Let's All Go to the Lobby

The other day when we talked about all the cool stuff announced at the last Apple event we didn’t mention Apple original films. But really, that’s kind of a big deal. Even bigger because these films will get theatrical releases

It’s worth mentioning that historically, companies that dip their proverbial toes into markets drastically different from their own don’t do particularly well. And while we know the internal Apple team isn’t making these movies, it isn’t as though Apple isn’t already super adept at producing lush, dramatic, well-paced movies that keep viewers in seats. They know good cinema when they see it. Really not much of a stretch. 

Hang on, let’s look at the Colgate lasagna again. MAN, that’s gross. OK, back to the piece. 

Alright, so it’s neat that they’re in theaters, but you might be asking yourself why they’re going to the trouble, when dollar for dollar they stand to make more money just sticking with their own platform. WELL. We’ll tell you why. One reason is that in order to be eligible for consideration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a film has to run in a qualifying theater for at least seven consecutive days with at least three showings daily. 

Now, through exclusive deals with boutique distribution companies, they’ll not only satisfy The Academy’s stringent requirements for award season consideration, but they’ll use that time as teaser advertising for Apple TV Plus. Home viewers will have to wait until November 1 to see The Elephant Queen, for instance, which opens in theaters on October 18. That’s two weeks of hype-building and invaluable word-of-mouth. 

Neil Cybart points out how differently Netflix’s and Apple’s approaches to Hollywood are. Netflix skirts around Oscar rules by releasing movies in theaters for a week and then opens up streaming immediately afterwards. As a result, the relationship between Netflix and theater chains (who often want 3-month exclusivity contracts) is chilly at best. But what the hell does Netflix care? They’re literally* bathing in money. 

*Not literally.

Stephen “They Call Me Mr. Critical” Speilberg has lambasted Netflix, saying they’re just glorified TV, releasing straight-to-streaming and diluting the art form. It would take more time than we have here to pick apart that argument with all its flaws. As much as we love film in its purest, projected form, it’s important to note how much the advent of digital (and streaming in particular) has opened up the art to more people and made it accessible to creators who’d have never been otherwise able to participate.

The pro-Netflix argument sees the Speilbergs of the world as elitists — angry their personal media is being disrupted. Film is opening up to a far wider audience because people will watch something on Netflix that they wouldn’t drive to a theater, pay $20, and watch with a group of strangers. And we understand why that feels like a loss. But it’s a good loss. A bittersweet one. Netflix is a wildly different experience than a theater. Not better, not worse. Different. 

Netflix has one motivation — more subscribers. The entire point is to spread out the massive fixed costs of content creation across the largest number of paying subscribers. So they might begrudgingly leave a movie in theaters for all of three weeks, but every minute it’s there, it’s not doing the most useful job of getting more people paying for Netflix.

Wait just a…weren’t we talking about Apple? Oh you want to see the Colgate lasagna? Gotta give the people what they want.

Anyway back to Apple.

Apple is coming at this from a totally different angle. Unlike Netflix, they’re in content creation (and specifically theater releasing) for two different things: 

  1. To convince people to use the TV app, giving Apple the ability to control a user’s entertainment experience, and sell other services while taking a cut.
  2. To create a “brand halo.” Apple is a luxury brand and by making content that people love and respect (Oscars lend some SERIOUS legitimacy) as art, it accrues more goodwill to the larger brand. We know, this one just sounds icky, but that’s marketing for you. We’re writing this with 4 Apple products on our desk so…it works. 

To sum up: Apple is getting paid 20 bucks a pop (plus however much popcorn costs…like $135) to advertise its product. For 3 weeks. That is genius. 

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