The television industry has experienced massive evolution over the last few years, yet it also feels like we’ve come full circle.
Remember the days of TV guides and an overwhelming amount of channels, each with their own intellectual property rights to the TV shows and movies you wanted to see? As streaming services have come into their own within the last few years, outdated trends have returned in a new format.
For the last 10-15 years, entire seasons of brand new television shows would be dumped onto Netflix or Hulu in a single day, allowing viewers to binge the entire season in a weekend or less. Now Netflix, Hulu Disney+ and other streaming services have returned to the weekly episode model that we called extinct just a few years ago.
Or how about the days when you would go to a friend’s house because they had a premium channel you didn’t, like HBO or Showtime. With streaming, we’re back to an a la carte approach — and the bill for half a dozen of these services can easily equal or surpass what we once paid for an all-in-one cable package.
While the ecosystem of television feels increasingly familiar to what already existed in the past, the film industry is entering a completely new phase.
With few exceptions, the biggest film blockbusters have always lived on the big screen. These are major productions with sky-high budgets. The studios that produce them have long understood that making profits to justify budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars means box-office returns.
That pandemic changed all that. For the first time in modern memory, the biggest media productions (think Marvel, Pixar, Disney, etc.) were postponed indefinitely, released only on streaming services, or released in a “hybrid” approach on both movie screens and streaming.
Major studios have seen some level of financial success with all of those strategies, though the industry is likely still months or years away from returning to profit levels that only a robust international box office can offer.
Or maybe not. While it seems clear that movie theaters will always have a place in popular culture, there’s ongoing debate about whether hybrid releases for films like “Black Widow” or “Dune” is actually a smart strategy.
The hybrid release of “Black Widow” resulted in a lawsuit between the movie’s star, Scarlet Johannson, and Marvel Studios, over how much she deserved to be paid. For “Dune,” the question of hybrid releases has been even more pronounced, with director Denis Villenueve being an outspoken critic of the strategy.
“Dune” is actually “Dune: Part One,” and debuted in theaters on the same day it became available to stream on HBO Max. Villenueve said a condition of releasing the sequel would be an exclusive 45-day theatrical window before it goes to streaming services.
“For me, it was a non-negotiable condition,” Villeneuve said. “But again, I love streaming. I use streaming all the time. I think it’s a fantastic way of revisiting movies or discovering movies from the past that are not accessible in theaters anymore. But I still think that contemporary movies need to have their chance. All movies need to have proper time in theaters.”
There’s little doubt that directors like Villeneuve will continue to fight with studios over how their films are distributed, but there’s now an equally interesting debate happening over how films are funded.
Historically, films are expensive to make. While technology has brought down the cost a bit, the biggest movies still require major dollars to bring to fruition, meaning large Hollywood studios have held a bit of a monopoly in this area for a long time.
That makes it difficult for many independent films and aspiring studios to find their place in the film economy. Yet there are signs of new financing models, like the “crypto movie” developed by Mogul Productions, which has a self-described model of DeFiFi, or decentralized film financing. Essentially, Mogul Productions has created a platform that allows users to spend Ethereum-backed STARS Tokens to participate in the film production process, bringing a kind of crowdsourced approach to financing — only with crypto instead of crowdfunding platforms like IndieGoGo.
The reality is that the film industry is undergoing massive changes to its distribution, financing and media strategy. It seems clear that the future of film will be more diverse in both content and its relationship with the audience.
For consumers, at least, that’s probably a good thing.