Awards, Netflix and Killing Hollywood’s Poster Business

This week’s Golden Globes nominations showed that the never-ending freight train of streaming isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. In fact, it illustrated a few key things. First, what constitutes a “movie” has officially been blurred for good with Netflix taking an inordinate amount of Best Film nominations for their originals The Irishman, Marriage Story, Dolemite is My Name and The Two Popes. It’s become quite clear that theatrical, streaming, phone, iPad, movie screen; it doesn’t quite matter where content shows up, as long as it’s good. And maybe that’s ok.

It also illustrated that network television’s ability to compete in this new world order is growing more questionable by the minute, cock-blocking the traditional networks from garnering any nominations by the HFPA.

But both of those narratives are not the story worth covering right now, as they’ve been covered ad nauseam by the mainstream press. Why add to the noise of something you’re going to read about in twenty-thousand other outlets.

Instead, there’s an area of the entertainment industry and its ability to put food on the table that Netflix has been whittling away at for the last few years without anyone spending much time discussing it. A part of Hollywood’s service industry; providing support for film releases for half a century, and growing in partnership with studios and networks as the hunger for said entertainment grew with the times.

We’re talking about movie posters and creative artwork.

Hollywood has dozens, if not fifty different creative agencies staffed-up and focused on serving the entertainment community by creating the visual identity for their movies, TV shows and digital originals. They’re experts in coming up with ingenious concepts, executing them visually, and delivering full campaigns for all aspects of marketing. Often times, what starts as the visual identity for a property’s marketing angle, sets the stage for thousands of pieces of creative that are used for posters, billboards, digital advertisements, newspaper ads, magazine slicks, bus shelters, banner ads and social media profiles.

Clearly, the visual identity of a movie is tantamount to its success and awareness and often times can begin a year out from the release date.

But something curious has happened over the last few years.

Netflix, who is no stranger to digging into the data of how the film industry works, and is more concerned with profitability at an almost minuscule level (versus the studios, who spend like drunken sailors and rarely question the costs of such things), started crunching the numbers of the creative space. It started small, with Netflix and other streamers hiring their own in-house creative advertising executives, who could oversee the outside vendors and creative agencies who were delivering their movie posters and creative assets.

But then right around the time Netflix started buying up a majority of the billboards in Hollywood (because why pay someone else to rent their billboard space at a higher price if you could own them and save some cash), the company began to hire staff away from the creative agencies to handle some of the “finishing” process of creative assets. While finishing, which is the act of creating all the various deliverables from a creative concept, was never the full-monty of creative production, it was the beginning of taking more of the process in house and taking anywhere from $10-20k in revenue away from creative agencies. Mind you, this is nothing any other major company has done, period.

But why stop there?

Now, we are on the cusp of Netflix building their own internal creative agencies, so to speak. Not just hiring computer jockeys to handle finishing of creative, but actually hiring artists and creative advertisers to ideate the concepts, produce the art and deliver the finished product to all the end points necessary. It’s beginning now and is going to keep growing as Netflix builds their own self-sufficient creative agency in house.

This is something the studios never did, and the other streamers haven’t.

We’re not here to vilify Netflix. They’re clearly a smart business run by smart people who have smart number crunchers who have figured out how to make this whole endeavor far more economical, versus the studio system which blindly went about their ways and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a poster (and still do) without wondering if it would make sense to build it all in house.

Times change. So, too, does the industry. But people are blind to the changes that are coming. The creative agency world, which has been lucrative for decades, is facing a moment in time where they must start to think about their future. The part of the industry that made millions on creating huge box sets of DVDs to send out to voters; well they too are approaching a turning point where the costly effort of creating huge overblown mailers is about to take a backseat to digital screeners. And all those catering companies? Well, isn’t intermittent fasting going to kill them soon, too?

Posters aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, contrary to what marketing executives might tell their filmmaking clients. It’s just the creative agencies that are. For now, Netflix is at the forefront of doing just that.

Let this serve as the warning shot across the bow of traditional Hollywood’s service industry. Because it’s gonna get more sketchy before it’s gonna get good.

Time to zig.

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