Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

Post by: Rick Ellis 30 November, 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Tuesday, November 30th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ has decided that a good night's sleep is overrated.

If you spend more than five minutes reading entertainment industry reporting, you'll run across the term "scale." In this context, it means that whatever media company being referenced needs to be bigger in order to survive. Industry consolidation is inevitable and in this entertainment Hunger Games world, only the biggest will be able to thrive. 

While the advantages of "scale" are never discussed specifically, the implication is that the larger the company, the more efficient it will be and the easier it will be to throw around its size during negotiations. Although even those arguments are generally left as the vague mantra "bigger is better."

The truth is that the people who most believe in scale are media executives and various financial types who negotiate the deals. Both groups can make tens and often hundreds of millions of dollars from these mergers and it they don't work out, then it's on to the next deal that participants promise will finally turn things around. What none of these pro-scale enthusiasts like to discuss is that "scale" tends to make companies less innovative. It's easier to hide bad decision making inside a massive media empire and it's much easier to use scale to prop up businesses that couldn't survive independently. 

I was reminded of this while reading this Cynthia Littleton column in Variety, entitled "Biden's Antitrust Squeeze May Grease The Wheel For TV Deals." The thrust of the piece is that in order to complete even bigger mergers, large media companies are expected to shed underperforming or less important assets and that's an opportunity for up-and-coming investors who can grab some of these aging assets and suck the remaining value out of them. I especially enjoyed this paragraph:

Speculation in the market about marquee brands that may be up for grabs is rampant. Cable channels with subscriber bases of 50 million or more are prized because they deliver predictable revenue streams, even if the earnings are destined to shrink every year as viewers cut the cord and embrace streaming platforms. The idea is to “ride the downside” and generate profits by carefully managing costs and hunting for efficiencies.

There’s unconfirmed chatter that some of the Turner entertainment cable networks may be packaged for sale as part of the Discovery deal. At Disney, big questions have swirled for more than a decade about how ABC and Freeform fit into the grand scheme at the Magic Kingdom, particularly in the streaming era.

NBCUniversal also has a number of established channels in its portfolio that could be an attractive package, a la E! and Oxygen.

Let me be kind and simply say that anyone foolish enough to pick up E! or Oxygen or the Turner Networks deserves the inevitable financial drubbing that will take place. The truth about most of the cable networks is that much of their current value is the result of being part of a large programming bundle that the big three or four media companies offer in a "take them all or get nothing" approach during carriage negotiations. Most MVPD's don't carry Oxygen or fyi or American Heroes or MTV Classic because they believe the channels are valued by their customers. They carry them because they have to in order to get the bigger cable channels that are considered "must-haves."

So the likelihood of someone being successful pitching MVPDs with a E!/Syfy/Oxygen package without the force of the NBCU forced bundle behind it seems extremely unlikely. And that's the case for any attempt to spin off maybe 30 or so cable channels that primarily exist to suck up subscriber fees from MVPDs while keeping programming costs as low as possible to maximize profits. Aside from some residual legacy goodwill from their glory days, most of these channels are near-zombie networks that can't survive outside of the big media content bundle.

A combined WarnerMedia and Discovery doesn't solve the two companies core problems. And the fact there is speculation of some unnamed even larger future merger is insane. If I learned one lesson from my time as a financial reporter, it's that scale almost never solves challenges. It just gives the participants the opportunity to try and gloss over problems with complexity and size.

Television and streaming services often face a disconnect between what critics see as a "good" program and what audiences are watching. NCIS was never given much love by TV critics, but even in its current creatively weakened state, it remains one of the most popular shows on television. And that is not an uncommon occurence.

The problem is mostly a function of differing expectations. When you watch television for a living, you tend to become a bit jaded. You watch a lot of stuff you really don't connect with and that you wouldn't watch if you weren't getting paid to do so. So you tend to respond strongly to content that is creatively innovative or unpredictable. You are drawn to the unfamiliar and difficult, because you recognize how difficult it is to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

On the other hand, most people watch television as an escape. Sometimes they want to end up lost in the moment and sometimes they just want to lean up and glaze their mind over for a couple of hours. That's not behavior that's reflected in television criticism, but it's a worthwhile use of the medium.

When the middling reviews came out for the Netflix action movie Red Notice, it didn't surprise me. The movie isn't anything innovative. It manages to feel familiar in a way that reminds the viewer that they've seen variations of this premise a number of times. Ironically, that was the aspect of the film that I enjoyed the most. My son and I love big, dumb action movies and Red Notice was right in our wheelhouse. Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds were being those familiar Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds personas and the action was breezy and walked the line between hard to believe and laughable. It was a fun two hours and while "fun" isn't something that shows up in critical reviews, I have been arguing that it's more of a success for Netflix than the initial headlines would lead you to believe.

Parrot Analytics' Julia Alexander digs into a bunch of new Netflix data in this new column for Puck and she seems to have a similar take on the impact of the movie:

Bad news for cinephiles: Red Notice, the critically panned art-heist caper in which Ryan Reynolds appears with Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and a bunch of C.G.I. cityscapes, is poised to overtake Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box as the most watched original film in the history of Netflix.

That’s interesting, and speaks to the persistent gap between elite consensus and popular appeal in the streaming age. But the more surprising data point, and something we wouldn’t have known had Netflix not recently begun releasing weekly Top 10 lists based on an “hours consumed” metric, is how Red Notice helped 6 Underground, another Ryan Reynolds Netflix original from 2019, net another 3.6 million household streams in the week following Red Notice’s release—or 7.77 million hours of “engagement.” 

In fact, much of Alexander's column will feel familiar to those of you who've been reading this newsletter for awhile, because she uses the data to reinforce some of the points I have been making. Among them, that U.S. media analysts underappreciate the strength (and importance) of Netflix's non-English programming to the overall global strength of the streamer:

Squid Game gets all the attention, and rightly so, but what about Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha? The rom-com show, the top broadcast series in South Korea when it debuted this summer, is a massive hit for Netflix. Cha-Cha-Cha has remained a Top 10 non-English TV series globally for 12 weeks—longer than Squid Game—and has amassed 258.5 million hours viewed during that time.  

Yes, Squid Game probably helped Cha-Cha-Cha, as the algorithm likely recommended other popular Korean series, but Cha-Cha-Cha was already a hit in markets like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, India, Vietnam, and Qatar. By the week of Nov. 1, it was charting all over Latin America. A week later, it was trending in Morocco. 

This isn’t a one-off event, either. Korean shows routinely dominate Netflix’s Top 10 Non-English Global lists. Most recently, Hellbound, a dark thriller from the director of Train to Busan, dethroned Squid Game as the most-watched title globally, including among English content. Hellbound saw 43.48 million hours viewed. It was the No. 1 title for the week in Jamaica, Martinique, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, and trending Top 10 in dozens more. 

Part of the challenge for U.S.-based critics and analysts is that it is still extremely difficult to track global programming from here. Regional PR teams don't have much experience dealing with U.S.-based critics and oftentimes just the simple task of obtaining screeners and other information is damn near impossible. PR and marketing people spent most of their careers working with local press and not considering the global audience for their shows-in part because the rights were scattered across different companies in each territory. And they have failed to keep up with the changes in the industry.

I remain frustrated by how difficult it can be to get info on some EMEA-produced show, much less something that comes from Thailand or Egypt. I don't know that I have a great answer for the logistical challenges, but I do know it's not a situation that is sustainable in the long term.


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If you are interested in watching successful TV chefs building the kitchen of their dreams, then you're the target audience for two new streaming specials. My Dream Kitchen: Giada De Laurentiis and My Dream Kitchen: Carla Hall will both premiere Saturday, December 18th on discovery+.

* The first in-person SDCC in two years was held over the Thanksgiving weekend and it was apparently mellow and mostly Hollywood free.

15 chefs from across the country will take on chef Alex Guarnaschelli in the new series Alex Vs. America, which premieres Sunday, January 2nd on the Food Network.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 30 November 2021 03:38