For 17 years, ever since the Walt Disney Company swallowed its corporate parent, ABC has been a type of distant planet in the Disney universe. With nothing overtly Disney-ish about ABC, it has largely operated outside the company’s synergistic approach to show business — theme parks fueling movies fueling merchandise fueling cable channels.
That is changing. As part of a wide-ranging effort to find new hits, ABC is looking to the Magic Kingdom for firepower.
In some ways these collaborations are a logical end point to the government’s decision two decades ago to abolish rules that barred the major TV networks from owning their prime-time shows. Without any regulations saying otherwise, major media companies can own shows, the networks that distribute them, and any associated products.
But this year the release schedules feature at least eight high-budget films that were conceived 5 to 14 years ago. At Warner Brothers, “Man of Steel,” a Superman makeover to be released on June 14, has been working its way through the system for at least seven years. That was time enough for five “Twilight” movies, and for Kristen Stewart’s relationship with Robert Pattinson to cycle in and out of the public eye. “Ender’s Game,” produced by OddLot Entertainment and others for release on Nov. 1, took root at Warner a decade ago. It is based on a science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card that was first published in 1985.
On the whole, it may not much matter if such popcorn pictures, which are generally geared to a diverse world audience, become detached from the cultural moment in which they were conceived.
“I don’t think there’s tremendous risk that a genre film, whether it be zombie, vampire, alien or superhero, is doomed to failure just because of the long turnaround time,” said James Thompson, who teaches a course on American cultural industries for Duke University’s Duke in Los Angeles program.
“It can just start a new cycle,” he said.
But for the biggest movies, staying current is no small trick. Graphic novels were all the rage in 1999, for instance, when the producer Lawrence Gordon bought rights to “R.I.P.D.,” an illustrated series about the “Rest in Peace Department” of dead law enforcement officers.
The film was almost made in 2004, with the director David Dobkin. But he instead went to work on “Fred Claus,” which opened in 2007. Eventually, Robert Schwentke signed on to direct, and “R.I.P.D.,” starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, will be released by Universal Pictures on July 19.
Other films begun five or more years ago include “The Croods,” at DreamWorks Animation; “Epic,” at 20th Century Fox; “The Lone Ranger,” at Walt Disney; “The Great Gatsby,” at Warner; and “47 Ronin,” at Universal.
By many accounts, “the Harry Potter effect” has forever changed Hollywood. Though franchises date way back in film history—by one count there were 47 Charlie Chan pictures, and James Bond just celebrated his 50th anniversary as a movie character—the success of the Potter films, along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the later Twilight and Hunger Games series, all of which were based on already popular books and made with initially little-known actors, has upset Hollywood’s traditional balance of power. “The star system has changed,” says Universal’s Langley. “Back in the 90s, writers could tailor a screenplay as a vehicle for a hot actor. Audiences have become less loyal to favorite actors.”
The new math isn’t complicated: pay a screenwriter $1 million for an untested, unknown idea or squeeze a movie out of an existing product with built-in branding. As a result, “developing from I.P.”—intellectual property, i.e., books, comics, video games, old movies, TV series, toys—“has become de rigueur rather than waiting for a spec to come in,” says Langley. “The focus shifted from original ideas to hedging your bets,” notes Moore. Or, as Shane Black says, “there’s only the careful choice of a product that goes through committee. It’s: how can we make movies that we absolutely know won’t lose any money?” As it happens, Black is currently directing the third installment of the billion-dollar Iron Man franchise, due for release this spring.
CBR News: With the two new titles launching just in time for the release of “Man of Steel,” do you think the Nolan/Snyder film will affect readership for the comics? And does the movie affect your storytelling at all?
Scott Lobdell: I can only speak for me, but I think all we know about the movie is what’s in the trailer. [Laughs] Unless somebody has an inside scoop that I don’t know about.
Scott Snyder: They really haven’t given us any marching orders to steer clear of anything or to use anything. We’ve been left to our own devices, I think.
Also of note is that they’ve named their newest Superman book, “Superman Unchained”, a reference obviously inspired by an entirely different movie….
Measuring the economic impact of all the ways the internet has changed people’s lives is devilishly difficult because so much of it has no price. It is easier to quantify the losses Wikipedia has inflicted on encyclopedia publishers than the benefits it has generated for users like Ms Mollica. This problem is an old one in economics. GDP measures monetary transactions, not welfare. Consider someone who would pay $50 for the latest Harry Potter novel but only has to pay $20. The $30 difference represents a non-monetary benefit called “consumer surplus”. The amount of internet activity that actually shows up in GDP—Google’s ad sales, for example—significantly understates its contribution to welfare by excluding the consumer surplus that accrues to Google’s users. The hard question to answer is by how much.
Strong correlations, but the post generalizes over all countries while the paper itself seems to show the biggest changes happening in specific countries — Belgium, France, and Spain. And less of an impact in the United States. This suggests a significant missing component in the data.
our basic thinking is that one way to look at piracy is as a competing good that just happens to be free. While some have argued that you can’t compete with free, we think a more productive view is that competing with free (pirated) content is just a special case of price competition. We know that people are willing to pay a few dollars more to buy books from Amazon, even if the same books could be found for lower prices at other stores (see here or here). This suggests that Amazon’s consumers value things like reliability, ease-of-use, and convenience, and are willing to pay more for products with these attributes.
Applying these results to digital media channels, we would expect that some consumers would be willing to buy through legitimate channels if content in those channels is more valuable than the “free” pirated alternative. In this view a key part of competing with free pirated content is using the same tools that Amazon uses — reliability, ease-of-use, and convenience — to make content on legal distribution channels more valuable than competing content piracy channels.
However, we believe that another key part of competing with free piracy can be making content on illegal channels less valuable to consumers. In this regard, our finding of a 6-10% increase in digital movie revenue suggests that even though shutting down Megaupload didn’t stop all piracy, it was successful in making piracy sufficiently less reliable, less easy-to-use, and less convenient than it was before, and some consumers were willing to switch from piracy to legal channels as a result.
I recently tried a little experiment. I paid Facebook $7 to promote my column to my friends using the company’s sponsored advertising tool.
To my surprise, I saw a 1,000 percent increase in the interaction on a link I posted, which had 130 likes and 30 reshares in just a few hours. It seems as if Facebook is not only promoting my links on news feeds when I pay for them, but also possibly suppressing the ones I do not pay for.
Facebook proudly informed me in a message that 5.2 times as many people had seen my post because I had paid the company to show it to them. Gee whiz. Thanks, Facebook.
This may be great news for advertisers, but I felt slightly duped. I’ve stayed on Facebook after its repeated privacy violations partly because I foolishly believed there was some sort of democratic approach to sharing freely with others. The company persuaded us to share under that premise and is now turning it inside out by requiring us to pay for people to see what we post.
Twitter has the same type of advertising module, the sponsored tweet, but although it might highlight the ad in a user’s stream, it does not suppress other people’s content in the process. Everything just falls into a time-based stream.
Facebook may become dominant enough that its actions vex regulators, then it may be forced to change what it highlights. Or, maybe its users will grow so tired of what seems like another bait-and-switch that they will decide to stop sharing, even if it seems to be free.
Audiences will demand authenticity. Storytelling of the future will put two competing pressures on advertisers. On the one hand, advertisers will need to become far better at dealing in fiction. The kinds of experiences that will rise to rival Hollywood blockbusters will necessarily be infused with magic, symbolism, and drama. Nothing else will delight increasingly jaded audiences. Our worlds must look as colorful to audiences as Oz looked to Dorothy when compared to Kansas. But…nobody wants to live in Oz because Oz was ruled by a charlatan. It was a magical place, but a highly inauthentic one. It took Dorothy exposing this to become the hero of her own story. And that brings in the contradictory second pressure: to be deeply authentic even as we create fictional worlds.
So while there will be a premium placed on creativity and symbolism, audiences will demand that the lines between reality and fantasy not be blurred. Associating a car, for instance, with a world of adventure, joy, and mystery will offer an exciting immersion. Promising that it will deliver you happiness despite poor safety ratings or environmental performance will send audiences running to the story-worlds of competitors. Living up to the wonderful worlds brands create — and to higher audience expectations — may be a powerful force for higher levels of corporate and non-profit social responsibility.
Interview with author Will Storr of the book “The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science”:
Confirmation bias, he says, relates to the neurological ‘hero maker’ that we all share. Storr believes we are all driven by an inner narrative, ‘where we are struggling through our days to make better lives for ourselves’.
He adds: “Our brain populates this idea with ‘heroes’ who support our views and ‘villains’ in our lives who we demonise - it’s a very black and white process. This is the world we live in - the brain is a storyteller.”
It is not just the likes of UFO-spotters and creationists who are susceptible to confirmation bias, however. Storr notes that rationalists can be just as inflexible in their judgments as anyone else. He attends a conference of ‘sceptics’, who insist there is ‘no evidence for homeopathy’. When he asks the sceptics what scientific literature on homeopathy they’ve read to support these claims, many admit they haven’t read any.
This isn’t to say that homeopathy isn’t legitimate - merely that many ‘rationalists’ dismiss it because they don’t want to believe it in the first place.
It is the same principle - Storr says we don’t base our opinions on evidence, we form opinions first, then seek evidence which backs them up. Stories, Storr says, are a powerful driving force in shaping our beliefs. As most of our thought processes are done unconsciously, this kind of natural irrationality sees us create narratives which shape beliefs.
“Stories completely control our understanding of the world,” Storr says.
Netflix knows enough about what you are watching to judge specific aspects of content as well. Last summer senior data scientist Mohammad Sabah reported at a conference that Netflix was capturing specific screen shots to analyze in-the-moment viewing habits, and the company was “looking to take into account other characteristics.”
What could those characteristics be? GigaOm’s report of the Sabah presentation speculated that “it could make a lot of sense to consider things such as volume, colors and scenery that might give valuable signals about what viewers like.”
Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has said that all that data means that Netflix has a very “addressable audience.” Unlike the traditional broadcast networks or cable companies, Netflix doesn’t have to rely on shoveling content out into the wild and finding out after the fact what audiences want or don’t want. They believe they already know.
Pitchfork: You mentioned that Supernatural Strategies is a revisionist history. That really comes through in the séance section, especially the chapter about rock’n’roll’s origins in street gangs.
IS: The accepted history of rock’n’roll has a lot to do with cultural guilt — stealing the culture of the underclass. And it’s always just cited as being a version of the blues, which is true to a certain extent, but the resulting organizational model, which is never discussed, is at least as significant as the musical model. The organizational model is actually a kind of commercial variant of the street gang, which makes a lot of sense in the U.S.A., where everything is monetized and everything has to have a price tag on it to be worthwhile. In this sense the street gang is morphing into a commercial entity, especially because the street gang in particular places has strong connections to organized crime. Oftentimes street gangs either became organized crime or were the junior adjuncts to criminal organizations.
It makes sense that early rock’n’roll was very much tied in with organized crime, the jukebox industry and music publishing in particular. That’s essentially organized crime. The parallels with street gangs are really glaring, and what I learned is that it’s not only the doo-wop groups and the ‘50s groups that came out of the street gang mode, but also people like Ace Frehley from KISS, Blackie Lawless, the Ducky Boys, and some of these later rock. And obviously a lot of hip-hop groups came form evolved out of street gangs that we really ubiquitous in the ‘70s. In the book we talked about the falling fortunes of the street gangs coincide with the rise of the rock’n’roll groups.
Pitchfork: They both seem organized around the idea of home turf, which brings on its own antagonisms and loyalties.
IS: There’s a book I read a long time ago called The Violent Gang by Lewis Yablonsky. It’s one of the ‘60s sociological texts, and he was interviewing these gang leaders who were maybe 15 years old and they’re talking about their territory and they’re talking about the wars they’re about to fight with the other gangs. All I could think was, “That’s rock’n’roll.” Everybody in a rock’n’roll group has this sense of their own importance. No matter how insignificant the group is, they all have this kind of territorial sensibility. The parallels were really striking.
Pitchfork: In one chapter, you—or, more precisely, the Kingsmen’s Richard Berry—discuss rock’n’roll as a capitalist tool borne out of Cold War fears and aggressions. How does rock’n’roll redeem itself from that unsavory association?
IS: The rock’n’roll group has been used as a capitalist tool to see consumerism overseas—and it still is. At the same time, capitalism didn’t really create the expression, although it did spawn this group model. In another sense, rock’n’roll is this rediscovery of an ancient pre-verbal expression, and that’s why it ultimately has such a worldwide appeal: It’s not only easy to emulate, but it’s also something that has been repressed for centuries. So people can’t get enough of it, and it always feels new in the same way that people’s faces always feel new. It’s endlessly exciting. So I would say that just because a thing was used to counter these Soviet claims to moral superiority and high culture, it doesn’t mean that the whole thing is necessarily dismissible.
A series of videos of Rob Liefeld discussing the principles he used when creating his characters, such as Deadpool and X-Force, many of which have become iconic over the years (even as his art is often derided). The idea that Cable was a conglomeration of action heroes, Bruce Willis meeting Arnold was particularly interesting. Also his own unease with color leaving him to design around two-color schemes.
Twitter’s decision to concentrate on TV-related features and partnerships isn’t that surprising. As we’ve described before, the company has been coming under increasing pressure to generate meaningful amounts of revenue in order to justify a market value that is estimated to be in the $10 billion range, based on recent sales of its shares on the private market. And while Twitter has been building up its “promoted tweets” and other advertising-related features, the most obvious and lucrative source of revenue is still television and other video-related content.