Thursday, February 25, 2016


It's that time again. Our little annual tradition here at Tales From The Opening Act: the 'Year In Review'.

Well, actually, it's two weeks early. The Australian Academy Awards (AACTA's) have moved from January to December this year, so it wouldn't make sense predicting them after they've already happened next week.

For the newcomers this time around, I started reviewing the year to come in 2011. I noticed that most articles around this period were reviewing the year that was concluding, without a single sentence dedicated to the future. Where is the sense in only looking over your shoulder, when the road is approaching from ahead?

So I did it for them. We've reviewed 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015; with some success I might add.

And now, gather around, as I give you The 2016 Review.

Loosen your belts. Wear elastic waists if you can. Baggy shirts are a must. Because 2016 will be a year of EXCESS.

So much content.

So numerous the sequels.

So many zeroes on the returns.


Starting with the biggest anticipated film releases, it's going to be cavalcade of franchises, superheroes, reboots and sequels. The highest profile names on offer are: 'Kung Fu Panda 3', 'Batman v Superman', 'Captain America 3', 'Alice in Wonderland 2', 'Xmen: Apocalyspe', 'Warcraft', 'The Conjuring 2', 'Finding Dory', 'Independence Day 2', 'The Jungle Book', 'Star Trek 3', 'Ice Age 5', 'Jason Bourne 4', 'Deadpool', and 'Suicide Squad'.


Personally, I don't see any clear stand-outs like in previous years. The sheer volume makes it hard to imagine a front-runner, as each film cannibalises the others box office dollars.

As a rule, the films with large pre-defined, active fan bases tend to find the easiest path to ubiquity and audience, so my hat-tip goes to 'Warcraft' (based on the hugely successful gaming franchise) to win the year; particularly with Duncan Jones at the helm. Having said that, 'Batman vs Superman' and 'Captain America 3' will spend obscene amounts of money to capture the mindshare, so discount them at your peril.

As the biggest surprise hit of 2016, I think the 'Ghostbusters' reboot can take the crown, given how much early buzz has already been generated. It will be neck and neck with the 'Angry Birds Movie', again given the in-built audience and brand awareness that the Birds enjoy. Ryan Reynolds' 'Deadpool' is out of the running, because it will be rated R in the United States, a death knell for a substantial box office return.

In the Australian Industry, look to another solid year for Australian films at the local box office, however no-where near the record breaking highs of 2015. Australian sci-fi, 'SFv1', should find an audience; as well as youth driven 'Jasper Jones'. Look to the biggest splashes coming from 'Red Dog 2', and the latest from Oscar winner Emile Sherman, 'Lion'.

Feeling engorged already? Well, the glut doesn't end at the cinema.

There is not even enough time to list the hundreds of television shows that will be screened in 2016, both new and returning. By way of example...

'According to estimates provided to critics and reporters last week by the research team at FX Networks, more than 400 original scripted English-language series — just in prime time, not counting game shows, reality shows, documentary shows, daytime or nighttime talk shows, news or sports — will air on American television in 2015 before the year is out...'

New expressions are being coined in TV executive circles, like 'peak television', indicating a hope that the sheer volume of television programs being produced has reached its highest point. The fear is a content overload which brings the whole system grinding to a halt.

I don't think we're even close to the crest of this tsunami. TV execs are like habitual gamblers. One more spin of the wheel, and they're sure this time they'll get a hit. Who among them will be the first to say: "we are producing one less show this year, to ensure our audiences have time to view the content"? How long will that person keep their job?

Look to see the number of shows INCREASE in 2016, not decrease.

Meanwhile, on the awards red carpets, the scene is just as crowded.

At The Oscars, the early picks for best picture, keeping in mind that the nominations aren't announced yet, are 'Spotlight', 'The Martian', 'Creed' (yes, a Rocky sequel) and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. 'The Revenant', directed by last years Best Picture winner for 'Birdman', is receiving hefty praise from critics, ironically despite not having been released yet. 'Inside Out' also looks like it could sneak in for a Best Picture nomination, only the fourth animated film to do so.

The Best Film race is still so opaque, this far out from the event, that it's tough to make a clear prediction. At a pinch, I think it will come down to 'Mad Max: Fury Road', and 'The Revenant', with the former squeaking in by a nose. You may accuse me of being too patriotic with that selection so, to sweeten the pot, I'll also throw in Leonardo DiCaprio to finally break his drought and win that elusive golden idol for the lead in 'The Revenant'.

At the Australian Academy Awards this week, the field for Best Picture is far smaller, however the selection tastes of the AACTA members are more variable. Prediction becomes difficult. Based purely on audience response, 'Last Cab to Darwin' should squeeze past 'Mad Max: Fury Road' for the top prize, but that would ignore the sheer behemoth that Fury Road was at the Australian box office.

With that in mind, Dr George will likely claim the statuette comfortably for Fury Road, leaving Last Cab and 'Holding The Man' in his post apocalyptic rear-view mirror. I'll be there on the night, so I'll have the chance to either be proven right, or egregiously wrong, in person.

Later that night, as the red carpet is rolled up and I arrive home to my sanctuary, I might try and escape this cacophony of content with a little simple TV viewing.

Not a chance.

The plethora of channel options is omnipresent. It's like buying toothpaste from that hulking wall of choice.

In Australia, there is Netflix, Stan, Presto, Quickflix, Vimeo, Youtube, iTunes, Bigpond TV, Fetch TV, free-to-air catchup services (like ABC iview), SmartTV dedicated channels (e.g. Tastemade), broadcast TV, etc etc etc...

In America? Even more! Including dedicated streaming services from the content creators like HBO or Disney's Hulu.

Not really a gap in the market, right?

Wrong. In 2016, be prepared for more, more, MORE.

Youtube RED has already been announced by Google. Channel 4 in the UK is establishing a streaming service for international content. From the corporate giants, Comcast is launching a streaming platform in the U.S. and Apple is planning to finally launch their delayed subscription streaming service in early 2016. Even the old faithful, the BBC, have announced they'll be starting a U.S. streaming portal next year.

If you're eyes are bulging at this point, and mine are, know that the load will lighten somewhat in the year ahead.

There are too many mouths at the trough, with not enough audience to go around. Unfortunately, after heavy losses throughout 2015, I don't think Quickflix will survive 2016. They were one of the earliest in the streaming space in Australia, but sometimes being first mover can actually work against you, particularly in a small market.

And while it's never positive to hear about a local content distribution portal folding, it won't be all doom and gloom in the year of excess ahead.

While the audience appetite for content grows, and as streaming providers look to differentiate themselves, the demand for original and exclusive screen projects will also expand in 2016. This will lead to a very healthy increase of Australian original programs on streaming providers, at the least from Stan and Presto, but quite possibly from Australian Netflix as well.

A new wave of original Australian stories is great news for local audiences, along with local screen storytellers. Win-win.

You should know, however, that there cannot be a swollen smorgasbord of screen delights, without a larger platter to serve them on.

As I predicted in the 2015 edition, many of the largest players in the tech market have revamped their smart TV plug-in devices, releasing them just in time for the 2015 Xmas shopping clusterf**k. Apple has redesigned their Apple TV, giving specific attention to the woefully sparse controller. Google too has revamped the Chromecast, with a planned wide release of the Chromecast 2 in 2016. Likewise, Amazon supercharged their Firestick to 4K resolution, and Roku released the Roku 4.

To manage the overflowing cornucopia of new screen content, these little plastic boxes have become an essential part of the new media ecosystem. Despite the recent advancements, however, the full effects of this new push for tech dominance in streaming video will not be felt until 2016.

Expect at the least to see the number of direct to streaming/streaming only shows continue to increase next year, bypassing the traditional cross platform (broadcast, online, etc) approach as audiences 'cut the cord'.

Less likely, but still very possible given the growing dominance of tech providers in this burgeoning market, is that many TV manufacturers will give up on their smart TV interfaces in 2016. Sharp and Sony have already done so in 2015, but others are still clinging to the hope they'll work out the kinks in their offering. Some people clearly feel the dead horse deserves to be flogged.

The good news is that, in abandoning the pursuit of smart televisions, the manufacturers can focus on what they do best. Look for 4K resolution and enhanced audio systems in TVs to be the new emphasis in the year ahead, which is great for audiences and content makers alike.

So, are you thoroughly overfed yet?

Rotund and aching from your diaphragm and beyond?

This is how the world will feel by the conclusion of 2016.

The rapacious need for entertainment will give way to bewilderment, as the hours of content back up, and the FOMO (fear of missing out) becomes like a post-Xmas binge headache.

But before you curse and discard your television, remember, we all indulge on the things we love..and we always come back for leftovers the next day. The glorious upside of the coming excess, is that it is spurred by the desire to engage in screen stories.

The challenge for screen storytellers, as the torrent of new content begins to flow, unmitigated, is to make the most of these opportunities. To find these hungry audiences.

Being heard will be the challenge. Being innovative, building audiences, and breaking through the din, should be the mission.

The audience is large, and growing larger in 2016.

It's a wonderful life.

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