Sony v. Microsoft: The Console Wars

Over the course of the 2000s, two major companies have been competing for the attention of the serious gamer. The Xbox and the PlayStation consoles have both been integral to the advancement of not just gaming technology, but the driving force behind a few technological advancements. Sony’s PlayStation series has been known as the go-to console for most serious gamers, while Xbox focuses on being the all-in-one console. The different advertising strategies often attract different people, but with advancements in modern day systems, the main differences will be the exclusives and aesthetics.

ConsoleThe first iteration of PlayStation came out in the late 1990s, and stayed the leading console for many years. For the longest time, Sony had no competition, that is until the early 2000s when Microsoft released their flagship console, Xbox. Over the course of the next couple of years the two companies would start to sync up their release dates and start a pattern of pumping out new consoles. Every 5-6 years a new console is released but within those years are mid-cycle upgrades. For the two companies, they release a slim, and then a slightly more upgraded version (in terms of processing power) around a year later.

ConsoleOne key problem faced with these consoles is future proofing. When a new console is sent out every year there isn’t much room for improvement. Many people won’t buy a new system unless there is a significant change. With the introduction of Project Scorpio Microsoft aimed to create a system that would be one of the most powerful. With boasted true 4k gaming Microsoft’s current console, the Xbox One X, has the most powerful processor to date. As well as this they have made their newest console backwards compatible all the way to the original Xbox. Their mission is to make console gaming comparable if not better than computers.

PlayStation’s main focus is a little more different than Xbox’s, where Xbox focuses more on graphics, PlayStation focuses on content. Overall both consoles have good exclusive games, but PlayStation can brag about having a higher percentage of high reviews on their games. Sony’s newest upgrade to the PS4 is the PS4 Pro. This console says it has a 4k experience, but in all actuality it uses a process called supersampling . This process can lower the frame rate of a game, which is very bad when dealing with games that require quick responses. However, Sony’s PlayStation VR is one of the leading headsets in terms of gaming graphics. So much so that they have said they don’t want to advance any farther than they are now, so as to not scare away future competition. When asked about the future of VR in their consoles, Microsoft simply shrugged off the question and instead pointed out their new features of game sharing and backwards compatibility. Unfortunately, PlayStation is more focused on the future of gaming, so they will not be incorporating backwards compatibility.

One problem suggested with the speed of advancements in gaming technology today is that by the time a console is finished, it will already be outdated. A good point to bring up is how Sony released the PS4 pro with already next level graphics, only to be outdone by Microsoft the next year. To combat this both companies can be seen talking about producing consoles faster, or with better gear. The latter will make consoles more expensive and the former will make consoles less worth purchasing.

-Roberto Estrella

Changing the Music Distribution Game

Thanks to the rise of the Internet and digital distribution, it is now easier than ever before for music artists to get their music to the masses. Since the beginning of the music industry labels have had to use artists to survive and artists have needed labels to be relevant. The case is not so today! Today having a label is almost an obsolete practice.

musicThere are some pros to having a label. They can manage an artist’s marketing and show promotion, they can help set up tours and manage tours, and they can manage the distribution of an artist’s music in stores and online. The issue is that a label usually takes a large chunk of the artist’s revenue leaving them only the revenues from live shows. Today, a successful indie artist can just hire a tour manager and a marketing and promotions manager, instead of dealing with a substantial decrease in revenue that comes with a label. The lack of a label also allows an artist complete creative control with their music so they don’t have to change something just because the label thinks it could reach a wider audience.

There are a number of options when it comes to indie music distribution. One of the most popular digital distributors is Distrokid. Distrokid offers multiple levels of subscription based service the lowest being pay $20 a year and upload as much music as you want to any of its over 150 partners. These partners include Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, Pandora, and many more! The only downside to this service is that they do not produce physical copies of discs, however artists like Chance the Rapper have found success without even releasing physical copies of their albums so this may be less of a drawback than people think. If you’re looking for a service that makes physical copies CDBaby and Tunecore, however these services are on a per album basis rather than a yearly subscription.

Other services that have risen to help independent artists include music sharing websites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Soundcloud is a music sharing community where people can just put up what they have been working on free for anyone to check out at anytime. Bandcamp, on the other hand, is more similar to something like iTunes. It’s a place where artist can sell their music, as well as set up a profile where they can sell merchandise. The artists have complete control over the prices they set on Bandcamp and can even do a pay what you want option. Many artists like this website because they feel it helps foster community.

Based on the information provided by Samuel Orson in this article, we can get an idea of the payout with some of the digital services. With iTunes an artist receives %77 percent of the revenue for each purchase, with Spotify and artist receives about $.004 per stream, and with YouTube artists receive $.0004 per stream. Samuel also gave insight into some of the revenue breakdown for Bandcamp. He mentions how Bandcamp give you a larger chunk of the profit the more people pay for your music. So an artist can get about %77 for an album that sells for $5 and close to %80 with an album that sells for $10.

musicBut who would I be if I didn’t put my money where my mouth is? You can check out my artist profile and my EP Reset Navigation on Spotify and iTunes, distributed through Distrokid. As well as, my Bandcamp profile here. Who knows maybe I’ll write the next indie hit?

-Jonathan Carpenter

The SOLO Film to Keep in the Star Wars Tradition

Disney is producing a Han Solo standalone movie? What’s next, a Jabba the Hutt film? Actually I think I might have spoke too soon on that last one… Regardless, in 2015 Disney announced their expansive slate of films through 2020, which included the “Solo” pic along with the likes of two more saga films and the first Star Wars standalone film in Rogue One. It was a bit of a risky move to dive into a realm outside of the saga stories, but Rogue One showed it could be possible, and financially successful. Each of the announced films were slated to be released in December of their respective year, all except for one of them. The then untitled Han Solo film was set to be released in May 25th of 2018, making it the lone, or “solo,” Disney produced film to keep with the Star Wars summer tradition.

Star Wars Since May of 1977, the Star Wars franchise had become famous for its summer releases and for paving the way of the blockbuster movie along with Spielberg’s Jaws. Each film in the franchise after was released around the third or fourth weekend in May, until The Force Awakens broke the tradition. Since Disney has been releasing all their new films in the month of December and carving a new tradition, why break from that and keep Han Solo in May?

One of the reasons could be that since Han Solo is a classic character that harkens back to the original trilogy film, all of which had summer releases. Therefore, Disney might want to replicate that traditional feel with this iconic character. Another reason could be that Disney might want to avoid the bloated winter holiday movie season slated in 2018. Paramount is releasing a Transformers spinoff film titled Bumblebee in December, Warner Brothers has Aquaman , and Disney themselves plans to release the long awaited sequel Mary Poppins Returns as well. December of 2018 definitely seems like a month to avoid at this point. Yet again, is May all that great of a month to release the film in either?

Fast forward from 2015 to 2017 and the now titled Solo: A Star Wars Story is well into production… that is until directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were suddenly fired over creative differences with Disney. Subsequently, Hollywood veteran Ron Howard was brought in to rein in the film, and Disney insisted the film would maintain its May 25th, 2018 release date despite the ongoing mess. Is this really a good idea though? A film of this caliber should take all the time it needs, and I’m not so sure having directors fired mid-production paints a picture that the film is in good shape. In addition to behind the scene trouble, there remains a large and potentially self-cannibalizing elephant in the room.

Star Wars Disney and Marvel have had plans in place since late 2014 to release the highly coveted third installment in the Avengers franchise in May of 2018, just three weeks before Solo. Will this create unwanted competition between two in house franchises? In its third weekend of release, around the same time frame that Solo will be released, Avengers was still making around 36 million dollars at the box office, and the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron was making 28 million dollars. Could releasing Solo in that time period potentially step on the toes of an expected financial blockbuster in Infinity War? I’m not so sure it won’t, but I trust the number crunchers at Disney know what they are doing.

Solo has put itself in quite the dilemma. Despite all the shake ups behind the scenes of its production, the film is set on being rushed to release in May of 2018. Unfortunately, there is not many other windows in which it can be released as it really can’t follow the new Disney tradition of December releases because of the expanding Hollywood winter season. Its current release in May could potentially cannibalize its companion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What to do, what to do… I guess we’ll just wait for May and see what happens.

-Tristan Bennett

Social Media Marketing in Modern Distribution of Films

The landscape of the film industries distribution strategy has changed dynamically in the last 10 years. From the perspective of windows of distribution, attention has shifted from the traditional theatres and television screens to mobile technology. The opportunity to get in front of a potential fan of a film by interacting with them through a device in their pocket is the power play of the digital age we currently living in.

Within the device, social media offers one of the most cost-efficient and strategic implementation of digital marketing channels in distribution tactics today. Production teams and executives can not only build networks for their studio brand names, but also build something similar to “personal brands” surrounding each individual project.

I’m Scott Burak, and I’m speaking from my experience of being the Co-founder of ADFly, LLC, a social media strategy and digital marketing development agency.

As the world continues to innovate and become more connected, these changes will become more frequent, and the studios have to continue to adapt to emerging technologies. This means opportunities for specialists and consultants in niche marketing channels across the ever-growing list of online content distribution platforms.

Social Media

Social Media Case Studies of Film Distribution

I’ve decide to investigate the social media strategies of two films, one launched through major film studios as well as one distributed independently.  For the sake of being festive this Halloween, I looked into two successful horror films (interestingly not released during scaring season).

Studio: Fox

Project: Devil’s Due

Distribution: 20th Century Fox

Release: January 17, 2014

Premise: American psychological horror film focusing in on a newly wed couple starting their family together. They decide to document their life and begin recording events that lead up the climax of their story. It becomes evident early that the woman is experiencing an uncommon and unpleasant pregnancy.

Strategy: Viral Video with over 54 million views on YouTube. Such a popular platform reached the mass markets without precisely targeting their audience. However by gaining a following for the film with these initial marketing efforts, they were able to parlay their foundation to find other similar people whom might enjoy their film.

Results:

  • Production Budget: $7,000,000
  • Box Office Returns: $15,800,000
  • Return on Investment: $8,800,000

Independent Film Studio Social Media Distribution

Studio: Animal Kingdom

Project: It Comes at Night

Distribution: A24

Release: June 9, 2017

Premise: American psychological horror film staged during a health crisis with a highly contagious outbreak that is wreaking havoc on across the planet. The main character and his son live deep in the woods and fight off other survivors looking for resources and shelter.

Strategy: Organic social media strategy played a huge role in the marketing of this project. Regular postings leading up to the release directed at a following of people that showed initial interest in the film. Then they leveraged Facebook as a platform to identified similar demographics and interests among their core audience and implement precise awareness marketing to ideal consumers.

Results:

  • Production Budget: $2,400,000.00
  • Box Office Returns: $19,300,000.00
  • Return on Investment: $16,900,000.00

Ongoing Innovation in Digital Distribution

Obviously studios and distribution networks should not see the digital revolution as a threat, but as an opportunity. With powerful analytic technology and targeting methods, comes the potential for greater ROI with strategic planning in distribution. Ultimately meaning more bang for your buck in marketing dollars.

On the horizon, I see the incorporation of two disruptive technologies that will again reinvent the way production houses push out their content digitally. I believe virtual realty will provide a platform for endless creative projects as the technology becomes more affordable and commercialized. Not only could entire projects be produced within whatever becomes the standard VR format, but studios could also get their feet wet in by incorporating small-scale projects in marketing and promotional strategy for films that are traditionally produced and consumed.

Additionally, I believe that artificial intelligence is something that any digital savvy distributors will take advantage of especially from a marketing standpoint. Being able to program computing technology to make informed decisions by aggregating information between engagement, demographics, and messaging strategies; the most profitable, most successful strategies will become apparent through mass data manipulation. This also leads to extremely relevant marketing and messaging to hyper-segmented target audiences by better understanding the correlations between what a certain group of people like compared to another.

Even more, I predict we will see incredible, personalized experiences at the crossroads of these two technologies. Imagine how an immersive virtual realty experience that adapts to how the user is interacting with the content could change the way people consume entertainment.

Regardless of which of these technologies’ potentials becomes an actual reality, one thing is for certain; Entertainment executives and content producers need to stay on their toes and ahead of the digital curve if they want to take advantage of the future of digital distribution platforms.

-Scott Burak

A Whole New Game: Independent AAA

Today’s video game industry seems more homogenized than ever. Now, almost every big budget game is required to have an open world with multiplayer, downloadable content, and invasive microtransactions stapled onto it with no regard to player satisfaction. As more games seek larger revenues, the future of AAA video games looks bleak. But one game may have set a precedent that will change the market for the better.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was released on August 8th, 2017 for PC and PlayStation 4. According to its developer Ninja Theory, it’s a cinematic psychological horror action-adventure game based on Celtic and Norse Mythology. That kind of subject matter isn’t something commonly seen in the market. It can be seen as risky and doomed to fail as it doesn’t play it safe. But Hellblade isn’t like other AAA games.

gamePrior to Hellblade, Ninja Theory developed Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil May Cry along with other games of generally high quality. What sets Hellblade apart from Ninja Theory’s previous projects is that it’s self-published. Before, Ninja Theory relied on large publishers like Namco-Bandai and Capcom for marketing and distribution. But with Hellblade, they’ve done everything independently.

Independent games have been around since the beginning of commercial video games. But the independent market didn’t get to where it is today until the rise of digital distribution. Services like Steam and GOG have allowed almost anyone to self-publish their games and have a chance at commercial success. Most indie games are developed by small teams with relatively small budgets. But Hellblade is different as it was developed by an established studio with a budget more comparable to that of games released my major publishers.

Ninja Theory describes Hellblade as being Independent AAA. According to their website, an Independent AAA game is a game of AAA quality but with the more focused game design, lower price point and open development process that defines indie games. Hellblade has taken this philosophy head on. It’s single player only, released for just $30, and heavily focuses on mental health issues. This is all unheard of with AAA games from major publishers. Without independence, none of the risks Hellblade made would’ve been possible.

Despite being one game in a vast ocean, Hellblade may have created waves that will alter the future of AAA gaming. If other major non-subsidiary development studios see Hellblade as a success, they may choose to follow Ninja Theory’s footprints. This would allow for complete creative control of their own intellectual properties. They could choose to charge however much they wish. Bloated downloadable content and microtransactions forced in by publishers could no longer infect their projects. If Hellblade sets this precedent, a new age of high budget independent games could be on the horizon.

gameAAA games from the major publishers aren’t going away anytime soon. Neither is all of the nonsense we associate with them. The AAA market continues to be lucrative enough for them to remain unaffected. But major development studios no longer have to be reliant on publishers. The internet is now powerful enough for a prominent developer to market and finance a game on their own.

The recent closure of Visceral Games by EA shows that now may be the time for developers that can become independent to make the move. Hopefully, Hellblade can give some the confidence to release their own Independent AAA games.

-Andrew Levesque

The Battle for the Cinema: Who has the Best Superheroes?

When you compare superhero franchises, it is safe to say that Marvel is currently the clear winner, but why? DC has been making movies for the same amount of time, but Marvel seems to only get bigger and bigger even as DC struggles.

SuperheroesDC and Marvel both are in the same genre, but both take their movies in different directions. In recent years DC has made most of their movies kind of dark in tone and theme. More of a realism, that your actions have consequences, and they kind of focus on the adult audience. Marvel, on the other hand, has tailored their movies with more of a lighter tone and they have more humor in them. They are movies that anyone can really grow to like, from young children to older audiences.

DC tried their own take on making their funny movie with the 2016 release of Suicide Squad, but the movie did not live up to the hype. You could not go anywhere without hearing the songs for the movie, or seeing a trailer for it. Another movie that came out around that time that was Marvel’s release of Guardians of the Galaxy. Not much was know about Guardians when it was released, but it grew quite a following. Both Suicide Squad and Guardians ended up about doing the same at the box office, but with Guardians doing a bit better.

SuperheroesAnother good pair of competing movies was DC’s Man of Steel vs Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World. Both of these movies came out the same year. The Superman movie was supposed to launch a new franchise, but the film did not do as well as hoped. The Thor movie did just roughly the same number, even though Thor is easily not the most popular of the Avengers.

Marvel has also done an incredible job in bringing all of their shows and movies together. All the shows that are owned by Disney are in the same universe as the movies. After the first Avenger movie, Marvel and ABC created the show Marvel Agents of Shield which took one of the characters from the movie and brought the show around him and Shield. This gave fans a way to keep their love of Marvel in check while they made new movies. They even had a cameo of Samuel L Jackson play Nick Fury at one point. If you want to learn more about it, you can find it here.

SuperheroesCompare it to DC where they have a flourishing TV shows like Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow. Instead of bringing The Flash from the TV show to play in the movie, they hired someone else to play Barry Allen and never really gave the TV show actor a chance. This gives fans two different DC universes to like instead of one as a whole. Some fans may like one better than the other and might not support the other

I personally hope that DC does become more popular and will be able to compete at the same level with Marvel. Marvel is on it way out with some characters due to contracts and you don’t want to just exhaust a character.

-Joey Linder

Unlocking Disney’s Vault: Saving the Classics for the Next Generation

“Time is running out!

Soon your favorite Disney movie will be placed back into the Disney vault FOREVER!”

DisneyWell no, not really! Forever is a very strong word, and luckily Disney is smart enough to realize that permanent disappearance isn’t a great marketing strategy. If Disney actually locked films away to never be seen again, it would defeat the entire purpose of the vault, which was created so that its films would not be forgotten!

But why exactly did the vault strategy start? Well it all started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White was released in 1937, and became a huge hit. Because of its popularity, Disney re-released the film seven years later in 1944. One needs to remember that in the 1940’s, there was no VHS’s, no DVDs, and no online streaming. If you missed the film in theaters, you might never get to see it again. By re-releasing it in theaters seven years later, a whole new, younger generation of children were exposed to Snow White all over again. Because the re-release was wildly successful, and a dependent source of revenue for Disney during war time, they continued the practice of opening the vault for many years to come.

With the 1980’s came the VCR, and with it, the opportunity for a marketing change. Releasing a film to VHS sales was a bit of a risk, and the first movie to be sold was Pinocchio. Though Disney was worried people would only buy the tape once and would pass it down, many people bought and kept their own and Disney decided to continue to release films from the vault not through theatres, but onto VHS tapes. This Vulture article talks more about Disney’s struggle to decide whether or not to release onto VHS.

The brilliance behind the vault-release strategy is the ability to avoid the cheapening of videos as time goes on. Normally, the longer a video is out on store shelves, the more the price drops. By Disney choosing to “lock up” and release from the vault every 7-10 years (per movie), Disney can charge full price for an older film!

Though making money is an important part of the vault strategy, it is not the only thing Disney is focused on. In order to maintain its popularity as time goes on, Disney realized they needed to find a way to stay relevant as new generations were born and previous generations aged. Besides continuing to create new content, they needed to find a way to keep older films recognizable to the new generations as well. The vault strategy has allowed them to do this, by re-releasing films to newer younger generations who had not been exposed to the films in previous years. This E! News article explains the generational strategy of the vault a bit further.

DisneyBut what does it take for a film to be allowed into the vault? Though there are no set criteria, generally there are no live action films, no Pixar films (with the exception of Toy Story 1 & 2). Some sequels are allowed in the vault, but not all of them.

As time goes on, Disney may have to rethink its strategy for releasing films from the vault as more and more movies become available for streaming. This should not be a problem for Disney, based on their history of changing from theatrical film to VHS tapes, to DVD/BluRay rather seamlessly. For a more extensive look at the vaults history and the entire list of films in the vault, check out this Disney fandom article.

-Madison Steffen

Not Seen and Not Heard: Is the Film Industry Ignoring its Audience?

Since 2012, women have consistently made up 52% of moviegoers, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s 2016 report. Male characters, however, are seen and heard twice as often as female characters. Does this mean that male-dominated movies are out-performing female-led films? Are male-led films what women want to watch?

Research says no. Yet, scripts say yes.

There are institutes dedicated to analyzing female representation in films and one of the most respected is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Other researchers concerned with the same issues can be found at Polygraph’s The Pudding, at Google, and at The University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab.

FemaleThese groups measure the representation of both genders by examining film dialogue, counting the number of words each character and each gender has. In addition, according to Google’s Gender Equality in Films analysis, new tools, like machine learning, have emerged “to detect different characters on-screen, determine their gender, and calculate how often and for how long they spoke in relation to one another.”

In a September article in Box Office magazine titled “Diversity in Hollywood,” author John Fithian cites important findings from the University of Southern California’s SAIL tool that analyzed 1,000 scripts, revealing that men had 70% of the dialogue, and that women played just 29% of the roles.

It seems as though male-centric movies keep getting written, produced and released, but are these male dominated films more profitable than female-led films?

According to the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, “films led by women grossed 15.8% more on average than films led by men.” Google’s analysis echoes this concept by comparing the average earnings of male-led films ($75,738,095) to the average earnings of female-led films ($89,941,176). These earnings translate to female-led films earning 16% more than male-led films.

If females make up the majority of a film audience, and if they support female-led films 16% more than male-led films, then why is there such a discrepancy in onscreen representation?

Here are a few examples of “female-centric” films, where female characters deliver at least 51% of the dialogue:

The Help has 92% of its dialogue spoken by female characters. The film opened with the 7th largest Labor Day Weekend gross, and its global box office totaled $217mil.

Bridesmaids has 82% female dialogue. The film’s global box office totaled $288mil, and is the #1 R-rated female comedy.

Inside Out measured 64% female dialogue. Inside Out grossed $858mil globally, and the film holds the #1 opening for an original movie. The previous record holder was James Cameron’s Avatar.

Female

These percentages were estimated by The Pudding’s 2,000 script analysis which can be found here. The Box Office Gross-to-Date estimates are from BoxOfficeMojo.

Each of the above films is from a different genre (drama, comedy and family), and the trend is apparent across the board. Female-centric films are profitable, and female-centric films are very different from films with a lead female protagonist. There are great female protagonists, like Rey from Star Wars and Anna and Elsa from Frozen, yet Star Wars has only a 28% female dialogue rate, and (surprisingly) Frozen has a 43% rate.

According to the The Pudding, though there may be strong, female protagonists, men occupy at least two of the top three roles in 82% of the film and this occurs in about 82% of the films analyzed.

This post is not suggesting a demise of male-led films, it only hopes to persuade the idea of leveling the playing field. This kind of research is a great first step, because there are already those in the industry measuring these concepts and identifying these issues.

Now, it’s up to screenwriters, producers and audiences to give women a voice and listen to it.

-Laney Kraus-Taddeo