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Streaming Is a Bad Business Model, Part 2,398
Plus: A ‘Killer’ Assignment
Shortly after SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP announced that a tentative deal had been struck to end the months-long actors strike (subject to rank-and-file approval, naturally), Warner Bros. dropped a bomb. The John Cena-starring Coyote vs. Acme—a Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style live-action/animation hybrid about Road Runner’s nemesis—would not see a release in theaters or on streaming despite filming having been completed and would instead be shelved for a $30 million tax write-off.
The folks who spent a year of their lives making it will never see it released. Audiences who might have been excited for something in the vein of Space Jam starring the popular actor/wrestler would not get to see it. Critics and filmmakers who had been raving about the picture on Twitter would not get a chance to share their joy.
The timing here feels on the nose—it’s a very “Do you feel in charge?” moment from Warner Bros.-Discovery honcho David Zaslav, a reminder to the actors that they can get back to work and they can even get paid a little more for it but there’s no guarantee that work will ever amount to anything—and it calls to mind an earlier flashpoint in the conflict between filmmakers and studios over the shelving of Batgirl by DC for another eight-figure tax write-off.
Some, like Matt Zoller Seitz, have suggested that studios who do this be forced to give up the copyright on the work in question and surrender it to the Library of Congress since the studio has to pay less in taxes; it’s an interesting idea, but then I don’t really know how you’d apply the same concept to a movie that does get a release and still gets a write-down. Movies lose money all the time and studios frequently take tax write-offs on those losses; I imagine it’d be constitutionally tricky to functionally compel speech by forcing them to lose money by broadcasting the thing in question.
But hey: I’m neither a tax attorney nor a constitutional lawyer, so I’ll leave that question to brighter minds. I am a humble film critic and surveyor of the Hollywood business scene. And what jumps out at me are two separate but likely true points.
On the one hand, it’s incredibly bad in terms of maintaining relationships with artists for Warner Bros. to constantly jerk them around like this. People don’t like wasting a year of their lives on stuff they pour their heart into only to see it thrown in the trash to save shareholders can see their stocks tick up a couple of cents. In a business built on trust and rapport, this is a questionable series of moves to have made.
On the other hand, though, Coyote vs. Acme is almost certainly worth more to Warner Bros. Discovery as a $30 million tax write-off than it would be as a streaming picture. Would that movie generate $30 million in new sign ups? Are they going to lose $30 million in angry cancellations because a movie they never heard of featuring a second-tier cartoon character and a second-tier action star isn’t going to get made? Of course not. The problem with streaming is most individual pieces of hashtag content make no real dent in the bottom line either way. It’s nearly impossible to disaggregate what works and generates revenue and why outside of truly monumental hits like Stranger Things or Game of Thrones.
If only there were a way to, somehow, make money on a single movie—a lot of money, potentially—all in one go. You could even build large places where people could all gather at the same time in order to see these motion picture events. And then, after a reasonable amount of time and that source of revenue had been tapped, you could move it to a streaming service to let other people watch it.
Wild idea, I know. Probably wouldn’t work. But we can dream!
Make sure to check out this Friday’s Across the Movie Aisle episode on Sofia Coppola, whose body of work tends to exist within a very specific milieu.
Speaking of hashtag content, the new MCU movie The Marvels is perfectly content to be content. It’s not great, folks.
Last week’s episode of The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood with Walt Hickey on his book You Are What You Watch was a great deal of fun and also, hopefully, at least a little thought-provoking. I like to get people to think about the art we consume in different ways, and hopefully that episode did just that.
Also: please buy Walt’s book! It’s full of great charts. It’s a handsome tome. And thought-provoking!
Huh, so, Verizon is bundling the ad-supported tiers of Netflix and Max together for a lower price and offering them to customers as a package. Maybe they can add more streamers and increase the savings. And then they could, potentially, bring all those channels straight to the consumer via some sort of cord or cable. It’s just crazy enough to work!
Imagine a hypothetical: groups of Tiki Torch-hoisting Proud Boys clad in masks attack people who gathered to watch footage of police violence hosted by Black Lives Matter. I think we all know how we would—and should—react to that. So why isn’t there an ocean of outrage about Hamas supporters attacking people who wanted to bear witness to the atrocities committed by that terror group on 10/7 at Los Angeles’s Museum of Tolerance? Why are so many people both-sidesing the virulent antisemitism we’re all seeing here?
I very much enjoy watching Jack Reacher, a comically large man, hurt bad people. I will happily watch another season of this:
Assigned Viewing: The Killer (Netflix)
Yes, I reviewed it last week, but it’s on Netflix now, so if you missed its brief theatrical run now’s your chance to watch it in overly compressed 4K that will likely wash out much of the nuanced lighting work done by David Fincher and his team.