserve the right to increase our price-value relationship through further pricing actions as we add more content and get to that point where we're adding a new piece of content, essentially, every week," he said.
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