Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It's time.

Can you believe it? How quickly have the days and months evaporated.

But here we are again. Gathered around the hearth. A warm beverage in hand.

For the newcomers this year, I started our little 'Tales From the Opening Act' tradition in 2011. I noticed that many pundits were reviewing the year just past, with not a single neuron devoted to what lay ahead. Seemed like they were taking the easy road.

So I did it for them.

2012 was reviewed in 2011, and the tradition continued through 2012 and 2013. And now, without further adieu, I give you 'The 2015 Review'.

Or, as it shall be known, the battle royale'.

Yes, there will be a wave of bickering and sniping in 2015. Big companies. Big films. Big new business models.

The shells have well and truly been discarded, and industry players will be climbing over each other to get to the gold ring.

Take the 2015 major releases for a start.

In a normal year, you could genuinely separate the thoroughbreds from the pack. The films that would have the names, the brand and the marketing push to draw big audiences.

This year? Good luck.

There are hugely successful sequels slated for release in 2015, like 'Kung Fu Panda 3', and the final 'Hunger Games' of the franchise. Not to mention the big screen returns of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mad Max, in 'Fury Road', and killer dinosaurs in 'Jurassic World'.

But those films are, bizarrely, not even the top contenders.

Squaring off in an epic battle between two film titans, is the sequel to the $1.5 billion grossing original, 'Avengers 2: Age of Ultron', and the hugely anticipated first film under the new Disney regime 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens'.

Even 'Batman versus Superman' moved to a 2016 release to avoid these two blockbusters. Understandable, given I expect Star Wars VII, with its huge active fanbase, to rule the 2015 box office.

Interestingly, the jostling between 2015 mega-films has already begun, with bragging rights claimed over Youtube views on the respective teaser trailers. For the record, Star Wars VII won the moral victory, 'with 58.2 million views in its first week since its debut, surpassing Avengers: Age of Ultron with 50.6 million views and Jurassic World with 53.9 million views'.

That's a direct quote. Someone, somewhere, is taking this way too seriously.

But the pugilism doesn't stop there.

On the Awards circuit, there are a glut of films contending for the top prizes. The front runners for the Oscars are, allegedly, 'Boyhood', 'Birdman', 'The Imitation Game', 'Selma', and 'The Theory of Everything'.

Simple, right?

Except that the other expected nominees are similarly acclaimed films like 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', 'Whiplash', 'Gone Girl', 'Unbroken', and 'Foxcatcher'.

My very uncertain Oscar 'best film' pick, based purely on the strength of the reviews around direction and performance, is 'Birdman'. With this field, however, there will be an outcry no matter who wins. Someone's favourite will definitely miss out.

On the Australian awards front, the situation is no better.

There are a host of strong Australian films in contention for best picture at the Australian Academy Awards (the AACTAs)

The Spierig brothers have had a solid outing with 'Predestination'. Emile Sherman and Iain Canning have form as Oscar winners, and their latest film 'Tracks' is certainly in the mix. And let's not forget 'Charlie's Country', which won David Gulpilil a best actor nod at The Cannes Film Festival.

The real battle, however, seems to be forming between the critics' darling and the star turn. 'The Babadook', the little Australian horror film that has wowed critics around the world, and 'The Water Diviner', Russell Crowe's directorial debut.

Unfortunately, I'm a cynic, so I see the 'Water Diviner' dominating the 2015 AACTAs. I haven't seen the film, so I can't judge whether a 'Water Diviner' whitewash is appropriate, but I sense that recognising Australia's living film greats has become more of the motivation behind the AACTAs of late.

Either that, or the Australian Academy members just REALLY loved 'The Great Gatsby' last year.

Away from the films themselves, the clashes continue.

While there will be smaller skirmishes elsewhere, Australia will be THE subscription streaming video battle ground.

Netflix will arrive, albeit with a reduced content offering, in 2015. Their reward for Australian territory expansion?

An all out turf war with the combined forces of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and mining billionaire Gina Rineheart.

Yes, after years of very little development in the subscription streaming space in Australia, we suddenly have three proposed streaming services slated to launch: Presto (a Murdoch/Foxtel and Kerry Stokes/Channel 7 joint venture), Stan (a Nine and Rineheart/Fairfax Media joint venture), and Netflix.

If only we had the broadband infrastructure to support these services. Sigh.

There will at least be one winner amidst the collisions between streaming video providers: the paying audiences. Competition can only help the situation for used and abused Australian audiences. Having said that, just hope that Netflix plays a long term game with this Southern Hemisphere launch, otherwise Australia may be looking at a new media monopoly should Netflix decide to pull out.

On an international level, the first real challengers to Youtube will arise in 2015...and be crushed under Google's boot heel.

Unfortunately for these admirable upstarts, Youtube is free, funded by it's owner Google, and still owns 'first mover' advantage in the marketplace. The eventual usurper to Youtube will have to be offering something genuinely different for audiences. But how many 'Funny or Die' sites do we really need?

Meanwhile in 2015, while all of the focus has been on the content providers, the technology giants will suddenly stumble themselves into genuine relevancy again. Yes, Apple and others are dominating with the tablets and phones, but the largest growing space for technology leadership is, ironically, the humble television.


Because the content provision side is becoming so fragmented. The big content creators are all trying to launch, or refine, their own direct to audience streaming services (e.g. HBO-GO, AMC-TV, Disney's Hulu, Netflix, etc) which makes it more complicated for audiences to easily watch content from their different subscriptions. Who wants to connect a computer to your TV, then have to log into five different websites to watch content?

Into this breach steps Samsung, with more sophisticated smart televisions and, of course, Apple TV. The winner in the smart TV space is far from clear, but we do know that Apple sold at least 10 million Apple TV units in 2013. This amount of sales makes the device Apple's fastest-growing hardware product on offer.

People want content, need convenience and will pay for it, clearly. The user experience on smart TV's and smart TV enabling devices will become just as important in 2015 to the content makers, as it will be for audiences.

And finally, mark my words, someone, somewhere will trial flexible pricing in cinemas in 2015. This pioneer will push ahead despite all of the entrenched resistance from the traditional players. Films competing with other recreational activities, through improved audience experience, convenient access to content, and flexible pricing, is the future whether we like it or not. Adapt or perish.

So, there you have a glimpse into 2015.

While it is true, 2015 will be a battle royale', the reason is not because of animosity, but opportunity.

Opportunity, in fact, is the real theme of 2015.

The new film business models are becoming much clearer, bringing a measure of stability to an industry in flux. The DVD has stopped free-falling in sales and will continue to be one source of income, albeit much less than previously, from a diverse revenue stream for filmmakers. Traditional theatrical returns continue to grow at a reasonable rate, and the On-Demand Subscription video services are predicted to grow exponentially over the next 5 years.

Audiences. Revenues. Partnerships. Awards.

They are all on offer in 2015. You just have to please your masters.

And, like it or not, if you are making content for a living, the audience is now very firmly in charge.

2015 will be a year of opportunities, if you're willing to build and satisfy your audience.

But what are you going to do, to make it happen?

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