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Sopranos Prequel’s simultaneous theater / streaming release could be the wave of the future

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The trailer for “The Many Saints of Newark” features the song “Money” by the Flying Lizards.

One saying poignantly captures the thematic heart of the sprawling TV series prequel about Mafia boss Tony Soprano: “Money isn’t everything / It’s true / What it doesn’t get / I don’t can’t use it. “

It also reflects the midst of a film industry embroiled in a battle over release dates and release formats.

“The Sopranos” creator David Chase has expressed his anger over HBO’s decision to simultaneously release “The Many Saints of Newark” in theaters and on HBO Max. In order for the new movie to lose its “television image,” Chase figured it had to do traditional theater before moving to a streaming service.

Hollywood executives see it differently. For them, the lines that once separated movies, TV movies and TV series are starting to blur, to the point of having to squint to see them. They’ve embraced analytics and are increasingly interested in measuring movies using data that only streaming services can deliver – numbers that can help them learn more about viewers, reduce waste and increase profits.

The old model collapses

Just ten years ago, the dominant film distribution strategy involved what was called “exclusive window distribution”.

A big budget movie usually debuted in theaters, which was often the first exclusive window. Then, between three and six months after its theatrical debut, the film became exclusively available on DVD or home video. This is followed by pay-per-view or cable distribution.

The rise of streaming services has cracked this model.

Netflix could instantly stream movies and series to consumers online, eliminating the need to create physical DVDs and sell them at a discount to retailers like Best Buy.

Additionally, the once important distinctions between TV shows and movies have started to blur. On streaming services, you can easily watch movies and TV shows without periodically interrupting commercials. Television cinematography began to imitate film cinematography. You could even say that gorging on a series with connected episodes was no different from watching a long movie.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. With the closing of theaters, studios began to experiment with digital film distribution in new ways.

Unlike theater pricing models – which charge the same price for all tickets regardless of demand – studios have premiered movies on streaming services at different prices. A study I’m leading with media management specialist Ronen Shay details how movie studios have actually shifted movie prices week to week, trying to capitalize and exploit the hype and demand for each film distributed.

For example, Disney + ‘s “Mulan” maintained a price tag of $ 29.99 for the first three months of its release. But as of December, Disney + subscribers were able to watch it for free, while on other platforms it was available to rent for $ 19.99.

A data portal

Streaming content isn’t just used to attract audiences. It is used as an analytical tool to better understand the audience in a way that is simply not possible while showing a movie in a movie theater.

When people stream “The Many Saints of Newark,” HBO Max can capture audience information such as demographics, lifestyles, and viewing preferences. Using these consumer profiles, it is possible to predict and understand what type of movie or genre customers will be attracted to in the future. These algorithms are fluid enough to adjust and refine based on what a subscriber is watching.

The data can also be used to predict how many people will watch a program and whether a certain movie or series will increase subscriptions. It can also help digital content distributors quell subscription cancellations by strategically timing the addition of new movies or series to keep subscribers on board.

For example, if Warner Bros. – who owns HBO Max – determines that “The Batman,” slated for release in 2022, will increase subscription rates for HBO Max, he can choose to place the movie in his content library next to the movie theater. Release. HBO Max will also be able to refine its algorithms for subscribers who watch “The Batman”.

During this time, virtually no audience information will be collected on the people who see “The Batman” in theaters. Apart from movie theater loyalty card programs and customer information gleaned from vendors like Fandango, it is difficult for movie theater executives to capture audience data.

Swimming against the tide

Purists, including directors Christopher Nolan and Patty Jenkins, have criticized films debuting on streaming services, which they say undermine the romantic and immersive experience of seeing a movie on an 80-foot silver screen.

But they are swimming against the tide. TVs are bigger and cheaper than ever, while the prices of movie tickets and concessions continue to rise. It’s not even clear if bigger is better. Does it really matter that a romantic comedy appears on a giant screen? Additionally, younger viewers – an important consumer segment for movie theaters – are increasingly comfortable watching movies from smartphones and other devices.

Studios, meanwhile, are already chasing data. Mainstream film debuts simply “don’t get it all / it’s true / what they don’t get / the studio can’t use,” to paraphrase “Money”, the Flying Lizards song.


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