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Netflix Feeds Your Binging Needs and The Sundance Institute’s Latest ‘Co//ab’ With Filmmakers

December 2, 2019

Now that everybody’s back from the Thanksgiving-holiday-slash-shopping-disaster that was the long weekend, it’s time to count down to the Christmas-holiday-slash-shopping-disaster. But for your distraction pleasure from that frenzy, we’ve got some interesting tidbits of news emerging from the TV and film industries—and the first one’s a real doozy.


Netflix releases a lot of stuff. We all know that. We all say that. But how much do they really release, exactly? Well, I did the math for you over my egg nog coffee (now that Thanksgiving is over). First, some caveats: I did not include any kids programming and I may have missed a foreign comedy special in there somewhere. I also didn’t include acquisitions where Netflix is the American distributor to a show it had no creative input in, unless it successfully convinced the world it’s a Netflix show, like it did with Channel 4’s The End of the F****** World. With that said, I came up with 9,889 total minutes of original adult content released on Netflix in November. That comes out to almost five-and-a-half hours a day, compared to the three hours of primetime for ABC, NBC and CBS, and the two hours of originals offered daily by FOX and CW. And those networks take Saturday off. Netflix is currently releasing more hours of original content a day than HBO does in a week.

The sheer volume of content really shines a light on the service’s business plan: Netflix expects you to see all the stuff it’s releasing and get too scared to cancel your subscription. You’ll never watch most of the stuff, but you will also never run out of something to watch. And that’s why a lot of people spend $13 a month. The longest English language show was season three of The Crown at 528 minutes, with the inaugural season of Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings right behind it at 521 minutes. I was also surprised at how the arms race for true crime docu-series has resulted in the genre becoming long-form. Does Who Killed Little Gregory? need to be longer than German young-adult series We Are the Wave? Probably not, but producers get paid per episode, and if people are watching it in the first place, they’ll squeeze as much juice out of the case as possible.


The Sundance Institute has a long history of championing filmmakers through the creative process with intensive labs where they can receive hands-on input from industry professionals. The problem is that these labs are only attended by a handful of people each year and, like most initiatives, tend to favor people from a financial background that allows them to drop everything and head to the mountains for a couple of weeks. Sundance Institute has figured out a solution with the launch of Co//ab, a subscription platform that provides courses, evaluation on work, educational videos, and a way to meet other storytellers. The Institute also addressed the financial problem by providing scholarships for 20% of users and creating a free tier that provides a curated video library to serve as a complete curriculum, allowing users to learn at their own pace for a price that can’t be beat.


Did you know Facebook launched a video chat service that allows you to call friends and family members—and Muppets, if the ads are to be believed? If you watch ABC, then you probably do, thanks to a deal Facebook made with Disney to feature the tele-communicating device in a variety of shows through the magic of product placement. Remember when every character on TV used a Microsoft Surface even though you didn’t know a single person in real life who owned one? Or how Bones would say to Guy Who’s Not Bones, “Bing it,” even though that’s a phrase nobody has ever used unless they’re a showrunner on a confused conference call with the studio? Well, now you can add Facebook Portal to the list of devices used by your favorite characters in Black-ish and Modern Family to show off the versatility of the tech (even though it will probably be the first and last encounter you have with it).

Product placement is always fascinating because the advertisers and the creatives have different goals. The writers want the product to be integrated as seamlessly as possible, like it exists in the universe the same as any other product on screen, whereas the advertisers want the opposite. They want it to be flashy and noticeable. They don’t care if it’s forced or ruins the suspension of disbelief the writers have carefully crafted. Facebook doesn’t mind you saying, “Why are they using a Facebook Portal?” as long as you’re saying, “Facebook Portal.” It's always interesting to see how the writers choose to integrate the product.


Variety’s senior editor, Michael Schneider released an interesting piece looking into the rise of the TV movie as its own genre. He speaks with some of the independent companies that produce made-for-TV movies, and also throws out some interesting facts; like Lifetime and Hallmark running a combined 125 original TV movies each year. What I find most interesting about the genre is how fast Netflix jumped into it. Last Christmas Netflix’s goal appeared to be producing expensive, theatrical-level holiday films to become the go-to place for Christmas movies. This year, the streaming service seems to be all-in on the TV movie genre with hits like The Knight Before Christmas where Vanessa Hudgens…meets a knight before Christmas, I guess? It’s as if Netflix gave us big-budget Christmas movies and we all said, “No thanks, we already have Home Alone and Die Hard. If we’re watching something new, we want it to be easily digestible and playing in the background.” After all, you can’t put on Santa’s Slay with Grandma in the room, but everybody can enjoy a small-town baker and a big-city journalist find love over the holidays.


The UK’s Walter Presents exists in a sub-category of streaming services, along with Acorn TV and BritBox, that specialize in bringing shows from all around the world to American audiences. But what’s the next step when you’re currently competing with bigger names for those rights? How about setting up a studio to produce English language remakes of the shows on your service? Walter Presents is banking on the idea that a good story can be easily adapted into any language and plans to launch Eagle Eye Drama with funding from the UK’s Channel 4. Eagle Eye Drama will mine the deep library of foreign shows on Walter Presents and identify the ones that can best be adapted for English-speaking markets. The service operates not by going after the biggest or flashiest titles, but by digging deep into different countries to find those hidden gems that haven’t been exposed yet to worldwide audiences yet.

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