Thessaloniki Takeaways # 2: Leo Dicaprio Builds His Resume. The False Hope of NETFLIX

Leonardo Dicaprio was a winner at Thessaloniki.

  • The Peter Wintonick Audience Award in the International category went to VIRUNGA by Orlando von Εinsiedel.
  • VIRUNGA is ‘A NETFLIX Documentary’ EP’d by Dicaprio.
  • It’s about endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park of the DR Congo.
  • Virunga was also nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards this year.

SVOD Threat

  • These wins are a further sign of the rapid rise of SVOD, the Subscription Video on Demand channel, led by NETFLIX.
  • The SVOD ‘all-you-can-eat’ subscription fee of around $8:00/month is a growing threat to the mega-billion dollar annual funding of Unscripted TV productions by broadcasters and Cab/Sat channels.
  • We’ll analyze why in upcoming editions of this newsletter.

Virunga

Netflix Original Documentary Productions, 2015

  • The Netflix pipeline of original commissions is a fraction of the hours created by a typical channel.
  • Netflix is launching only a handful of documentary commissions in 2015.
  • What Happened, Miss Simone? is a biopic about jazz singer Nina Simone, which opened Sundance 2015.
  • Miss Simone marks the first Netflix involvement in a doc project from its earliest development stage.

“This epic documentary of legendary recording artist and civil rights activist Nina Simone uses rare concert footage and her most memorable songs, along with diaries, letters, and interviews with Nina’s daughter, friends and collaborators, to tell the story of this beloved singer and black power icon. In “What Happened, Miss Simone?” Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus creates an unforgettable portrait of this iconic, controversial artist.” 

  • My Own Man also has a celebrity tie-in: this time actor Edward Norton. He is the producer of this doc about a soon-to-be father’s exploration of manhood. It premiered March 6.
  • Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary about pornography and the Internet, and an official selection for Sundance 2015.

What Does Netflix Pay?

  • At my session on trends in the US documentary niche, several producers in the room had high hopes for as NETFLIX a new buyer.
  • Their expectations reminded me of the buzz that surrounded the launch of Oprah’s OWN network.
  • But they were very disappointed to learn that while NETFLIX may invest up to $1mn or more in a handful of ‘tentpole’ docs, it’s a different story for its ‘long tail’ of acquisitions:
    • $5,000 – $50,000 is the range for a flat fee for a 2 year US license.
  • In a week or so we will publish a detailed report on the rise of VOD, including coverage of Netflix.

Celebrity Filter

  • Signing up an A-list celebrity to a NETFLIX projects did not look like a promising avenue to the indie producers in my Masterclass at Thessaloniki.
  • They often came from the smaller European markets without real hope of access to Hollywood.
  • Celebrity involvement raises the bar for indie producers everywhere by pushing Signature docs to an agent-led model.

Private Funding

  • The welcome involvement of Howard Buffet as Virunga EP points to the increasing role of the billionaire class in funding and facilitating docs.
  • When I arrived in NYC in 1981, I worked on a big NEA-funded PBS project that was filtered and advised by a panel of PhD-type experts.
  • The pendulum has swung firmly away from peer-reviewed public funding to engagement with private super-wealth, often with a celebrity on board.
  • Some call it ‘The New Feudalism’: I’m going to write more about this new fact of life and culture in the coming months.

 

sardines

Acquisition Candidates at Thessaloniki Market

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

  • MIPDoc, Cannes, Saturday April 11 – Sunday April 12
  • Center for Communications, New York: ‘In Conversation With…’ Monday April 27 (Documentaries) & Thursday April 30 (Reality)
  • South African Indies / ATFT, Jo’burg, Durban + Cape Town,  Friday April 17 – Wednesday April 22
  • On Screen Manitoba, Winnipeg, Tuesday May 5
  • Atlanta MasterClass, with Tomorrow Pictures, Saturday May 16
  • Sunnyside of the Doc, La Rochelle, June 22-25

2 comments

  1. A welcome note of caution from Peter about this new model. I particularly agree with the absence of peer-review – or indeed any type of editorial leadership – in these streaming services, and the dangers of an agent-led model that comes with chasing celebs to ‘EP’. Looking forward to the upcoming posts Peter.

  2. Steven Seidenberg says:

    Interesting article on Netflix and New Feudalism. We’re getting the whiffs of the New Feudalism billionaire funding model here in China as well (albeit with different billionaires holding the reins).

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