Apple will make the next streaming move; media goes wild for NFT; Avatar 2 kicks the metaverse into mainstream and England win the World Cup? Not all of these predictions will come true…
Apple is the streamer to watch
Hollywood watchers believe the streaming wars will leave just five major ones standing. Not surprisingly Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime rank first among equals with the united weight and reach of WarnerBros.Discovery giving it the scale to compete.
NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS are considered to be one tier down, at least in terms of global spending. That could change if they join forces in the US as they are in Europe where new streamer SkyShowtime (combining Peacock and Paramount+) rolls out in 2022.
Apple remains the most opaque of the major players but the one with the greatest potential to disrupt. Subscriber numbers to AppleTV+ are kept secret, but analysts estimate over 40 million, with many on free trials (as high as 62% in January 2021, according to MoffettNathanson).
While a relative minnow compared to the 200 million subs of Netflix and Disney, AppleTV+ is a success that probably not even Apple execs imagined. If the computing giant began originating film and TV content to convert customers to its hardware it now can’t ignore the growth of its digital media business (including iTunes) which Bloomberg calculates is worth $68 billion – bigger than Netflix and Spotify combined.
What’s more, Apple’s strategy has been to go for quality not quantity and has scored Emmy award winning hits like Ted Lasso, buzz-worthy docs like Billy Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry and Oscar contending movies like Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.
“Spending money on entertainment is a rounding error for Apple, a company that generated $365 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year,” notes Bloomberg.
So, in 2022, Apple has a decision to make: Keep it niche but remain outside the top few streamers and more vulnerable to churn, or go all out for scale by buying content catalogues. Possible purchases include Criterion, which has a library of classic movies, Lions Gate Entertainment or AMC Network.
Another option is to buy streaming media player Roku, described by Hub Entertainment Research analyst Peter Fondulas as a perfect fit: “Roku would give Apple’s TV service a boost by offering consumers a lower-priced alternative to the Apple TV box.”
NFTs fund entertainment
The top five most valuable sales of digital art in 2021 had generated more than $100 million by August 2021, sparking wider interest in entertainment. The trend will explode in 2022 as enterprising film and TV producers as well as studio majors expand NFT experiments.
For example, next May British filmmaker Dan Hartley will make all 130,000 frames that comprises his film Lad: A Yorkshire Story available to purchase as individual NFTs. It’s the first time that an entire film has been offered in this way and each frame sold will be uniquely numbered and only one copy will ever exist.
“I see NFT’s as a huge game changer in the industry, on the same scale as home video and I think they will start to play a prominent role in the way that films are funded and distributed,” Hartley says.
Yet Hartley’s film was released onto Amazon eight years ago. In 2022 plenty more new film, TV and animation projects, as well as archived classics, will be monetised in this fashion.
Sports teams are also finding revenue in NFTs. Memorabilia, such as digital trading cards, will generate more than $2 billion in transactions in 2022, predicts Deloitte Global, about double the figure for 2021. By the end of 2022, it expects that 4–5 million sports fans globally will have purchased or been gifted an NFT sports collectible.
“The impact of NFT and blockchain is akin to when the internet passed from first era web browsing to when streaming became mainstream,” says Michelle Munson, co-founder and CEO of Eluvio. “It is that significant.”
Ultimately, Munson predicts the technology will disintermediate online content aggregators like YouTube and Netflix.
“It offers a new way to look at digital media content with which we can have a direct creator-to-audience economy that radically changes the potential for everyone. It’s just a matter of time.”
World watches Qatar
More than half the world’s population (3.57 billion) watched the 2018 World Cup including 1.12 billion tuning in live to see France beat Croatia to the Jules Rimet, according to FIFA. That record could be overtaken when the 2022 tournament kicks off at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor on November 21.
HBS is once again host broadcaster but is not expected to advance the standard production format from 4K HDR which it delivered for all matches for the first time in Russia.
Given the extensive new builds of venues in Qatar such as the Lusail Stadium in Doha which stages the final, there will be plenty of scope to equip them for a made-for-immersive-TV product so expect some form of 360-degree camera angle analysis from arrays such as Intel True View.
Regular OB tech vendors including EVS have announced partnerships to supply the HBS operation on the ground. Gravity Media and Globecast have teamed to provide production and connectivity services to broadcasters.
Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic will have driven HBS and rights holders to adopt not just a belt and braces approach to coverage but an elastic waist and onesie one too with plans for a fully remote operation on the table until the last minute.
More likely, is a hybrid workflow combining studio presentation on the ground with production galleries back home, in London and Salford in case of UK broadcasters ITV and BBC.
Aside from human rights issues related to FIFA-supervised Qatari construction and a potentially bizarre atmosphere of games played out in a country with limited football legacy, the carbon footprints of all organisations involved in producing and covering the World Cup are likely to come under scrutiny as sustainability rises to the top of broadcasters’ list of priorities.
Remote into cloud into multi-cloud
Having Apollo 13-ed its way from February 2020 to the middle of 2021 using any bit of tech to jury-rig a WFH workflow, the industry must now adjust to the permanency of the situation.
It’s not rocket science. Software-based internet-connected cloud-hosted tools have been proven to work; and the industry needs to cement this new methodology in light of further pandemic lockdowns.
BT Sport is among broadcasters to have made remote workflows a permanent option for its staff and is actively investigating the next stage which is taking full production into the cloud.
Its effort may be given a quantum leap if a merger with Discovery is confirmed given how advanced the US reality TV and sports giant is in its own cloud supply chain.
Latency for live cloud production remains an issue but is perhaps one of perception. French encoding firm ATEME believes that broadcast-like delays of 5-7 seconds can be reached using its OTT delivery model, which itself relies on industry standards like Low Latency DASH.
In 2022, IP and cloud acceleration will continue. We’ll see more IP studios and the combination of high-end ST 2110 and NDI production environments. Remote and distributed production will continue to rise, enabling media companies to transition to Opex, work with the best talent across the world, save on costs, and increase efficiencies.
Don’t expect any major postproduction launches to be bricks and mortar; the days of paying to sit with talent in an expensively equipped suite in Soho are numbered. Do expect more start-ups to spin out remote VFX and editorial operations or for facilities themselves to reshape into geographically dispersed teams.
The cost of hosting video in the cloud remains an issue. It’s why postproduction startups like Raccoon are holding out for ingress and egress prices to drop before shifting from private to public data centres.
Major media projects like feature films will need to work with multiple clouds providers for greater efficiency and redundancy. That means the frictionless exchange of assets from one CSP to another – something that studio thinktank MovieLabs is keen to promote.
However, putting your eggs in one supplier’s basket – whether that’s cloud or premise – remains a risky business. Internet outages in 2021 including CDN Fastly in June, Facebook in October, Google Cloud in November, and Amazon in December prove just how vulnerable the world’s biggest media sites are. In December, Channel 4 had still not recovered all of its subtitling capability from a fire incident at its playout provider in September.
Avatar 2 – damp squib or metaverse tidal wave?
Taking $2.8 billion at the box office Avatar is the most successful cinema release of all time but 12 years will have passed before the first of four sequels arrives next December.
This could go one of two ways. The space opera does not have the fervent fanbase of a film like Star Wars clamouring for more and Disney (which now owns the franchise since acquiring original studio Fox) has been notably quiet about marketing it to date. The original is credited as the catalyst for cinemas to upgrade their projection kit to digital and 3D but the industry has changed radically since then with theatrical no longer as dominant. Avatar 2’s production format of 4K 3D and frame rates up to 48fps no longer feels ground-breaking. The realtime animation and live action virtual production techniques it helped pioneer have been superseded by extremely powerful game-engine renders.
Yet Avatar 2 has none of these. Filming alone took three years ending in 2020 with the worry that it could immediately feel dated. Might the better option have been to world build as a streaming TV series?
- Read more Behind the Scenes of Avatar 2
On the other hand, never underestimate director James Cameron. Critics carping that he’d never recoup the massive budgets for T2; Titanic and Avatar were proved spectacularly wrong. By all accounts Avatar 2 (budget $250m) is breaking ground by filming lengthy sequences with actors and cameras underwater rather than relying just on CGI. The first film set up a galaxy-sized sandbox for the filmmaker to let his imagine run wild which he no doubt intends to deliver in successive sequels.
Presciently, the film’s main conceit in which humans, including those with disabilities, can inhabit the bodies of avatars and play out battles or love stories in photoreal fantasies, could seque ever so neatly into current metaverse building. If Disney is smart it can plug Avatar 2 into the AR/VR realm of emerging 3D internet and launch the first mainstream metaverse media juggernaut.
IP is the new prime time
Avatar is of course a prime piece of IP and an anomaly in being (so far as we know) made for cinema only. Also landing in 2022 is an Obi Wan Kenobi series (Disney), a Lord of the Rings series (Amazon), GoT sequel House of the Dragon (HBO Max – for which HBO could strike a deal with Sky to stream in the UK) and Stranger Things season 4 (Netflix).
All are of course made for TV sequels or spin-offs since major streamers calculate the brand value of this multi-episodic content will cut through the noise and attract or retain subscribers far better than new material (Netflix will try its best with drama 1899 for which it has hopes of further series).
In the year in which Friends reunited plenty more spin-offs, remakes and franchise fodder were commissioned to last us well into the next decade.
Paramount, for example, continues to lean heavily on its Star Trek IP with more series in development. It has also announced new episodic shows from classics in its locker including Grease, Fatal Attraction, Flashdance, The Italian Job, Love Story and The Parallax View. The latter might work if updated to reflect current political paranoia and conspiracy theories that arose in the wake of late 1960s assassinations.
Last September, Netflix bought rights to Roald Dahl’s creations despite the fact that most of them (including Esio Trot) have already been made into movies and that Warner Bros. already had in motion Wonka, an origins story of the chocolatier starring Timothée Chalamet, due 2023.
Tentpole franchises are deemed essential if a media conglomerate is going to be one of the handful to succeed.
As WarnerMedia’s head of ad sales JP Colaco said, “We believe that IP is the new prime time.”