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On April 12th, 2018, together with my team from the IE Film & Television Industry Club, I had the opportunity to organize and host the ie '18 film & television panel at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. Under the motto "Disrupting the Scene" four industry insiders discussed how video streaming services are disrupting the production, distribution, and consumption of movies and TV series. The speakers were Marta Ezpeleta (Disney), Carlos Rincon Cestero (Former Warner Bros.), and José Antonio De Luna (FILMIN). The panel was moderated by Iôna de Macêdo (Film & TV Producer). Any expression of the speakers represented their own opinion and not that of their company. More than 50 participants attended the event and submitted questions to the panel discussion via sli.do. A brief summary of the panel's main discussion points and questions asked will be provided alongside with some interesting ideas, insights, and pictures from the event.
To begin with, the moderator and each of the speakers gave short presentations to introduce the topic that was going to be discussed during the panel.
Iôna de Macêdo started out with a story about an idea suggested by a former colleague back in 1996: What if movies were first shown in a shorter version on this new thing called the Internet and then in an extended version in theaters? She emphasized that this was one of the smartest idea she has heard since and yet the film industry has been so reluctant to adapt to the new world. This brought up the general question of how willing are we to adapt to change and what change means for us.
One of the speakers pointed out that the change we are experiencing is filled with opportunities and should be viewed as something positive. Content and consumer now have a stronger relationship than ever before. How, when, and where consumers watch content is now key. More content being produced will lead to higher-quality content. That is because in the past all series and movies were basically uniform and many kinds of content could not even be shown on TV due to compliance issues. Yet, linear TV is not dead. The speaker concluded by saying "We have to embrace change for more possibilities".
The next presentation pointed out that back in 2004 there was no legal option to view films on the Internet. The vision of the pioneers in the streaming space was to make it legal, but the studio world was reluctant to accompany the step. The speaker claimed that the Internet provides access to everyone, which is a great chance for niche products, an endless market.
The last introduction pointed to the Netflix vs. Cannes incident. Netflix has been banned from competing in the Cannes Film Festival, because Netflix refuses to release its films in theaters, choosing instead to debut them on its streaming service. This speaker summarized the confrontation as Streaming Platforms vs. Big Screen. Yet, this conflict is not exclusive to the film industry. We can see the same happening with Uber vs. Taxis and Airbnb vs. Hotels. The magic of the big screen will always exist, but the fragmentation of audiences might increase. Through streaming platforms, small, low budget productions by local content producers can suddenly become big hits, which was not possible in the past.
Moderator: "Do you see the possibility that an aggregator will eventually consolidate all video streaming services on a single platform with a single monthly fee?"
The responding speaker explained that currently some companies are trying to establish such aggregation service, but because of commercial reasons this is a very difficult task. The huge worry for existing streaming services is how such aggregator will promote their content. Will Netflix originals be promoted more than HBO series? This will most likely be a question of money. While in Spain people are still far from that number, in the U.S. customers already pay for 2-3 subscriptions. Aggregators will certainly join the race.
Moderator: "What is a movie and what is a TV series?"
Iôna de Macêdo claimed that with the gaining popularity of series and binge-watching, the borders blur between the different formats. Can watching seven episodes of a series for seven hours in a row not be considered a movie? One of the speakers added that traditionally the distinction between series and movies comes from the channels through which content was distributed. In the past there was a very well defined set of formats and time slots either for TV or the big screen. Boundaries are blurring as streaming services do not have the classic restrictions of advertisement and compliance, which rule television. Another speaker added that there might even come the time when there will be both versions of the same content. The audience can then choose between series or movie.
Audience: "Netflix’s ability to predict a show’s success using data is great but will over-reliance on it limit creativity and serendipitous content discovery?"
In response to this question one of the speakers brought up the series La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) as successful example to illustrate that not every decision at Netflix relies on data and algorithms. La Casa de Papel started out on the Spanish TV network Antena 3, where it did okay numbers. However, after Netflix discovered the series and added it to its platform it became an international hit in no time. The platform then produced the second season as a Netflix Original Series. No data was used to acquire La Casa de Papel, it supposedly was a management decision. This story confirms what we have heard in one of the introductory presentations: A small, regional production can now suddenly become a big international hit. The moderator added that certainly algorithms are a great help. This becomes obvious when comparing Amazon to Netflix. Amazon has produced pilots for many of their shows and several of them have failed after already spending a lot of money on production. Netflix, on the other hand, bases decisions on their algorithms and puts, for example, House of Cards out there without any pilot.
Audience: "Spielberg said if the movie is not shown in theaters it shouldn’t be nominated to Oscars. Do you think streaming services affect the quality of movies?"
In one of the introductory presentations we heard about the confrontation between Netflix and Cannes. That is exactly what is happening here as well. One of the speakers explains that the perceived value of streaming content is low. People somehow have arrived to the conclusion that online content does not have the same quality as theatrical released movies. This decline of perceived quality was in part the fault of YouTube. The platform emerged at a very early stage of online video and shaped consumer thinking substantially. The quality of their user-generated videos is perceived inferior and this might be responsible for the way many people still think today about streaming content.
Unfortunately, 90 minutes is a very limited time to discuss such huge and interesting topic. Several of the audience's questions could therefore not be answered during the panel. Nevertheless, they are important points to discuss. Some examples:
- "Do you think in the future "select your own adventure" type of TV shows/movies are going to be more popular?"
- "How do you see branded entertainment movies/series? Do they have space in regular streaming platforms?"
- "Are niche streaming services a better way to enter the streaming market than a generic, all compassing video platform?"
- "Why has the traditional studio world long been reluctant to adapt to video streaming? Might it already be too late right now?"
- "Which are the differences in the creative process of making content for streaming vs. for cinema? What is the difference in stories and what about marketing?"
After the 90-minutes discussion, participants had the chance to clink glasses with the industry insiders and discuss their ideas further on a one-on-one basis while enjoying food and beverage provided by IE Talent & Careers.