Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stale Bread and Stale Love?

Writers have been writing love stories for as long as some of us can remember. Every plot needs a love affair. Isn't that right? well perhaps not. Who says that one cannot write a story without a romantic relationship. After all many individuals live without a significant other for at least part of their life. Then why can't we enjoy the life of a lonely gas station attendant that works into the wee hours of the morning and goes home to an empty bed, blown up to fit a theatrical release. Why can't we enjoy the utter loneliness of a human being. After all we are all lonely in our lives, aren't we. We have all shared the feeling of being completely alone in a room rich in walking talking bodies. Having that someone that cares about you could at times be just as lonely as having no one. 

Why is hollywood stuck on love? Well for one thing the silver screen has often been considered a mirror for our dreams rather than a portrait of our reality. That projector in the back, and the sixty foot screen in front of us, isn't there to show us our lives. Hollywood is a glorification of everything. People in the movies don't look like us, they don't talk like us, they don't act like us. Though they seem to do all those things. Thats the art of the crew, the magician behind the curtains. They try to make you believe what is up there is you or your friends. So of course you can fall for a girl like Jessica Alba and she will love you too. Which draws us to think that the objective of a romance in a film is to make you believe that it could happen to you. To glorify a human need. 

That explanation makes a lot of sense. We have dozens of cooking shows and that fulfills a basic human need. Why can't we have romance and have it fill another need. When you see a television chef prepare a meal, it looks as beautiful as a perfectly formulated romance on the big screen. It's the illusion that you can one day have that in your life, no matter how unlikely that fact might be. Lets be honest most of us will never cook that dish as Chef Ramsay did, and most of us will never get to make love to Angelina Jolie (not my personal taste). Most people that fall in love will live a life of mediocrity lacking excitement, as most people will resort to eating take out, or a below average meal. Movies make you challenge your mediocrity and make you dream. 

It's the matter of hope. You can rob us of anything and everything, but the day you rob us of hope, you leave us with nothing. The story of pandora and her box is a great example of this. All the diseases of the world can be born by human kind if you give them one little ingredient, and that is hope. So we watch people fall in love on the big screen hoping we will one day too. 

Is hope the only reason we have romance in our films. Well perhaps not, life imitates art imitates life. So the love you see on that screen does in fact resemble the love you share with another person. It is a reality. Maybe you weren't on top of they eiffel tower the first time you kissed, but didn't it feel like you were. Maybe your heart was beating a million miles an hour and you could barely control yourself, but when you think back now wasn't it beautiful? Love is life. If we aren't in love with someone we are hoping to be. If we are not with someone than we are pursuing someone, or maybe just hoping that that someone would turn around and read the love in our eyes. 

Perhaps if you asked the lonely gas station attendant, he would tell you about Martha. Martha the hunched over dodgy eyed brunette that fills up at 5PM every day. She does it five bucks at a time because thats who she is. She makes him smile and she laughs at his jokes. He loves her more than he has ever loved a woman and he's waiting for the day when he can finally ask her out on a date. Now that's a film. Aren't we all waiting for that dodgy eyed brunette in our lives? Well maybe we aren't looking for those features, but we are looking for her. The films capture that thrust because writers live amongst us. 

Either we are in love, or we are falling in love, or hoping we were in love. Films are a duplication of our reality. So yes every good story has a romantic sub plot to it. What would happen if it didn't. Is love the formula for every great masterpiece? Well not necessarily. Shawshank Redemption didn't glorify love as most films do, and it was perhaps the greatest film made. Not every film has to be about love, just as not every film has to show the main actors enjoying a meal. 

So why do we put up with the monotony? Well because it makes sense. It's a subject that can be endlessly explored. We will never have enough of it. You can go through a million struggles in your life and you will still think about the girl you love as much as any of the other things, if not more. It takes up a lot of your mind and it takes up a lot of you. So when you sit back to watch a larger than life projection of life, romance makes it more credible, weather its real or not. Weather its a subplot or the main theme. Love is the ingredient of life, and therefore an ingredient to our art. 

So go our there Live, Love, and Eat. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Netflix Screwing Itself Over By Focusing on Streaming?

Since it was founded in 1997, Netflix has quickly risen to become one of the dominant providers of home video entertainment. After rendering Blockbuster’s business model woefully outdated, Netflix has made a big bet on streaming, partnering with hardware manufacturers to offer its digital distribution services over many platforms. You can now buy dozens of phones, Blu-Ray players, and video game consoles that stream Netflix movies, and that number grows every day.
Recently, Netflix made substantial changes to its pricing plans, introducing a streaming-only plan for $7.99, while jacking up the pricing of its DVD/Blu-Ray plans. The net effect of this will likely be to drive more people towards the streaming-only plan, while causing some attrition for its higher end plans. This makes sense in the short-run; after all, Netflix’s disc subscribers require Netflix to spend over half a billion dollars on postage per year and maintain costly distribution centers. But by focusing on streaming for the future, is Netflix screwing itself over?

Edward Epstein (author of The Hollywood Economist) has a post at The Wrap laying out the potential pitfalls with this plan. The crux of the issue is that digital streaming is an entirely different market than DVD rentals, primarily due to legal reasons. With DVDs, the “first sale doctrine” allows Netflix to purchase a DVD and rent it out to anyone without getting the permission of the copyright holder. Obviously, licensing digital content is a whole different animal:
In the case of new movies, studios license slates of 20 or so titles in so-called output deals for hundreds of millions of dollars. The average cost for a single title in such a deal is about $16 million for a two-year license. Where Netflix can buy 10,000 copies of a major title for $150,000 to mail out, it will need to spend about $16 million to license it for streaming. Such a hundredfold increase in price can obviously be deleterious to profits especially since Netflix still has to maintain its mailing centers, and buy DVDs, for the subscribers who elect to continuing using the mail-in service either because they prefer DVDs’ higher quality and features or they don’t have the apparatus to receive digital streaming.

Netflix recently made a deal with Epix to get rights to films by Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM. That deal is said to cost about $900 million over the course of five years, not cheap by any measure and maybe not as good a value as buying DVDs (although of course, the eventual saved costs on distribution and postage may make this profitable). Moreover, Netflix recently offered to pay between $70,000 to $100,000 per episode to stream current episodes of hit primtime shows.

Many of Netflix current content deals — deals that have made Netflix Watch Instantly such an appealing option for many subscribers — were cut during a time when people had no idea what the hell digital streaming was or how to value it. This is why we can get Starz movies and episodes of The Office on Netflix; Netflix cut a backdoor deal with Starz for the streaming rights to its content, and its content deals for TV shows happened before properties such as Hulu or were as big as they are today. When these deals come up for renewal in 2012, you can bet that the price for this content is going to be much more onerous for Netflix.

In addition, Netflix faces increasing competition from a variety of sources. HBO is launching its own portal, HBO GO, which will allow HBO subscribers to stream HBO movies and original series. Meanwhile, Amazon is launching a Netflix competitor, and the new video games service OnLive may soon offer movies to subscribers. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes (who, to be fair, has a horse in this race; Warner Bros. is an investor in OnLive) recently declared that Netflix hasn’t shown it can compete seriously in the content distribution space.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings strikes me as a monstrously intelligent guy; I’m sure Netflix has run financial models and done a great deal to predict what will happen if Netflix’s future is streaming-only. But with the world of content delivery in such upheaval these days, and movie studios loathe to cede power to Netflix the way the music industry ceded power to Apple, Netflix may face a more difficult road ahead than its current profits and growth would indicate.