Earlier this year, DreamWorks acquired the You Tube t(w)een channel AwesomenessTV for $33 million, marking the first buy of a major Hollywood studio into the YouTube pack. This also bought Jeffrey Katzenberg a Personality of the Year honor at MIPCOM. He became a new evangelist of the 6-minute webisode format.
Interesting trends as well as outright weird phenomenas of media consumption were highlighted at this year’s MIPCOM. Since MIP-TV was held in April, a lot had happened:
YouTube opened up a studio space in Hollywood this summer and announced plans to open another one in New York in 2014.
Netflix commissioned its first doc series (Russell Peters v.s the World).
Original Netflix content now qualifies not only for the Emmys, but the BAFTAs as well.
The horror fest in Sitges opened up its programming to genre TV series, with an innaugural sidebar featuring The Walking Dead, Hemlock Grove, The Fjallbacka Murders, Bates Hotel, Hannibal and Sleepy Hollow.
The value of eOne’s fattening catalogue reached U$650 million, a big jump (85 % increase to be exact) from the previous evaluation of U$350 in 2012 (thanks to the U$230 acquisition of Alliance Films’ library).
Vimeo started offering U$10,000 advances for producers whose works has been selected for the Toronto Film Festival, if they chose Vimeo as a digital platform for the film.
Online video viewing in China doubled from March through August after Youku Tudou began to offer American TV shows. Chinese folks watch the episodes on their smartphones while standing in crowded subway cars. The country has 591 million internet users. And, unlike in theatrical distribution, there is no quota system in China’s online sphere to limit American content.
The broadcast of Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky in Nippon TV in Japan kicked off the most feverish Twitter-craze firing off 143,199 tweets per second (it has a name now: TPS), clearly a record-breaking volume (and speed). The previous record was at 33,388 TPS, also in Japan. In comparison, the Royal Baby’s birth in London prompted 25,300 tweets per minute (is that TPP now?).
New Zealand announced changes in its tax incentives scheme to attract big-ticket TV productions. The threshold of local spend—qualifying for the 15 % rebate—will be lowered to $3.13 million (from $11.73 million).
The young generation is so hungry for content that the gamers, for instance, “pay to watch other people play video games online,” revealed Ryan Kavanaugh who admitted he was surprised when he first heard it. There is a company called Major League Game that makes money out of these kids. They have 2 million paying viewers!
These are some of the newest developments in the TV and the attendant online world—only in the last 6 months! If that doesn’t convince you that the industry is moving at a supersonic speed, then nothing else will.
More diverse content
Certain MIPCOM participants remarked to me that attendance was visibly lower than before—and certainly MIPJunior didn’t seem as crowded as it was in 2012. Still the industry is marching on. Especially the digi channels down under. They gained a foothold in the past three years and continue to bid aggressively as buyers. “They’re affordable for the small advertisers. I think what they’re doing, it’s a surmise, potentially taking money out of print ad revenues,” said Screentime Managing Director Bob Campbell one morning in the Hotel Majestic’s lobby. “They’re thirsting for products.” But he doesn’t see them as a pre-sale partner on TV projects “in the immediate future. I think they do selective commissions to continue to reinforce their brands that they established. I don’t think there’ll be a gold rush, but you’ll see some more of it [later].”
“It’s quite a good market, I find. I think the difference this year and the last and the one before is that I don’t see any massive hits or really big brands out there,” said Matchbox Pictures Managing Director Chris Oliver-Taylor. So “the little things” get more exposure, “there is a whole bunch of conversation about all the networks that have these major formats. What they make for the show to go, they make up their best schedule. That’s a refreshing change comparing last year.” Bob Campbell’s impression was not dissimilar: networks “are broadening their outlook beyond the big, shiny-floor shows. They’re looking for a blend of things, not necessarily the big whatever-it-is.”
But what every market boils down to is how open the purses are? How flamboyantly are the check books waved in the air? After the impossible years of 2011 and 2012, Campbell sensed that “people are willing to talk to us about distribution advances for drama series.” Most of them “are pretty embrionic.” As for the ambitious eight-hours series, Batavia—for which the majority of the financing will have to come from overseas—, he is “pleased with the progress” he made at MIPCOM. “We’re probably a few weeks away from getting all the finances locked up. We hope to deliver a year from now,” 2014 autumn.
“It will need to have some pretty substantial marquee cast.” Once all the funding bricks are in place, casting will start. “Until you know the schedule, it’s very hard to make commitments to a cast. Stars have very tight windows.”
TV allows eternal shelf-life for toys
What can $33 million buy you? Among other things, a Personality of the Year title at MIPCOM with a black tie dinner awarding ceremony. The keynote speech of Nasdaq-traded DreamWorks Animation founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg—who began his career as an executive with overseeing Star Trek TV series turned into a movie franchise in 1979—was among the most attended gigs in the Grand Auditorium. He spoke passionately about the You Tube channel, AwesomenessTV guru Brian Robbins, the way one enthuses about his wife.
Founded in 2012, AwesomenessTV has a million subscribers and clocks in 60 million unique viewers per month. Robbins told MIPJunior delegates in Cannes that a prank video with iPhone 5 generated 5 million views in 2 days and cost only $500 to make. For a certain type of content, YouTube is your best way to get noticed. The best shows then can be repackaged for television, as AwesomenessTV began a show in the summer on Nickleodeon, on the “suckiest” slot, as Katzenberg remarked candidly. Yet it did well.
Hollywood needs those tweens who are also curating and remaking some of the program on their own. But production-wise, YouTube isn’t (yet?) Hollywood’s playing field. Katzenberg wouldn’t put the studio’s animated content out on AwesomenessTv because “it’s too expensive” to give it away like that. He devised another game plan to create additional revenue streams from the character rights and animation properties.
A deal was struck this summer with Netflix to produce 300 hours of original content. Furthermore, he engineered the U$155 million acquisition of Classic Media, a diverse catalogue (450 movies and 6,100 episodes) consisting of characters like Dick Tracy, Casper, Lassie, Richie Rich, Felix, the Cat, Masters of the Universe, Rocky Bullwinkle, Peabody and Sherman—the latter will be the subject of the studio’s next animated feature.
This was a move to match Disney’s acquisitons of the Marvel universe and the Star Wars galaxy, as stock analysts apparently value the ownership of characters that have franchise potential. Clearly, DreamWorks Animation is going to use TV spin offs to keep kids interested in these characters and entice them to buying the merchandising products, not only once a year when a big animated movie comes out, but all year long, as Katzenberg admitted.
The company’s TV revenues are going to rise to U$200 million by 2015, from U$100 million this year (half of which is derived from the Classic Media catalogue), representing one third of the studio’s profits. Planned theme parks and a studio in Shanghai are the icing on the cake.
Katzenberg prophesised that traditional, scheduled TV-viewing and non-linear, online viewing on mobile-devices will co-existing peacefully. He drew parallels to the media revolutions of the past 500 years (Guttenberg’s books, newspapers, radio, TV), pointing out that none of those canceled out the previous innovations. Of course, he didn’t come to that conclusion on his own – he admitted he borrowed the whole argument from historian Daniel J. Boorstin (and conveniently left the death of silent movies out of this ideology).
“People often decry of the fast pace of life. But in reality, it’s really not precisely a non-stop moving. We move fast and then wait. We rush to a store and then wait to check out. We rush to the airport and then wait through security.” These idle moments are the ones that Katzenberg sees as the content creator’s new slot (remember, the Chinese watch their favorite series’ in the metro!).
“Until now we literally twiddled our thumbs while we waited. Now our palms have a higher purpose. To touch screens. Thanks to these devices, waiting as we know it is dead.” Katzenberg must be a man of touch, someone attuned to palpable pleasures for he can’t wait to get on the (presumably non-commercial) aircraft, settle in his comfortable personal space and do the touching, he confessed. “It’s tactile, it’s very compelling. It’s not the same as pushing a button.”
In five years, he reckons, MIPCOM will be renamed as “The Thumb Twiddling Replacement Business.”
Katzenberg’s 6-minute attention spam
I’m generally not a jerk at press junkets (or elsewhere, for that matter), but I still hold it as one of my notable accomplishments that I embarrassed Katzenberg at the Dorchester Hotel in London. I was only 22 and daringly youthful (or youthfully daring) to read out loud some disparaging quotes from Disney chief Michael Eisner’s autobiography about Katzenberg ignoring the wider corporate agenda, the responsibility for shareholders, caring only about his production pipeline, and other assorted insults along those lines. Would he care to comment? Katzenberg said he didn’t care much about that kind of criticism, but my fellow journalists assured me after the session that while I was reading the quotes, the powerful DreamWorks SKG partner was giving me a very, very unsavory look indeed. No Hollywood mogul is used to being called to task this way. At MIPCOM this year, he was less pitbullish than he appeared to be in the past decades. He is getting old, he’s mellowed.
His speech was generally underwhelming—except for one thing. In a rare show of generous tip-dispensing mood, he shared with the audience his idea of squeezing some extra episodes out of xBreaking Bad’svv creators—futilely. This August he tried to persuade them to produce 3 more hours, “continuing where the show ends,” for U$25 million per episode! That’s $75 million! (Usually one episode costs U$2 to U$3 million to make.) “They would have made more profit from these 3 shows than they made from 5-years of the entire series.”
He had one condition: deliver the 180 minutes in 6 minutes segments. He would have made the 30 chapters available exclusively on the internet, as VoD content for something like 0.99 cents per chapter. “I had no doubt in my mind that 5-6 million people would bought those chapters every day. The day you post it, everybody would be sitting there waiting for that next 6 minutes to come.” He envisioned it as the “biggest pay-per view television” event ever.
I am certain someone else will put this idea into practice with some other popular show when its network/cable run ends.