Sunday, May 08, 2016


...a challenger emerges.

Yes, it has finally happened.

Netflix is facing a legitimate contender for the streaming throne.

Incredibly, this challenge comes from none of the traditional sources.

It's not one of the established studios. It's not even Disney, who have used strategic acquisitions (Marvel and Lucasfilm) to strengthen the stable for their service 'Hulu'.

No, it took an outsider, a billionaire purveyor of consumer goods, to draw swords with Netflix.


The online retailer has seen the future, and the future is SVOD video. Amazon's steps into the marketplace have been gigantic.

It began with their foray into original TV series commissioning. The result was award-winners 'Transparent' and 'Mozart In The Jungle'.

Then, in January 2015 Amazon hired independent film luminary, Ted Hope, to run Amazon Studios.

'Chi-Raq' an Amazon Studios original film by Spike Lee, followed soon after.

Recently, in the lead up to The 2016 Cannes Film Festival, news broke that Amazon Studios would have five films they are attached to, screening in the prestigious festival.

All meaningful milestones, set and crossed in the space of just three years.

Interestingly, even the head of Cannes acknowledged that the Netflix-Amazon rivalry was a subtext he was cognisant of. He even weighed in:

"There is no suspicion about [their] love of cinema. They are good for cinema. Amazon and the people in charge of cinema at Amazon...they are movie buffs."

Netflix is not nearly as well-liked.

The bone of contention, allegedly, is the fact that Netflix does not release their original films (e.g. Beasts of No Nation) in theatres, before making them available online. Amazon, on the other hand, has given a commitment that their original films will first screen in cinemas, before then appearing on their streaming platform; a move that appeases the old guard of the film distribution ecosystem.

With each company pursuing seemingly different models for feature film distribution, and the fact that one of them is primarily a global retailer, you could fairly question whether Netflix and Amazon are actually in direct competition.

But consider this first.

In April 2016, Amazon launched a monthly payment option for their video subscription service. Prior to that, audiences had to pay an annual fee for the Amazon platform.

The new price of the monthly service?

US$8.99 a month, a full dollar less than the Netflix monthly cost.

So, yes, even if they were heading in divergent directions previously, they're on a collision course now.

Make no mistake, these are the heavyweights that have stepped into the ring.

Netflix has annual revenues of US$6 billion and is valued at US$32 billion.

Amazon has annual revenues of US$107 billion, and is valued at US$175 billion.

These titans have deep pockets. They are willing to take risks. And, most importantly, they want to win.

It's already begun. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in January, the two behemoths were the top buyers, bidding enormous sums for the rights to indie film titles that normally see far fewer zeroes on their cheques.

Netflix, meanwhile, is poised to spend $5 billion on content for its service in 2016. 'Game of Thrones' peddlers HBO, by comparison, spend around $2 billion on their slate. The disparity is beyond gargantuan.

It's a slugfest.

But what does this sudden influx of cash mean for the rest of us? The ants who watch as imperious gods hurl lightning bolts at each other.

For now, very little.

As is so often the case, the bulk of the new resources are going to the well established. Spike Lee. Woody Allen. Nicolas Winding Refn.

But the tremors will reverberate out to the fringes, mark my words.

Or, as Ted Hope himself puts it:

"We’re going to have an outpouring. It’s going to be a wonderful period, I think, for ambitious cinema...You start to see not just us, but all the competitors that are out there, (enlist) different models where it makes sense to take bigger risks with films of great ambition."

Audiences crave the meaningful exploration of the soul that derives from great storytelling.

Huge companies want to partner with the storytellers to get a cut.

In return the storytellers are freed and supported to explore their creative limits.

And once again, the artists will have their day.

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