Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Monday, December 6th, 2021

Now that The AV Club is leaving Chicago, AllYourScreens might be the last Midwest-based entertainment site left standing.

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, December 6th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is trying to walk the line between just enough caffeine and involuntary jitters.

FX TAKES THE BRAND GLOBAL
I tend to think of most large media mergers as being a bad idea. In part, because they tend to take two successful businesses and turn them into one business with about the same level of success. Mergers don't just bring reduced head counts and cuts in expenses. They also mean that otherwise thriving businesses are left to wither because they don't fit into the new post-merger business model. 

One of the biggest consequences of the Disney/Fox merger is that most of the 20th Century Fox assets have been ignored since the merger. There have been a couple of notable exceptions and one is the cable news channel FX, which Disney is now planning to take globally:

FX announced Monday that its two-year-old hub on Hulu, known as "FX on Hulu," will be rebranded as just “FX” with the network’s logo now appearing above the titles on all of its programming. The change, which begins this month, includes new scripted originals as well as library titles developed by Landgraf and company.

The FX brand will also be used internationally as programming makes its way to Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ in other territories that aren’t age gated because of their adult content.

NO, IT'S NOT TIME TO PULL THE PLUG ON CABLE NEWS
Media types passed this Jack Shafer piece in Politico
around over the weekend, in large part because there are few targets more fun to whack like a pinata than the cable news networks:

Well, I would notice, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, as I frequently write about the medium. And my colleagues in the press would notice, too. A whole cottage industry of media commentators and activist groups like Media Matters for America that monitor and respond in real time to cable outrages has taken root. If Tucker Carlson expresses the slightest nativist sentiment, you can count on a rapid response to your inbox. Modern newsrooms keep the cable fire burning in the background all day. At Politico, almost 30 TV monitors hang from the ceiling and are screwed to the walls, and they’re tuned 24/7 to cable news and C-SPAN. And that’s not counting the TV monitors in the top editors’ offices, the commons areas, conference rooms, the office canteen, and the lobby. At some point, I expect to see screens in the bathrooms, too.

Shafer is Politico's media critic and I'll just lightly point out that Politico's business model literally is built around the idea of providing "insider" access to readers. So the Politico media critic arguing cable news networks are pointless because they mostly provide inside baseball coverage of politics shows either a painful lack of self-awareness or that Shafer is mostly just writing a piece he knows will get a lot of attention from....wait for it...media insiders.

I'm also struck by Shafer's disdain for the people who watch cable news:

Obviously, some devoted viewers of cable news would notice if their channels disappeared. Its “being there” ability to report from disaster sites, war zones, polling precincts, political demonstrations and Cape Kennedy lift-offs is unmatched. Or is it? Broadcast networks do a decent job getting rain-lashed during hurricanes and they rarely have to resort to the filibustering that cable hosts engage in during lulls in the news. Likewise, Republican talking points would have to find a new means of transmission if Fox went missing and gullible Democrats would suffer if Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes weren’t around to dispense their political nostrums.

If you have read this newsletter for any amount of time, you know that I am a frequent critic of cable news and the ways they decide to fill time. But I think it's fair to say there is a lot of difference between Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow. And "gullible Democrats?" Apparently, anyone who watches cable news is only a small step above a mindless couch potato who simply sucks up the point of view of whichever cable news network they are watching.

Shafer isn't the only person throwing around bad takes about the state of cable news. Television industry legend John Malone has discussed his belief that CNN has become "too political," and given that he will play a key role in whatever form the upcoming Discovery/WarnerMedia merger takes, his opinion matters.

CNN has some serious structural issues, but being "too political" isn't one of them. I'd argue that CNN would have better success being more political in primetime and spending less time trying to be the home for wayward political consultants and former Trump Administration officials. Malone is smart guy and I trust his judgement on a lot of things. But programing consultant is not one of them. 

Although given his age, Malone certainly fits into the prime demographic for cable TV news.

HOW THE METAVERSE LOOKS FROM INSIDE 'GRAND THEFT AUTO'
I am very skeptical about most of the hype surrounding the supposed Metaverse we are expected to inhabit in a couple of years (or decades). Most of the predictions are ludicrous, but it's also true that the online world is going to provide ways to connect that are both more intimate and harder to control than real life. 

If you want to get a small glimpse of what that future looks like, this profile of a user-controlled world that lives inside the game "Grand Theft Auto" is a really fascinating look at something I had no idea even existed:

Fans choose their favorites and follow them through the winding streets of Los Santos, oftentimes every day for years. They can also toggle between different characters’ channels, watching the world through the character’s eyes. They just can’t “meta,” which means telling a player something the player didn’t learn through their own gameplay. This is the strictest rule for viewers.

The events are so realistic, so true to form, one might forget that they’re fictional, especially when the real human streamers’ faces appear in the corner of the video game. The players inhabit their characters so completely because they have to. Breaking character is grounds for suspension. While anyone over 18 with a microphone can apply to play a character on NoPixel, the application process is strict, and entry is exclusive. Once accepted, characters go through specialized training for their roles, run by other role players. The Personnel and Training Division, to take one example, is the administration that recruits, hires and trains aspiring police officers on radio codes and proper conduct. Players can only attend “the Academy” after in-character interviews. When NoPixel launched, a meme circulated on Reddit proclaiming: “It’s harder to become a cop on NoPixel than in the U.S. Change my mind.”

One of my criticisms of the Metaverse idea is that tech companies have shown they consistently underestimate the willingness of users with bad intentions to purposely bringing chaos to any online platform. And despite the long successful run of NoPixel, even that community is facing its own existential crisis:

Earlier this month, Summit1g, another popular streamer who plays as a gang member, stated his own exasperation with the cops’ behavior. “The cops are in this position where I don’t even want to get into gunfights with them, because it’s just fucking stupid.” As he spoke, he ripped down the freeway in a black sedan with tinted windows. The city dissolved into desolate wasteland, bringing with it a thick fog.

Soon Summit1g’s frustration would come to a climax: His car flipped after being T-boned. The officers who arrived on the scene verbally abused him from behind their assault rifles. They faced no punishment — or even a lawsuit. “The whole server seems to be getting into this sweaty state, you know.” “Sweaty” is the term for gamers who go too hard, taking their play way more seriously than ever intended.

But while GTA itself was never meant to be anything but escapism, an action-adventure criminal-laden video game, NoPixel was always different. It sought to mirror reality. Beneath the most recent shooting video, a comment reads: “Cops don’t get punished. It’s like real life.”

ODDS AND SODS
* You don't want to lost weight:
Will Smith Edition.

* HGTV's White House Christmas 2021 will premiere on Sunday, December 12th.

* Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival is taking over LA starting April 28th. Tickets available Friday at http://NetflixIsAJokeFest.com

* A media executive left his career behind to help donkeys and save them from slaughter.

* The AV Club tells staffers they must move to L.A. or lose their jobs.

WHAT'S NEW FOR MONDAY
Here's a quick rundown of all the new stuff premiering today on TV and streaming:

A Very Boy Band Christmas (ABC)
David And The Elves (Netflix)
Hip Hop Family Christmas (VH1)
Homicide For The Holidays Season Premiere (Oxygen)
Joe Pickett Series Premiere (Spectrum)
Landscapers Series Premiere (HBO)
Michael Buble's Christmas In The City (NBC)
NOW Tonight With Joshua Johnson (NBC News Now)
Our Beloved Summer (Netflix)
Secretly Santa (Lifetime)
The Big Leap Season One Finale (Fox)
The Forever Prisoner (HBO)
Under The Vines Series Premiere (Acorn TV)
Voir (Netflix)

SEE YOU TUESDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.


Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

I finally have a reason to use this Jon Stewart image again.

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Thursday, December 2nd, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is in the middle of a press-tour-that-isn't-THE-press-tour event with ABC. As a result, the newsletter is running a bit late today, but I am able to squeeze in a couple of pieces of just released news from the network. So this newsletter is more news-heavy than normal.

Events with NBC and CBS are coming next week, with Fox hosting an event the following week.

A QUICK JOSHUA JOHNSON UPDATE
I heard from someone at NBC Digital Communications, who wanted to make sure that I passed along that Joshua Johnson's new show will be available on Peacock. NBC News NOW has a "channel" on Peacock and viewers will be able to find his show there. I reached out for clarification on whether the show will also be available separately on demand under the Peacock "news" tab and this is what I was told:

When you go to the News tab now on Peacock, you’ll see the first tile listed is the NBC News NOW live stream. Beginning at 8pm ET next week (when Joshua’s show launches), you’ll be able to watch his show, live, in the News tab. Various clips will be available as well from his show (and other shows within NBC News NOW) within the news tab (visible as you scroll down).

I continue to be confused by this approach, since the only way viewers will be able to watch the show in its entirety on Peacock is live with the NBC News NOW livestream. I think I understand the business motivation behind the move. But it seems to limit the number of people who will watch the show. 

I'll have a review of the show once it premieres next week. 

IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO PRODUCE GLOBAL SHOWS, YOU ALSO HAVE TO PROMOTE THEM GLOBALLY
Joe Adalian has a great interview with HBO and HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys in the latest edition of his "Buffering" newsletter. There is a lot I could pull out of this, but as someone who writes a lot about global production, I was struck by this part of the conversation:

Netflix has shown repeatedly how shows made outside the English-speaking world can become global hits, with Squid Game the most spectacular success so far. Does that inspire you to want to up your output of international content even more than you have already?

HBO has been producing shows internationally for 20 years. HBO Europe, HBO Nordic, HBO Spain, HBO Latin America, HBO Asia — all of those territories have been producing local content for, I want to say, 20 years. We’ve just not done a great job highlighting those shows. Part of that is because HBO historically was set up differently in different territories. In the U.K., it is distributed by Sky. In Canada, it’s Bell Media. In Spain, we had our own service. So it was really a patchwork around the world. We’re trying to be much better about that. I believe we will do a much better job of coordinating those programming efforts that my colleagues around the world have been doing for years. Each territory has a library and has been producing local content and will continue to do that. But now it will be for HBO Max as opposed to whatever HBO affiliate they were doing it for.

Might we see more international content green-lit, or will you just do a better job promoting that output?

I think it’s safe to say that as we expand HBO Max globally, you will see more content being produced.

Bloys seems to dodge the promotion part of the question and probably with good reason. HBO Max already includes a number of HBO international productions, but with several notable exceptions, they are just released onto the service with little or no promotion or notice. I'm not sure what the opposite of content discovery is, but that seems to be the HBO Max approach to a lot of these international shows. While they all have English subtitles, many of them don't have an English-language dub, which severely limits the audience. I know it costs a bit to get it done, but if you're serious about promoting your international programming, then getting the shows dubbed into English is a necessary evil.

JON STEWART'S UNLIKELY GUEST ROLE


As you may have heard, ABC is bringing back its Live In Front Of A Studio Audience special, in which modern-day actors reenact an episode of Facts Of Life and Diff'rent Strokes. ABC just announced that Jon Stewart will make an appearance on the Facts Of Life episode in a special "guest role." Acting is not Stewart's best skill, although I do remember seeing him make an appearance years ago on the under-rated kids program Jack's Big Music Show, where he played a reporter who worked for the "Groundhog Day News Network."

The episode of Facts of Life will feature Jennifer Aniston, playing the role of Blair; Gabrielle Union, taking on the role of Tootie; Allison Tolman, who will play Natalie; Kathryn Hahn, recreating the role of Jo; and Ann Dowd, who will tackle the role of Mrs. Garrett.

The episode of Diff'rent Strokes will feature John Lithgow, who will play Mr. Drummond; Kevin Hart, assuming the role of Arnold; and Damon Wayans, who will play Willis.

Live In Front Of A Studio Audience will air Tuesday, December 7th.

OVATION LAUNCHES FAST CHANNEL MYSTERY ALLEY
Ovation has had some success with its FAST (free, ad-supported streaming TV) travel channel Journy, so it's not surprising to see them launch a second channel. Mystery Alley features "acclaimed international series and films spanning multiple continents," and is launching on the Ovation Now app, along with Plex, DistroTV, and Freebie.tv. I expect to see additional outlets announced in coming weeks.

Here is a rundown of the programming you'll find on Mystery Alley:

  • The Blue Rose: a contemporary, smart investigative drama from New Zealand in which the lowly back-room office staff join forces to fight for justice in a corrupt corporate world.

  • The Code: a conspiracy thriller set in the Australian outback that kicks off with a truck accident that causes a political scandal.

  • Crossing Lines: a special crime unit investigates serialized crimes that cross over European borders to hunt down criminals and bring them to justice.

  • The Fall: the psychological thriller examines the lives of two hunters -- one is a serial killer who preys on victims in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the other is a female detective drafted from the London Metropolitan Police to catch him.

  • Hooten & The Lady: a British adventure drama series that follows the story of a British Museum curator who teams up with a charismatic, roguish American adventurer in a series of global treasure-hunting escapades.

  • The Hour: a behind-the-scenes drama and espionage thriller in Cold War-era England that centers on a journalist, a producer, and an anchorman for an investigative news program.

  • King: a Canadian police drama about a veteran police officer who gets promoted to head of the Major Crimes Task Force in Toronto after her predecessor has a breakdown on television.

  • McCallum: from deep within the morgue at St. Patrick's Hospital in London's East End, a team of brilliant pathologists and detectives help the dead tell their stories.

  • Midsomer Murders: based on a crime-novel series, the series follows the efforts to solve crimes that occur in the wealthy, isolated English county of Midsomer.

  • Murdoch Mysteries: in a series of stories taking place in Toronto during the 1890s and early 1900s, several challenging murder cases arise. Detective Murdoch uses up-and-coming forensics techniques and an unconventional approach.

  • Rebus: this series follows the exploits of Detective Inspector John Rebus, who solves grisly crimes on the streets of Edinburgh.

  • Remedy: goes beyond the OR and ER with "upstairs/downstairs" points of view behind the scenes of Toronto's Bethune General Hospital.

  • Republic of Doyle: follows a father and son pair of private investigators in the sleepy port city of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

  • Secret State: an industrial accident kills several people and raises questions about the safety procedures of the US petrochemical company involved in the incident.

  • The Strange Calls: the new night duty desk officer in Coolum Beach finds himself investigating strange truths.

  • Sue Thomas F.B.Eye: this light-hearted police drama follows a sheltered deaf woman who is about to start her first real job with the FBI.

  • The Village: this epic drama charts the turbulent times experienced by one English village throughout the 20th century.


Hear from voices like Tom Llamas, Hallie Jackson, Lester Holt, Savannah Sellers and more.

Watch NBC News NOW for free, 24/7, wherever you stream.


TWEET OF THE DAY

ODDS AND SODS
* The new season of American Idol will premiere Tuesday, February 8th on ABC.

* ABC just announced that Jeopardy! National College Championship, hosted by Mayim Bialik, will premiere on Tuesday, February 8th. 

* Eddie Mekka, best known for his role as Carmine "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa, died on Saturday at his home in Newhall, Calif. He was 69.

* If you're looking for some obscure television to stream, Crackle has added the 2005 Daphne Zuniga series Beautiful People.

* The reboot of Ghost Hunters will premiere January 1st on Discovery+.

* The HBO documentary series The Murders At Starved Rock premieres on Tuesday, December 14th.

SEE YOU FRIDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.



Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

The other part of the Chris Cuomo story.

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Wednesday, December 1st, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is not surprised to learn that Kacey Musgraves was my most-streamed musical choice in 2021.

A QUICK THANKS
I just wanted to pass along a quick thanks to everyone for the support. November ended strong on AllYourScreens.com, with traffic hitting just over 2.3 million unique visitors. And this newsletter is a couple of hundred subscribers short of hitting 19,000. Seriously, it's a very competitive marketplace and I appreciate everything. 

I'LL ADMIT, I'M CONFUSED
Joshua Johnson has a new show premiering on Monday
and you'll be able to watch it a number of places. The "home" for NOW Tonight with Joshua Johnson will be on the NBC News App, but it will also be available on the NBC News AVOD channel that streams on The Roku Channel, YouTube TV, YouTube, Fubo, Xumo, Pluto, and Tubi. But it apparently won't be available on Peacock, which on the face of it seems like an odd choice. NBC News executives have been touting the news vertical on Peacock and there are already a number of original Peacock news shows available. Having Johnson's show on Peacock feels like a natural fit, but there are apparently a couple of things going on here.

First, it's still not clear to me that the show won't be available on Peacock at some point. I spoke on background with an NBC News executive on Tuesday, who assured me that the show wasn't set to stream on Peacock. But then called me back to say that the decision was "fluid."

Apparently, making the show's home on the NBC News app is driven by a couple of factors. The NBC News division is trying to build the audience for their app and this new show is one of the core efforts to do that. There is also the now-familiar tension between the old-school NBC News executives who are wary of anything that might be construed as "opinion." It's the issue that has been the source of battles at MSNBC since its founding days and I've been told that some executives feel the original news programming at Peacock tends to be more opinionated than they are comfortable with overall. 

I think they are completely off-base with this. Peacock's news vertical would be better if it leaned more into opinion. And for that matter, highlighted a wider range of political beliefs. 

THE OTHER PART OF THE CHRIS CUOMO STORY
By now, you've heard at least the outlines of the news that CNN has suspended primetime anchor Chris Cuomo after emails surfaced suggesting he had used his position at the network to run interference for his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Rather than focusing on the details of that story, I wanted to highlight a related issue this controversy brings up. The decision by CNN and MSNBC to spend so much time covering Andrew Cuomo's speeches and press conferences during the worst of the COVID-19 surge in New York.

The situation was obviously worthy of news coverage, but because Cuomo was seen as "standing up" to then-President Trump, he was regularly being touted as some beacon of independence. CNN and MSNBC covered nearly every Cuomo press conference live and anchors regularly discussed how "brave" his was for his approach to dealing with the Trump administration's COVID-19 response. (Just as an aside, this was not the finest moment for MSNBC's Nicole Wallace). 

Even at the time, there were complaints surfacing that the Cuomo administration had made some serious mistakes in its handling of the pandemic's effect on New York's elderly population. But because he was seen as an opponent of Trump, his sometimes daily ramblings were journalistic catnip for some cable news networks.

This is a variation of the trend that found some cable news show booking attorney Michael Avenatti for multiple appearances where his primary role seemed to be just to rant about Trump. He had no particular subset of skills that made him an expert on the then-president, other than being articulate and being the attorney of Stormy Daniels. To be fair, not every show made this decision. But I'd sure love to ask MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell if he regrets having Avenatti on his show so many times in 2020.

It's a similar situation with Chris Christie, who has been on CNN so much in recent weeks that he might as well have been a guest anchor. The network seems to love him because he is just critical enough of conservatives to seem like an opponent and he is another example of a former politician who knows how to crank out a good soundbite. But when you listen to his segments, he doesn't actually say much. Partly because he seems to be spending a lot of his airtime trying to rehabilitate his public image in the post-Trump years. But his lack of candor and insight doesn't appear to have bothered the good folks at CNN, who recently gave Christie an hour-long primetime interview with Dana Bash.

There is rightfully a lot of criticism of Fox News, but this Cuomo story is a reminder that the other cable networks have made some editorial decisions that deserve a great deal of soul-searching and reflection. CNN head Jeff Zucker certainly has some things to answer for. Although given his status at Warner Media, that is unlikely to ever happen. 


A MESSAGE FROM NBC NEWS

NBC News NOW streams more live, original hours than any other major news organization — and we're still growing.

Hear from voices like Tom Llamas, Hallie Jackson, Lester Holt, Savannah Sellers and more.

Watch NBC News NOW for free, 24/7, wherever you stream.


A GREAT USE OF DATA
Streaming services collect a lot of customer data and the ways they use it tend to be hidden from public view. One of the more clever ways of using data as a promotional tool is the #SpotifyWrapped campaign. Each December, the streaming service creates a unique set of lists, based on each individual's listening habits. For what it's worth, here is mine from 2021. I highly recommend the track from the Oklahoma-based band Saugeye. It would have likely been #1 on my list if I had discovered it earlier in the year. 

Collecting that data and spitting out personalized lists does require some substantial resources. But these lists have also turned into great social media drivers for Spotify. And I can't help thinking that Netflix is missing out on an easy way to promote itself. Creating similar individualized viewing lists would lead to some impressive social media sharing and I don't know how many other streaming services collect the granular level of user data required to create these lists.

I'd love to see a list of my most-watched Netflix shows and rundowns of genres and other categories. 

SEE YOU THURSDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.

Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

The myth of scale and what makes a Netflix movie "good?"

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Tuesday, November 30th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ has decided that a good night's sleep is overrated.

THE MYTH OF 'SCALE'
If you spend more than five minutes reading entertainment industry reporting, you'll run across the term "scale." In this context, it means that whatever media company being referenced needs to be bigger in order to survive. Industry consolidation is inevitable and in this entertainment Hunger Games world, only the biggest will be able to thrive. 

While the advantages of "scale" are never discussed specifically, the implication is that the larger the company, the more efficient it will be and the easier it will be to throw around its size during negotiations. Although even those arguments are generally left as the vague mantra "bigger is better."

The truth is that the people who most believe in scale are media executives and various financial types who negotiate the deals. Both groups can make tens and often hundreds of millions of dollars from these mergers and it they don't work out, then it's on to the next deal that participants promise will finally turn things around. What none of these pro-scale enthusiasts like to discuss is that "scale" tends to make companies less innovative. It's easier to hide bad decision making inside a massive media empire and it's much easier to use scale to prop up businesses that couldn't survive independently. 

I was reminded of this while reading a new Cynthia Littleton column in Variety, entitled "Biden's Antitrust Squeeze May Grease The Wheel For TV Deals." The thrust of the piece is that in order to complete even bigger mergers, large media companies are expected to shed underperforming or less important assets and that's an opportunity for up-and-coming investors who can grab some of these aging assets and suck the remaining value out of them. I especially enjoyed this section:

Speculation in the market about marquee brands that may be up for grabs is rampant. Cable channels with subscriber bases of 50 million or more are prized because they deliver predictable revenue streams, even if the earnings are destined to shrink every year as viewers cut the cord and embrace streaming platforms. The idea is to “ride the downside” and generate profits by carefully managing costs and hunting for efficiencies.

There’s unconfirmed chatter that some of the Turner entertainment cable networks may be packaged for sale as part of the Discovery deal. At Disney, big questions have swirled for more than a decade about how ABC and Freeform fit into the grand scheme at the Magic Kingdom, particularly in the streaming era.

NBCUniversal also has a number of established channels in its portfolio that could be an attractive package, a la E! and Oxygen.

Let me be kind and simply say that anyone foolish enough to pick up E! or Oxygen or the Turner Networks deserves the inevitable financial drubbing that will take place. The truth about most of these cable networks is that much of their current value is the result of being part of a large programming bundle that the big three or four media companies offer in a "take them all or get nothing" approach during carriage negotiations. Most MVPD's don't carry Oxygen or fyi or American Heroes or MTV Classic because they believe the channels are valued by their customers. They carry them because they have to in order to get the bigger cable channels that are considered "must-haves."

So the likelihood of someone being successful pitching MVPDs with a E!/Syfy/Oxygen package without the force of the NBCU forced bundle behind it seems extremely unlikely. And that's the case for any attempt to spin off maybe 30 or so cable channels that primarily exist to suck up subscriber fees from MVPDs while keeping programming costs as low as possible to maximize profits. Aside from some residual legacy goodwill from their glory days, most of these channels are near-zombie networks that can't survive outside of the big media content bundle.

A combined WarnerMedia and Discovery doesn't solve the two companies core problems. And the fact there is speculation of some unnamed even larger future merger is insane. If I learned one lesson from my time as a financial reporter, it's that scale almost never solves challenges. It just gives the participants the opportunity to try and gloss over problems with complexity and size.

In nearly all cases, “scale” is the business world equivalent of that old-school showbiz act featuring a guy spinning dinner plates on a series of sticks. It’s easy to get caught up in the balancing act and not examine that fact that some of the plates are flawed in some core fashion.

WHAT QUALIFIES AS A 'GOOD' NETFLIX MOVIE?
Television and streaming services often face a disconnect between what critics see as a "good" program and what audiences are watching. NCIS was never given much love by TV critics, but even in its current creatively weakened state, it remains one of the most popular shows on television. And that is not an uncommon occurrence.

The problem is mostly a function of differing expectations. When you watch television for a living, you tend to become a bit jaded. You watch a lot of stuff you really don't connect with and that you wouldn't watch if you weren't getting paid to do so. So you tend to respond strongly to content that is creatively innovative or unpredictable. You are drawn to the unfamiliar and difficult, because you recognize how difficult it is to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

On the other hand, most people watch television as an escape. Sometimes they want to end up lost in the moment and sometimes they just want to lean back and glaze their mind over for a couple of hours. That's not behavior that's reflected in television criticism, but it's a perfectly fine use of the medium.

When the middling reviews came out for the Netflix action movie Red Notice, it didn't surprise me. The movie isn't anything innovative. It manages to feel familiar in a way that reminds the viewer that they've seen variations of this premise a number of times. Ironically, that was the aspect of the film that I enjoyed the most. My son and I love big, dumb action movies and Red Notice was right in our wheelhouse. Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds were being those familiar Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds personas and the action was breezy and walked the line between hard to believe and laughable. It was a fun two hours and while "fun" isn't something that shows up in critical reviews, I have been arguing that it's more of a success for Netflix than the initial headlines would lead you to believe.

Parrot Analytics' Julia Alexander digs into a bunch of new Netflix data in this new column for Puck and she seems to have a similar take on the impact of the movie:

Bad news for cinephiles: Red Notice, the critically panned art-heist caper in which Ryan Reynolds appears with Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and a bunch of C.G.I. cityscapes, is poised to overtake Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box as the most watched original film in the history of Netflix.

That’s interesting, and speaks to the persistent gap between elite consensus and popular appeal in the streaming age. But the more surprising data point, and something we wouldn’t have known had Netflix not recently begun releasing weekly Top 10 lists based on an “hours consumed” metric, is how Red Notice helped 6 Underground, another Ryan Reynolds Netflix original from 2019, net another 3.6 million household streams in the week following Red Notice’s release—or 7.77 million hours of “engagement.” 

In fact, much of Alexander's column will feel familiar to those of you who've been reading this newsletter for awhile, because she uses the data to reinforce some of the points I have been making. Among them, that U.S. media analysts underappreciate the strength (and importance) of Netflix's non-English programming to the overall global strength of the streamer:

Squid Game gets all the attention, and rightly so, but what about Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha? The rom-com show, the top broadcast series in South Korea when it debuted this summer, is a massive hit for Netflix. Cha-Cha-Cha has remained a Top 10 non-English TV series globally for 12 weeks—longer than Squid Game—and has amassed 258.5 million hours viewed during that time.  

Yes, Squid Game probably helped Cha-Cha-Cha, as the algorithm likely recommended other popular Korean series, but Cha-Cha-Cha was already a hit in markets like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, India, Vietnam, and Qatar. By the week of Nov. 1, it was charting all over Latin America. A week later, it was trending in Morocco. 

This isn’t a one-off event, either. Korean shows routinely dominate Netflix’s Top 10 Non-English Global lists. Most recently, Hellbound, a dark thriller from the director of Train to Busan, dethroned Squid Game as the most-watched title globally, including among English content. Hellbound saw 43.48 million hours viewed. It was the No. 1 title for the week in Jamaica, Martinique, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, and trending Top 10 in dozens more. 

Part of the challenge for U.S.-based critics and analysts is that it is still extremely difficult to track global programming from here. Regional PR teams don't have much experience dealing with U.S.-based critics and oftentimes just the simple task of obtaining screeners and other information is damn near impossible. PR and marketing people spent most of their careers working with local press and not considering the global audience for their shows-in part because the rights were scattered across different companies in each territory. And they have failed to keep up with the changes in the industry.

I remain frustrated by how difficult it can be to get info on some EMEA-produced show, much less something that comes from Thailand or Egypt. I don't know that I have a great answer for the logistical challenges, but I do know it's not a situation that is sustainable in the long term.


A MESSAGE FROM NBC NEWS

NBC News NOW streams more live, original hours than any other major news organization — and we're still growing.

Hear from voices like Tom Llamas, Hallie Jackson, Lester Holt, Savannah Sellers and more.

Watch NBC News NOW for free, 24/7, wherever you stream.


ODDS AND SODS
* If you are interested in watching successful TV chefs building the kitchen of their dreams, then you're the target audience for two new streaming specials. My Dream Kitchen: Giada De Laurentiis and My Dream Kitchen: Carla Hall will both premiere Saturday, December 18th on discovery+.

* The first in-person SDCC in two years was held over the Thanksgiving weekend and it was apparently mellow and mostly Hollywood free.

* 15 chefs from across the country will take on chef Alex Guarnaschelli in the new series Alex Vs. America, which premieres Sunday, January 2nd on the Food Network.

SEE YOU WEDNESDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.

Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

It's almost Thanksgiving and I am thankful.

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Wednesday, November 24th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is already preparing some of the dishes for our Thanksgiving Day carbfest. Which may have some connection with why this newsletter is running late today.

PROGRAMMING NOTES
As is the case with pretty much every other newsletter, today's edition will be the last one of the week. And given the lack of news, it’s a bit shorter than normal. This year in particular it feels as if we all need a mental palate cleanse and a couple of days away from our normal concerns. I plan to spend some quality time with family and friends. I hope you are able to do the same.

I also wanted to take time to let all of you know how thankful I am for your support. The newsletter has grown from less than 1,000 subscribers a year ago to more than 18,000 today. I appreciate every one of you.

AMAZON BUILDING LIVE SPORTS EMPIRE
Front Office Sports is reporting Amazon is the front-runner to acquire a stake in the NFL's sprawling media empire. That includes the NFL Network, NFL Red Zone and NFL.com. Amazon is also the first streamer to land an NFL game package:

Starting in 2022, Amazon Prime Video will become the first streaming service to control an exclusive package of NFL games, paying $1 billion a year for the rights to “Thursday Night  Football.” The relationship between NFL goes back years, including Amazon Web Services providing the computing power for NFL’s Next Gen Stats starting in 2015 and Amazon is in its fifth season of streaming Thursday games on a non-exclusive basis.

“There’s so much we don’t know about what could be in the deal,” said Ed Desser, president of Desser Media and former president of NBA Television and New Media Ventures. “The NFL is also very, very good about going to the dance with the one that brought it. Amazon has now been in the family for years. They get a preferred position just like the other major networks.”

DEADLINE LOVES EXCLUSIVES...EVEN IF IT INVOLVES MEANINGLESS STREAMING DATA POINTS
All of the streaming services are pushing out very vague viewership data points and I think it's the responsibility of journalists to treat the numbers with a great deal of skepticism. Don't just be a stenographer and pass along the "numbers." Provide some context and reinforce the fact that whatever data is being shared is of limited value.

Or you can handle the numbers the way Deadline does. That publication has received several "exclusives" lately which seem to involve just repeating whatever facts are provided without any scrutiny, in exchange for getting the data first.

The latest example of the practice is this piece,
which reports on Amazon's joy over initial viewing data from its new series The Wheel Of Time:

"We can firmly say that Wheel of Time was the most watched series premiere of the year and one of the Top 5 series launches of all time for Prime Video,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told Deadline about the debut, acknowledging that the company — like most streamers  — "try to figure out how transparent we are going to be in the future" with ratings.

Prime Video is among the SVOD platforms that do not disclose viewership data but Salke revealed that "there were tens and tens of millions of streams" for The Wheel Of Time in the first three days of its release, with the US, India, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany as the top countries.

Salke would not disclose further viewership information about The Wheel Of Time premiere but said that “it’s definitely trending to exceed our expectations which were high.”


Forget the issues of viewership data. Amazon won't even report how many of its Amazon Prime subscribers actually use the bundled Amazon Prime Video service each month. 

But wait, we also get some vague social media datapoints as well:

In an encouraging sign for The Wheel Of Time‘s longevity, the series’ first three episode made available at launch also logged some of the highest completion rates on the service ever, Salke added. Additionally, according to third party TV-I, The Wheel of Time was the #1 series on social across all releases last weekend and is the biggest Amazon Original series on social this year.

Look, agreeing to hype some specific talking point in order to get an interview is a tactic as old as journalism. The irony is that Deadline didn't even get a good interview. Salke provides some vague "everything is going great at Amazon, we couldn't be happier" comments. Which is fine if all you want is to be able to promote "Hey, we've got this interview." But the entire piece is pretty forgettable and all it does is provide Prime Video PR with some good clips.

I'm not one of these people that thinks streaming services should be providing lots of very specific viewer and demographic numbers. But they can do better and the only way that is going to happen is if the industry press continues to press them at every opportunity.


A MESSAGE FROM NBC NEWS

NBC News NOW streams more live, original hours than any other major news organization — and we're still growing.

Hear from voices like Tom Llamas, Hallie Jackson, Lester Holt, Savannah Sellers and more.

Watch NBC News NOW for free, 24/7, wherever you stream.


DUBBING AUDIO IS EXPENSIVE
While the issue came to public attention after complaints surfaced about the audio dubbing on Netflix's The Squid Game, dubbing audio has always been an issue for streamers. It's not just that it's difficult to find reliable dubbing services, it's that it's expensive. So much so that a number of smaller streamers in the U.S. have opted not to offer an English-language audio dub at all, instead relying on English subtitles. 

Dubbing isn't any cheaper for linear networks and it's interesting to see how they are handling the problem. Discovery's Science Channel has been running science specials on Sunday nights and they seem to have been originally produced by one of Discovery's networks in Europe or Asia. The network has opted to dub the narration into English, but in many cases, the interviews and other audio is just subtitled. Which can be a bit awkward as you watch it, although the specials have been uniformly worth making the extra effort.

READER FEEDBACK
This is related to my piece in yesterday's newsletter about streaming UI/UX:

I didn't realize you could remove items frim the "keep watching" on Netflix's mobile app. But in some ways, this makes the absence of the feature on the other platforms even more annoying.

TWEETS OF THE DAY

ODDS AND SODS
* If you are interested in watching successful TV chefs building the kitchen of their dreams, then you're the target audience for two new streaming specials. My Dream Kitchen: Giada De Laurentiis and My Dream Kitchen: Carla Hall will both premiere Saturday, December 18th on discovery+.

* Episodes of The Rockford Files are coming to Get TV on January 3rd. 

SEE YOU MONDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.



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