Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, November 23rd, 2020. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by baked potatoes and iced tea.
IS THIS LEAKED DISNEY+ VIDEO REAL?
There is some video circulating today that is supposedly some of what will be announced during Disney upcoming investors meeting on December 10th. It certainly feels real, based on the look and the overall parameters of the details. But as you might expect, Disney has declined to discuss the video or whether it is legitimate.
According to the video, Disney+ is creating a new tier called "Disney 18+," which would be the home for more adult fare from 20th Century Fox and Disney. It would include movies such as Deadpool, Shape Of Water and Logan. It also appears that there will a Disney+ premium tier of some sort, which could be the home for movies that skip theatrical release as well as a stop for movies between a theatrical release and PVOD. This move fits with recent rumors that Disney is skipping the theatrical release for some of its films such as Cruella, Pinocchio and Peter Pan. Somewhat expectedly, it appears to show Black Widow heading to the premiere tier in April and Falcon & Winter Soldier in August.
The video also shows Disney+ adding more adult current programming, including shows such as The Good Doctor and Modern Family.
If true, all of this sparks a number of questions we don't yet have the answer for yet. What impact does this have on Hulu? Is this just a domestic plan? International only? What would the various tiers cost? It's a bold plan and I really hope it's real. But it looks as if we won't know for sure for a few weeks.
NETFLIX TOUTS 'THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT' VIEWING NUMBERS
Netflix sent out a press release this morning announcing that its original series The Queen's Gambit is the streaming services' "biggest limited scripted series ever," with more than 62 million viewers. There are plenty of reasons why that mushy viewing number is interesting but not especially helpful. But the release did spark some conversation online about the importance of a series that is by its very nature a one-off. For instance, Andrew Rosen argued that despite its success, it's not a "franchise IP" that you can build on for the future.
While that is true, people tend to forget that "franchise IP" is so valuable because it is near-unicorn rare. If you're lucky, you can create a franchise every decade or so. And it's instructive that when you look at the last fifty years worth of content that is represented on Disney+, you have three true examples of franchise IP: Star Wars, Marvel and The Simpsons. And all three of those were acquired from the outside. Yes, there are plenty of examples of successful Disney IP. But it is also IP that falls more into the category of a double or triple than a home run.
And that's fine. Launching home run-level IP is near impossible. What separates the winners from the losers is how any studio, network or streaming service manages the rest of the portfolio. Which most importantly includes creating a steady stream of doubles and triples to stay relevant from year-to-year.
BTW, this is also what makes the possible Disney+ Premium idea I discussed earlier so interesting. It's not a place you would send the home runs. But it's a tier for those doubles and triples that fall in the value chain between the home runs and the movies that can go straight to Disney+.
WHY IS AN OBSCURE 'B' SIDE PAVEMENT'S MOST LISTENED TO SONG ON SPOTIFY? IT'S COMPLICATED
If you spend any time watching Netflix's Top Ten lists, you'll notice that it's common to see weird and sometimes obscure movies suddenly appear on the lists. Some random Adam Sandler or Mark Wahlberg film will unexpectedly be the 3rd most-watched film and there is often no discernable reason for it to happen. It's clear Netflix's suggestion engines are surfacing the title for users. But why?
Stereogum has a really fascinating look at Spotify's recommendation engine and the story starts with a simple question: The Brighten The Corners album outtake "Harness Your Hopes" is the #1 song on Pavement's Spotify page, with over 29 million plays to date, eight million more than "Cut Your Hair," a legitimate and enduring '90s hit. Quickly, and without any obvious reason, it stopped being a rarity and started to become a standard. So how did this happen, exactly?
Online, people have been casually wondering this on places like Reddit and Twitter, with a prevailing theory being that the song must have been featured on a prominent Spotify playlist, and then simply snowballed from there. Malkmus himself was under this impression, too: “I heard it was on a playlist or something,” he says, nonchalant. “I’m not an expert on Spotify but, you know, one of those ‘Monday Moods’ or whatever the fuck they do.”
It’s a reasonable enough explanation. But looking at a similar situation of his own, Damon Krukowski wasn’t so sure. The musician and writer was fascinated with the question of how “Strange” became his former band Galaxie 500’s top Spotify track — by a significant margin — even though it was not a single, was never particularly popular in the past, and wasn’t being picked up on any prominent playlists. In June of 2018, Krukowski laid out the conundrum on his blog, and soon he received a possible explanation from a Spotify employee.
Glenn McDonald, who holds the title of “data alchemist” at Spotify, had taken an interest in the case, and decided to look into it. What he found is that the sudden jump in plays for “Strange” began in January of 2017, which was “the same time Spotify switched the ‘Autoplay’ preset in every listener’s preference panel from off, to on,” as Krukowski recounted on a follow-up blog post. McDonald explained to Krukowski that the Autoplay feature actually cues up music that “resembles” what you’ve just been listening to, based on a series of sonic signifiers too complex to describe. In this case, “Strange” had been algorithmically determined to sound similar to a lot of other music, and was frequently being Autoplayed to the point that it took on a life of its own, and eventually eclipsed the band’s other tracks. It continues to do so to this day.
It's well-worth reading the entire piece and while Spotify refuses to discuss the issue, it's probably not a coincidence the service is beginning to allow bands to select which songs get chosen for this unintentional attention.
This is the type of insight you can only get from inside the company and Netflix is notoriously shy about discussing its internal recommendation engines. But this Spotify story makes a lot of sense when you put it in the context of Netflix. These lesser, often obscure movies are being recommended not because they are great, but because they are bland enough to match up closely with other popular movies subscribers have previously viewed.
We tend to think of recommendation engines as being complex, manipulative creations that are driven entirely by design. But as this Spotify story illustrates, even the most carefully designed piece of software can produce unintended consequences.
ODDS AND SODS
Sky has acquired the Judi Dench/Leslie Mann movie Blythe Spirit and will release it simultaneously in theaters and on Sky Cinema in the UK and Ireland on January 15th.
What says 2020 more than a Baby Yoda Chia Pet?
WHAT'S ON TODAY:
Here is a rundown of the paltry number of new television programs premiering today:
1) Black Narcissus (FX)
Black Narcissus is an FX limited series based on the best-selling novel by Rumer Godden. Mopu, Himalayas, 1934. A remote clifftop palace once known as the 'House of Women' holds many dark secrets. When the young nuns of St. Faith attempt to establish a mission there, its haunting mysteries awaken forbidden desires that seem destined to repeat a terrible tragedy.
2) Shawn Mendes: In Wonder (Netflix)
Over the course of a world tour, this unguarded documentary follows Shawn Mendes as he makes sense of his stardom, relationships and musical future.
This newsletter is called "Too Much TV" because....well, it's hard to keep track of all the new television premiering everyday. To help you prioritize your viewing, click here to see our list of more than 400 upcoming television premieres, movies and finales. You'll find listings from more than 70 networks, as well as streaming services and web shows.
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