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Archive for March, 2021

Last year I wrote about The Paramount Decree, and how it had been decided the decree will be terminated in 2022 following a two-year “sunset period”.  At the time I suggested this would open the door for major studios like Disney and Warner to purchase, and possibly save stricken cinemas.  There appears to be no appetite for that in the industry, as the major studio look in a different direction for film distribution.  It may therefore may be time for something similar to the decree that fundamentally changed cinema all those years ago.  A decree to save cinema from itself!

First a quick recap: In the early days of cinema in the US, the major film studios (Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount) owned their own theatres that exclusively screened their films.  Films that were produced by writers, directors, technicians, and actors who were under contract to the studios,  They also owned the laboratories, that processed the film and created the prints.  There weren’t distribution companies as we know them today as they were releasing their own product.  To put is it simply the studios were vertically integrated.  The Paramount Decree as it became known was an antitrust case correctly titled United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948).  The case changed the face of film exacerbation in the US, ripples of its effects can be felt all over the world to this day.  The ruling forced the separation of motion picture production and exhibition companies. 

The way we access movies is rapidly changing as physical media is being replaced by online content, it is likely to change further and quickly.  As we come out of lockdown, will people be so happy to be able to visit the cinemas that we will see a massive upturn in attendance, or will people be wary of social interaction?  My experience of online movies came by something of a backdoor.  I subscribed to Love Film, a DVD postal rental service.  When they were taken over by Amazon, they started offering streaming as well as DVDs.  They soon dropped the DVS and became a streaming platform; following several surprisingly seamless rebrands, we went from:  Lovefilm video-on-demand, to Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Video, and now have Prime Video.  Meanwhile, Netflix that also started life as a mail-order DVD rental business in California, in1997. By the time it reached the UK in 2012 it had become a subscription-based streaming service.  When I got a new “smart” TV in 2015 I embraced streaming and also subscribed to Netflix. I still have both to this day.

The problem is that we are becoming inundated with subscription streaming services. There is no doubt about the quality of some of the best movies and TV shows across the services, but its getting spread very thin. Here are a selection of the better know services available in the UK and what they cost (if my research is correct):

  • Netflix £5.99 – £8.99
  • Prime Video £5.99 (plus extra add on channels)
  • Now TV (Sky) Sky Movies Pass – £9.99, Sky TV – £6.99
  • Apple TV Plus £4.99
  • Mubi £9.99
  • BFI Player £4.99
  • Disney + £5.99 recently increased to £7.99

Disney is the most significant of these, as they are a major studio, THE major studio.  With their acquisitions of Marvel, Fox and Lucasfilm they control a large number of the big franchises and dominate the top echelons of the box office charts each year.  They have been bringing all their properties under their own umbrella to the extent that when certain licensing agreements expire. At the same time they are creating new streaming only contend, what we used to know as TV shows for their various IP’s, mainly Star Wars and Marvel. We aren’t far of a time when outside of cinema’s Disney + will be the only place we will be able to watch their “content”.   HBO Max ($14.99 per month) is going the same way in America (we don’t get it in the UK) with Warner properties.  It will soon be the only place to see the fabled Snyder Cut of the Justice League movie.   They are also planning to release all their major films for 2021 online first, or at the same time as in US theatres. Paramount Plus ($5.99 with adds or $9.99 without), (yes Paramount are still around after all these years) is going to be more than just a rebrand of CBS All Access.  Their big headline is that they will show big tent pole Paramount such as Mission: Impossible 7 within 45 days of their theatrical release.  Smaller films will be even sooner, possibly day and date.  This will put them at loggerheads with cinema chains.  Lets not forget, the same is happening in the other direction, with streaming giants Netflix and Amazon creating their own TV and movie content.

I don’t think I really need to spell out what I am thinking! But I will! Should governments legislate to stop studios owning streaming services? And likewise, should streaming services be aloud to make their own content, effectively turning themselves into studios? Or should we let the industry continue as it is until it finds its own solution?

I actually don’t think a new variation on the Paramount Decree is the answer, but I do think something needs to happen for the good of consumers, and possibly for the long-term good of the industry. It isn’t just about the viewers, streaming services and cinemas need to work together to provide a platform so smaller and independent films get seen. We are already at a stage where viewers who wish to see a wide range of movies (and TV shows) they need to subscribe to multiple services.  Governments will tell you that competition  is good for consumers, but this isn’t always the case.  We had a situation in the UK (England and Wales to be more precise) where you could only watch Premier league football on Sky TV.  Then the government stepped in and said no single company could have the rights to all the games.  Just over a decade later fans need to subscribe to three different service to see all the games, with no noticeable drop in price due to competition. What I am suggesting is simple, if studios were banned from owning their own streaming platforms, or even showing their content exclusively on limited platforms, it would create a different type of competition, possibly leading to the merger of many sites allowing consumers to watch more content, of a higher quality for less money.  This would not be a universal fix all, it could create a situation like we have in cinemas where the large chains show all the same blockbusters and ignore all the independent and foreign films, but it’s a start!

If I can end on a what is both a massive tangent, and a positive note.  Things aren’t as expensive as we may think, or as expensive as they used to be.  If you paid £1 to rent a movie on VHS in 1982, that would be £3.61 in today’s money.  But then you would need something to play it on.  A Ferguson Videostar VHS video recorder (a popular British video recorder in the day -we had a second hand one in the mid 80’s) would have cost £599, that is equivalent to £2,162 when adjusted for inflation.  And what about the a TV?  A 20″ or 22″ was about normal for a larger living room TV a PYE or Ferguson would have cost around £500, or £1,805 in today’s money.  I’m sure there are people out there today who have spent £4,000 on a TV, I certainly wouldn’t!

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