VP of Streaming Common Sense
Plus: a magical assignment!
Bill Simmons used to have this bit—maybe he still does, it’s a good bit—about why sports teams all need a VP of Common Sense.
“I'm becoming more and more convinced that every professional sports team needs to hire a Vice President of Common Sense, someone who cracks the inner circle of the decision-making process along with the GM, assistant GM, head scout, head coach, owner and whomever else,” Simmons wrote at some point in what appears to be the mid-2000s. (Bang-up job on that Page 2 archive, ESPN.) “One catch: the VP of CS doesn't attend meetings, scout prospects, watch any film or listen to any inside information or opinions; he lives the life of a common fan. They just bring him in when they're ready to make a big decision, lay everything out and wait for his unbiased reaction.”
I think about this paragraph a lot, because it can be applied to virtually any industry: a person who a.) uses the product in question and b.) follows the news but isn’t in the room where the news is made who can c.) offer unbiased advice free from influence by other high-level employees would be remarkably valuable in all sorts of consumer-facing ventures.
For instance, Twitter could really use a VP for common sense right now, if some of the more idiotic ideas being promulgated by Elon’s inner circle are really in the works. But hey: maybe Twitter will be the first company to take a general-use platform and monetize it by charging average users for the right to vomit up their thoughts on a regular basis!
Most streaming companies desperately need a VP for common sense. With the exception of Disney, none of them really seem to understand how people use their services or how to effectively communicate what, precisely, they’re doing. I follow this stuff for a living and I couldn’t begin to explain to you what Paramount is planning on doing with Showtime; God only knows what the average consumer thinks when they’re trying to figure out what, precisely, is happening with the hubs and verticals and whatever else. Netflix’s decision to cut off freeloaders is morally and economically proper, but trying to tie usage to a single IP address is almost certainly bound to create resentments and hassles that will increase churn. And announcing a decision to cut access before people actually understand how it’s going to work just creates waves of bad press.
If you’re trying to figure which streaming service is worth your dollars, make sure to listen to Across the Movie Aisle’s bonus episode this week, in which Alyssa and I discuss what we’d cut and what we’d add first.
But the most puzzling flailing is that of Warner Bros. Discovery Following a year or so of rumors that WB was going to combine HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single service, the Wall Street Journal reports that WB is now planning on charging more for HBO Max and including a Discovery+ vertical within it that has “most” of the programming from Discovery+ while keeping Discovery+ a separate, cheaper service. As best as I can tell, there won’t be a version of HBO Max without the Discovery+ vertical.
The thinking here, I guess, is that HBO Max subscribers are such big fans of HBO programming that they’ll pay more for it even if they don’t want Discovery+, which they could sign up for separately if they wanted. However, HBO Max is so much more expensive than Discovery+ ($16 for the ad-free version of HBO Max vs. $7 for the ad-free version of Discovery+), the fear is that most (or, at least, too many) Discovery+ lovers wouldn’t make the switch. Meanwhile, WB is planning on adding a third, free service that will highlight programming on these and other channels, in the hopes of, I guess, generating a little ad revenue and enticing folks to sign up for the real deals.
All of this is weirdly complicated and unnecessary when there’s a perfectly good model of how to make this sort of thing work: Just do what Disney has done with Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. All three are offered separately. Subscribing to a bundle of all three earns you a discount. Boom. Done.
Maybe this only works if Warners can add a third streamer to sweeten the deal; perhaps there’s something that can be made out of the TNT/TBS channels. Maybe sports rights come into play here, given the Turner networks’ ownership of basketball rights. Maybe Warners takes on even more debt and gobbles up AMC, the streaming version of which (AMC+) is both pretty good (lots of great AMC shows to watch!) and diverse (Shudder, BBC America, IFC, etc), though there’s undoubtedly some overlap here with HBO Max’s prestige TV offerings. Though AMC, it should be noted, isn’t that expensive, with a market cap of just three quarters of a billion dollars.
Anyway, my point is simple: The whole idea of unbundling and the rise of streaming was to offer people greater flexibility. So … offer it to them. Stop trying to make strange bedfellows. Give people options and make it worth their while to combine them on their own.
It’s just common sense.
Once again, if you missed last week’s Bulwark Goes to Hollywood with Shawn Ryan (The Shield, S.W.A.T.), you really need to check it out. He served on the last several WGA negotiating committees and has worked in cable, broadcast, and streaming. The guy knows the business of TV as well as anyone and I guarantee you’ll learn something.
And make sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever else you listen because this weekend’s episode with producer Julian Schlossberg is another fascinating one; as a guy who knows very little about the business of Broadway, his new memoir, Try Not to Hold It Against Me, is a real eye-opener.
I reviewed Knock at the Cabin this week and discussed the ways in which it differed from, and reflected the themes of, the novel from which it is adapted.
“How many hundreds of millions of minutes watched” remains such a weird metric by which to measure a show’s success. I will never get used to this.
Harrison Ford interviews are always fun to read because he doesn’t give too many of them and when he does they’re generally a delightful mix of thoughtful and annoyed.
Rumors had circulated for years that Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty, had very little to do with the writing/direction of the show in recent seasons, whispers that seem to be confirmed by this Hollywood Reporter storyabout his removal from the show in the face of a domestic violence allegation. Will be curious to see what they do with the voice acting going forward.
I’m kind of interested in the kerfuffle surrounding the new video game Hogwarts Legacy but only as a measure of how much the controversy surrounding J.K. Rowling is “real” (at least in the sense of how many people in the real, meat-space world care about what she’s said about transgender women) and how much of it is a creation of people who are Entirely Too Online.
Assigned Viewing: Magic Mike (HBO Max)
There’s been a weird effort by some on Film Twitter in recent years to reevaluate Magic Mike XXL as superior to its predecessor. I’ll be blunt: that’s insane. Magic Mike XXL is the movie people thought that Magic Mike was going to be (which is to say, a mediocre, silly dance picture, something like Step Up For Adults). Magic Mike is actually a fairly incisive movie about post-Great Recession America and the importance of growing up and out of childish things. It also features a great performance by Matthew McConaughey, something XXL is sorely lacking.
To continue Ted's UI rant: I'd be happy(ier) if the streaming services could just agree on a standard interface for the actual video player UI. It's not like the options or functionality is required to be different for each streaming service--they all do play, pause, back up, fast forward, captions, language. (Exception is the Amazon Prime Video X-ray, which I really miss on the other services, even if the data is a little wonky.) I'm specifically thinking of keyboard shortcuts--Just let's all agree that spacebar is play/pause, arrows go back and forth, etc.
As a user of several streaming services, I am often baffled by their interfaces, let alone their business models. They know what I watch yet they cannot seem to develop screens that effectively display good tv/movie options. It’s like they never do in-depth interviews or UX testing.
Also, let me remind you that we are two weeks away from THE MOVIE EVENT OF THE YEAR. Cocaine. Bears. Humans being stupid. Bear killing stupid people. I await your Across the Movie Aisle review of Cocaine Bear!!!!